DOI link for Art
DOI link for Art
CHILDREN’S REPRESENTATIONAL PAINTING AND DRAWING Painting and drawing is called ‘representational’ when it tries to represent on paper people and things that exist in the world. The Piagetian approach to this topic is often summed up in the saying The child draws what it knows, not what it sees’. This dictum has had a considerable influence on the practice of teachers at both preschool and infant class levels. From the mid 1950s on, teachers were often advised not to show children how to draw and paint beyond demonstrating the way to hold the pencil and how to load and wash the brush. The rationale for this was that the limitations of the child’s painting and drawing are the limitations of its thinking. When a child draws a person as two round shapes touching one another-one for the head and one for the body-this is because this is the way the child thinks about the human body. Of course the child can see more than this-children probably see the human body as well as an adult But between seeing and the act of painting or drawing comes thinking or understanding. The child must first convert what is seen into thoughts or concepts and then draw these. According to Piaget and Inhelder one of the first things the child knows about space, for instance, is whether two objects touch or are separated. Hence the child’s interest in representing the idea that the head touches the body.From this approach it follows that because the child’s thinking will advance only slowly as experience accumulates, it is pointless to show children how to paint or draw people or houses or trees. If we do this it will be an unnatural achievement, a kind of trick learned to please adults and without meaning for the child.One of the chief messages of more recent work has been that Piaget and Inhelder probably underestimated the technical problems posed by painting and drawing. These technical difficulties are of two main varieties: the problem of moving the pencil or brush along a particular kind of path, such as a circle or a straight line; and the problem of showing three dimensional space using the two dimensions of the paper. In both these areas the child may need rather more help than Piaget and Inhelder implied. This
does not of course mean that one should go back to the opposite extreme and show the child exactly how to do everything. Painting and drawing can develop as a balance between assistance and discovery without becoming a copying exercise.This raises an interesting question: why shouldn’t art be a copying exercise? In Australian Aboriginal culture, for instance, certain ways of picturing people and animals and a certain style in the use of line are more or less obligatory. Various standardised representations of the holy family and the saints were used in the ikon paintings of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Of course, artists in these traditions didn’t copy their models down to the last detail-their art was to introduce individuality within the discipline of the tradition. But discipline and tradition had the upper hand and, particularly within Aboriginal culture, ego tripping was and is frowned upon. Modem Western painting, with its emphasis upon the self-expression of the individual artist and liberation from constraints, is at the opposite extreme. Yet even here we find admiration for the disciplined traditions of African art in artists like Picasso and Epstein.As in several other areas Piaget has become identified with a kind of education that emphasises the self-development and self-discovery of the individual rather than the handing down of a tradition. One does not have to venture too far into sociology to see in some of the reactions against him a disillusion with the results of over-permissive upbringing and education and a desire for some stabilising sense of tradition and community. Piaget and Inhelder’s Contribution
In The Childs Conception of Space (1948) Piaget and Inhelder describe three stages in the development of drawings. Stage 1: Synthetic IncapacityThey give as a typical example of the child’s drawing at ages 3 and 4 years:
a boy aged 3.6 who draws a man in the shape of a large head to which are appended four strokes, two representing the arms and two the legs, as well as a small trunk separate from the limbs. The head contains two eyes, a nose and a mouth, but the latter is placed above the former, (p. 46) Piaget and Inhelder argue that to draw something when it is not present, the child must be able to construct a mental image of the object. They imply that the same thing happens even when the object is present, presumably because the child has to look at the paper while drawing. This image, they claim, depends very much on the child’s level of conceptual development. The reason that the mouth is found above the nose is that the
child has not yet conceptualised the vertical axis. In the absence of this, the child doesn’t know exactly where to place the features.There are five general principles that govern drawings at this stage. 1. Proximity. Generally the various parts of an object like the human body are drawn near to one another. In a drawing of a person, the head, body and limbs are all grouped near one another, though the limbs may be attached to the head and the body slightly separated from them.2. Separation. The various parts of the body are not drawn on top of one another and this shows a realisation that they are separated in space.3. Order. Shapes can be ordered two at a time on the paper, though even here there are often mistakes, as when a dog’s tail, which should be on the right, is attached to its head, on the left The difficulty of ordering shapes when more than two are involved can be seen from the example of the mouth that came above the nose. We may imagine the child realised that the nose was below the eyes and that the mouth was below the eyes. She forgot to check that the mouth was below the nose.4. Enclosure. Though the features often appear jumbled up inside the circle that makes the head, the child has realised that they go inside the head and not outside. Likewise buttons go inside the body, though in both cases errors are still made.5. Continuity and discontinuity. Different parts of the same body generally touch one another, though sometimes, as with the body separated from the head, this is forgotten. Similarly a rider may remain suspended above his horse or a hat above a head. The rider, the horse, the hat and the head are continuous objects, while the gaps symbolise the discontinuity between them. The difference between drawing a continuous line for an arm and drawing a number of little circles for buttons also seems to illustrate this. Stage 2: Intellectual RealismFrom about 5-7 or 8 years we find drawings that are much more easily recognised as representing ‘a man’, ‘a house’ or ‘a car’. The chief difficulty now is in co-ordinating the various objects in the picture. Often objects are drawn from a number of contradictory perspectives. Thus a horse may be shown side-on, but its carriage head-on. Houses and people are shown side-on or front-on in a street plan that seems to have been drawn from the air. Relative sizes and distances are also a problem: cars and people are bigger than houses; the houses are all bunched up at one end of the street and widely spaced at the other without any intention to convey perspective-the child has just failed to cope with the idea of an even separation.