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- i‘Lz Where Pelicans Kiss Seals IN THE SURPRISING WORLD OF CHILDREN’S ART, DELIGHTFUL IMAGES AND ORIGINAL RULES ARE CREATED TO REPRESENT THE KVRLD. he story of how children learn to seems at first be a simple one: At a very early age they begin by scribbling with any available marker on any available surface. At first the children’s drawings are simple, clumsy and unrealistic; gradually they become more technically skilled and realistic. But the development of drawing is not quite so simple and straightfor- ward. In fact, the story turns out to be BYELLEN WINNER quite complex. Watch a 2-year-old scribbling. The child moves the mark- er vigorously across the page, leaving a tangled web of circular and zig zag lines. It looks as if the marks them- selves are an accident-the unintend- ed result of the child’s arm move- ments. But if you replace the child’s marker with one that leaves no trace, the child will stop scribbling, as psy chologist James Gibson and Patricia Yonas, then a graduate student, showed in 1968. Even though very young children enjoy moving their arms vigorously, they are also inter- ested in making marks on a surface. If we do not watch a scribble in the making, but only see the final product, it may look like a meaningless tangle of lines. And this is how scribbles have traditionally been viewed-as nonsym- bolic designs. But l- and 2-year-o& are rapidly mastering the concept that words, objects and gestures stand for things. So why shouldn’t they also grasp that marks on a page can stand for things? Some of the more’recent studies of children as they scribble suggest that these early scrawls are actually experiments in representa- . . PHOTOGRAPH BY KATHIE MCGINT*i - .*e. -d.--=& * . . _ . -- *-- . . , - * _-.. . .

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he story of howchildren learn toseems at f i rs t

be a simple one:At a very early age theybegin by scribbling withany available marker on anyavailable surface. At first

the children’s drawings are simple,clumsy and unrealistic; gradually theybecome more technically skilled andrealistic.

But the development of drawing isnot quite so simple and straightfor-ward. In fact, the story turns out to be

BYELLEN WINNERquite complex. Watch a 2-year-oldscribbling. The child moves the mark-er vigorously across the page, leavinga tangled web of circular and zig zaglines. It looks as if the marks them-selves are an accident-the unintend-ed result of the child’s arm move-ments. But if you replace the child’smarker with one that leaves no trace,the child will stop scribbling, as psychologist James Gibson and PatriciaYonas, then a graduate student,showed in 1968. Even though veryyoung children enjoy moving theirarms vigorously, they are also inter-

ested in making marks on a surface.If we do not watch a scribble in the

making, but only see the final product,it may look like a meaningless tangleof lines. And this is how scribbles havetraditionally been viewed-as nonsym-bolic designs. But l- and 2-year-o&are rapidly mastering the concept thatwords, objects and gestures stand forthings. So why shouldn’t they alsograsp that marks on a page can standfor things? Some of the more’recentstudies of children as they scribblesuggest that these early scrawls areactually experiments in representa-


- .*e. -d.--=& *. ._. -- *-- . . , - * _-.. .


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tion-although not purely pictorialrepresentation.

Psychologist Dennie Wolf, pre-schooi teacher caralee &igna andpsychologist Howard Gardner ofProject Zero at Hamrd Universitystudied how the drawing of nine chil-dren developed from age 1 to 7. Thesearchers took detailed notes on the’process of scribbling, and their investi-‘.gations show us that children have


surprising representational abilitieslong before they spontaneouely pmduce a recognizable form.

r. At fiit the representation is almostentirely gestural, not pictorial. Wolfobserved a 1%~yca~ld who took themarker and hopped it around on thepage, leaving a mark with each im-print and explaining as she drew,“Rabbit goes hop-hop” (Figure 1). !i’hischild was symbolizing the rabbit’s rnc~tion, not its size, shape or color. Themeaning was carried primarily by the

‘marker itself, which stood for the rabbit, and by the process of marking.


Someone who saw only the dots left onthe page would not see a rabbit None-theless, in the process of marking, thechild was repreeenting a rabbit’smovement. Moreover, the dot8 them-selves stood for the rabbit’s footprints. Here in the child’s earliestscriibles we already see giimmeringsoftheideathatmarksonap&gecanstand for things in the world.

Twoyear+lds rarely spontaneouslycreak recognizable forms in theirscribbles, but they have the latent abiE

the edge of an object and had no wayto represent part8 of features, sinceeach feature was either a point or apatch. The children clearly under-stood, however, that mark8 on a sur-face can be used to stand for features“out there,‘, off the page, and thatthey c8n be used to show the relativeSpC&id iOc&iOnS Of fedAll’S.



lqgun?a:mensomeotie t&k&&is alist of bodyparts,even 2+pamMs cmshow them rb theircvmmitin8.

pie, one 3%.year-old etudied by Wolf,Gardner and F’ucigna looked at hi8scribble and called it “a pelican kissinga seaL” He then went on to add eye8and freckle8 so that the drawingwould look even more like a pelicanand a seal (Figure 3). Another child, onthe eve of his second birthday, made8ome seemingly unreadable marks,

ity to do 80. When Wolf or F’ucigna dic- - Tgpically at age 3, but sometimes as looked at his picture snd said with con-&ted to ‘Lyear-oids a list of features early a8 age 2, children’s spontaneous fidence, Thicken pie and noodie8” (his(head, tummy, arm8, legs), these chil- scribbles become explicitly pictoriaJ. woti for noodle8). Clearly he 8aw thedrenplotted thefeature8sy8temsticaL They often begin by making gesturally on the page, placing them in correctrelative positions (Figure 2). But theylacked the notion that a hne 8tands for ‘i

simihuity between the lines on thescribbles but then, noticing that they page and noodle8 on a plate.have drrrwn 8 recognizable 8hape; la- Sometimes children between 2 and 3be1 apd further elaborate it. For exam- wiil use both gestural and pictoriai

8 6;. &ncioudoaPegm90-P S Y C R O L O G Y TODAY /AUGUST 1986

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I 1


3: Halfway into this draw-3%year-old art& said it ;

iP ’ e l i c a n

.w& “‘a pelican kissing a seal. ” ’N O % 0


Continued from Page 26

modes at different times, A 2-year-old-

studied by art educator John Mat-thews of Goldsmiths College in Lon-dbn drew a cross-like shape, thenlooked at;it and called it “an airplane.”One month. later, ‘this same childmoved his brush all around in a rotat-ing motion while announcing, “This isan airplane.” The label was the same, FIRST DRAW A PERSON !but the processes and products weredifferent. In the first case, the draw- ASiiV ODDing was an airplane because it looked i ARMLESS ‘TADPOLE’- ;like one. In the second case, it was an ja’rplane .ibecause the marker movedt

A Ca?RCLE WITH TWO LINES? ’ 1li e one, 1 leaving a record of the air- .: 1plane’s path. -

4 *T 1 With pictorially based representa- itions, the child beg&x to draw en-c osed shapei such as circular formsab

pole’/-consisdng of a circle and twolines for legs. Figure 4 shows a typic

’ d discover-g’ that a line can be used torepresent an iobject’s edge. This majormilestone marks the child’s inventionof a basic r{le. of graphic symboliza-ton: Thi$ invention cannot be attribut-e, 1 to close4 ,gbservation of nature,lhsl$,e , objects{ d?n:t; have ,lines around ar$r-+ to their figures, 1 1 i I

dren draw what they know rather than_what they see. Hence; the tadpole, ”with its odd omissions of trunk and ! , ,arms, must indicate children’s lack of


knowledge about the parts of the hu: ’man body and how they tire organized. :,

Psychologist Norm& Freeman of Ithe University of Bristol has a differ- , jent way of accounting for the typical ’omissions. He notes thatchildren draw ia person from top to bottom, in se- ,quence. We know from verbal-memory 1.tasks that people are subject tb “pri-

after hearing a sequence of words, ’they recall best the words they heardfirst and last and tend to; forget those

that came in between. The child, Free- ’man argues, isshowing such effects indrawing, recalling the head (drawnfirst) and legs (drawn last) and forget- Iting the, parts in the middle. h Free- . :man sees it, tadpoles restilt from defi- 8cient recall, not deficient concepts. s ’

But other research suggests that we ’1

should look on the tadpqle more posi-;

tively. Psychologist Claire, Golomb ofi

the University of Jlasdaehusetts in :j

Boston suggests that children know 1more about the human , body ‘than ;


about how to draw it, and. the$r body- ipart omissions’are not +e $ fo$get- Iting. ;She found that when 3-year+ds 1

iwere1 asked to name body. parts, jtheyalmost always; mentioned arms,, al-though they typicalIy q&ted them

bal%a task! implicitlythey) dr{w arm$-they

bit‘3,re I

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that are far more complex, they, too,do not (and cannot) draw all that theysee. Young children are more selective

’ than adults, no doubt because drawingis difficult for them, but also becausethey have not yet been fired up by thepeculiarly Western pictorial ideal ofrealism.

Psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, for-merly of the University of Michigan,argues that children try to create thesimplest form that can still be “read”as a human. Because they have a limit-ed repertoire of forms, they reducethem to simple geometric shapes. Inthe case of the tadpole, they usuallyreduce the human body to a circle andtwo straight lines.

Adult artists often deliberately se-lect a limited repertoire of forms and,like children, reduce natural forms toa few simple geometric shapes. Theyrecognize that realism is but one idealamong many and may choose not to be

Figure 4: The 3-year-old’s first drawing of a

person: a ‘Yadpole” con-sisting of i3 circle with

two lines for legs.

realistic, Young children, however,seem to draw simple geometric shapesin part because realism does not sparktheir interest. Once they do catch thedesire for realism, Golomb says, thatdesire begins to overcome their natu-ral tendency to simplicity, leadingthem toward more complex, graphical-ly differentiated drawing.

By late childhood or early adoles-cence, children in our culture begin tomaster linear perspective, the Westernsystem for creating the illusion ofthree-dimensional depth on a twedi-mensional surface, invented and per-fected during the Renaissance.

Many people believe that the abilityto use perspective is taught, either ex-plicitly in art class or tacitly throughexposure to pictures showing suchperspective. But something far morecreative on the part of children may behappening, says psychologist JohnWillats, formerly of the North EastLondon Polytechnic.

Willats seated groups of children ofdifferent ages in front of a table withobjects on it and asked them to drawwhat they saw (Figure 6a). The chil-dren, 108 in all, who were from 5 to 17years old, used six different systemsof perspective; these, Willats found,formed a developmental sequence:

The 5 and 6-year-olds were entirelyunable to represent depth. They sim-ply drew a rectangular box for the ta-bletop and let the objects float above it(stage 1: Figure 6b). Seven- and &year-olds drew the tabletop as a straightline or thin surface and placed the objects on that line (stage 2: Figure 6c).Again, their pictures contained no rec-ognizable strategy for representingdepth. .

At about age 9, children made theirfirst readable attempts to depict thethird dimension. They drew the tabletop as a rectangle and placed the objects inside or on top of the rectangle(stage 3: Figure 6d). These childrenhad invented a system for represent-ing depth: To depict near objects, drawthem on the bottom of the page; to depict far objects, draw them on the topof the page. In other words, transformnear or far in the world into down orup on paper. No one teaches a child todraw this way. Moreover, no child ac-tually sees a tabletop as a rectangle(unless looking at it from a bird’seyeview). Hence, this strategy is a genu-ine invention.

Younger adolescents drew the table32- I?



S ome’children show more dr&ing ability than others and PI

duce elaborate, realistic drawingsat an early age. When others arestill drawing tadpoles, these chil-dren are drawing human figureswith differentiated body parts incorrect proportion and are evenputting depth cues into theirdrawings. People often assumethat these advanced artists arebrighter than those who lag behindand produce primitive, undifferenti-ated, unrealistic drawings.

Indeed, psychologists have devel-oped intelligence tests based, inpart, on the assumption that draw-ing level reflects cognitive level, IQor both. For instance, as part of theStanford-Binet Intelligence Scale,children are asked to copy shapes,and the Goodenough-Harris Draw-a-Man test uses drawing as a mea-sure of IQ, with more parts and de-tails yielding higher scores.

But studies of both normal andabnormal people show that drawingability is independent of abilityother areas. The most dramatic evr-dence comes from studies of idiotsavants who, despite severe retar-dation, autism or both, draw at anastonishingly sophisticated level.

The best-known case, studied bypsychologist Lorna Selfe, formerlyof the University of Nottingham, isthat of Nadia, an autistic child who,as early as age 3%, drew in an opti-cally realistic style reminiscent ofLeonardo da Vinci. In addition toher studies of Nadia, Selfe com-pared retarded autistic childrenwho ‘were gifted in drawing withnormal children of the same mentalage. She found that the retardedchildren were better able to depictproportion, depth and the overlapof objects in space.

In a similar vein, psychologistsNeil O’Connor and Beate Hermelinof the Medical Research CouncilDevelopmental Psychology Projectin London studied five young-adultidiot savants who had special drawing ability but very low verbal anperformance IQ scores and com-

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Top: Nadia, 534, extremely autisticand arti&ic, made the drawing (left)that resembles a Leonardo da Vincjsketch (tight). Below: An early ele-

mentaty school child drew in perspec-tive, revealing unusual ability.

pared them with other equally men- the equally retarded nonartists;tally retarded people who had nospecial drawing ability. They gave

their performance was also much

these two groups a ba&ry of tests,higher than their IQ scores would

including the Draw-a-Man test. Onhave predicted. The retarded artists I’

this test the retarded artists per-particularly excelled in their ability ‘.T

formed at a much higher IeveS thanto depict body proportion, ratherthan in depicting specific features,

providing details or in their levelsof motor control and coordination.

If gifted artists-both retardedand nonretarded-aren’t necessari-ly m&e intelligent, what skills en-able them to draw better than otherpeople? To address this question,O’Connor and Hermelin used a bat-tery of other tests, all of which as-sessed visual memory. When re-tarded artists were compared withretarded nonartists, the artists out-performed the nonartists on alltf?sts. .

Visual-memory skill, independentof IQ, also seems to help normalchildren to excel at drawing. Re..cently, Hermelin and O’Connorcompared artistically gifted normalchildren with nongifted childrenmatched in IQ. They found that theartists had superior memory fortwo-dimensional designs and weremore skilled at identifying incom-plete pictures.

With psychologist &abethRosenblatt at Harpard’s ProjectZero, I recently completed a studyalong the same lines. We comparedpreadolescent children, selected bytheir art teachers as gifted in draw-ing, with other children selected asaverage in drawing ability. . . Weshowed the youngsters pairs of pic-tures and asked them to indicatetheir preferences, Later we showed ;them the paired pictures again, butone member of each pair had beenslightly altered (in line quality, col-or, form, composition or content).’We asked the children to identify .which member of each pair hadbeen changed and to say what wasdifferent about it.

The artistically gifted studentsperformed significantly better thanthe nonartists’~on both aspects ofthis task, even though, when theyfirst saw the pictures, they did notknow that they would be asked laber to recall them. Apparently, chil- .dren with drawing I talent simply .:bcannot forget the patterns they see. faround them, just as musicians of- . . :ten report being unable to get melo;dies out of their minds. _, .; - 0 =’ : ‘* i*

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top as a parallelogram rather than asa rectangle (stage 4: Figure 6e). As inthe previous stage, they incorrectlydrew the lines parallel, not converg-ing, but they now correctly usedoblique lines to represent edges reced- figure 5: A young child, asked to draw people playing ball, includes arms.ing in space. Again, such a system forrepresenting depth is neither taughtnor based on visual experience, sinceusing parallel lines is not opticallycorrect.

In the last two stages, older adoles-cents drew in perspective, making thelines of the tabletop converge. Somemade the lines converge only slightly(naive perspective-stage 5: Figure6f); others achieved geometrically cor-rect perspective (stage 6: Figure 6g).

This sequence cannot be explainedsimply by a growing desire and abilityto draw objects as they really appear,because as children develop, theirdrawings actually get less realistic before they get more realistic. A table-top, viewed from eye level, might beseen as an edge (stage 2), or from abird’seye view it might be seen as arectangle (stage 3). But no one eversees a tabletop as a parallelogram(stage 4) or with incorrectly converg-ing edges (stage 5).

Willats believes this sequence doesnot result from copying pictures inperspective. After all, he argues, inour culture drawings with perspectiverarely depict a rectangular surface aseither a rectangle (stage 3) or a paral-lelogram (stage 4).

But I believe these two stages mayindeed be attempts to copy the per-spective seen in pictures. A tabletopdrawn in perspective shows its surface(and stage 3 is an advance over stage 2because it shows the surface), and itslines are at nonright angles (and stage4 is an advance over stage 3 because

A Table of Development

a: Corroel pOrWd~@ b: Stage I et Stag0 t

0: Stage 4

f: stag. 5 0: Stage 6

Ez’gure 6: As children develop, they become better at representing depth.The fit table (a), &MI in correct perspective, shows what the childrenwere hying to copy.


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Figures 7 and 8: This&year-old’s drawing


(top) is free, fancifuland inventive. An ll-year-old’s dra wing(bottom) is neater andmore realistic butalso less inventive.




the angles are oblique). But if childrenare trying to copy perspectivedrawings, they are doing it at theirown developmental level. For example,in stage-4 drawings, children reducewhat should be a trapezoid to a sim-pler, more regular parallelogram.

One way to test the effect of expo-sure to pictorial perspective is to askchildren to copy such pictures. Freeman did just this, finding that al-though children could not copy themodel’s perspective system accurate-ly, they could adopt a system more ad-vanced than the one they used sponta-neously. Freeman showed childrenage8 5 to 8 a drawing of a table inoblique perspective (stage 4) andasked them to copy it. About half ofthe children produced stage-3drawings. What is significant is that,in their attempts at imitation, half ofthese children-who were at the agewhen they would be expected to make

stage-l or stage-2 drawings--actuallydrew at stage 3.

Thus, children do not acquire per-spective by directly copying picturesdrawn in perspective. But exposure tosuch pictures does stimulate them totry a perspective system at least onestep more advanced than they mightotherwise use.

Children as well as adults are in con-flict when drawing in perspective be-cause this way of drawing does notmatch what we know about objects.For example, a table drawn in perspec-tive does not show the top surface as arectangle, yet we know the tabletop isrectangular. Although we would liketo show things as we see them, wealso want to show them as we knowthey are. Perhaps this is why, asshown by psychologist Margaret Ha-gen and Harry Elliot, then a graduatestudent at Boston University, adultsprefer drawings with stage-4 perspec-

35 ji-

tive to those with stage-6 perspective;stage-6 drawings make objects looktoo distorted.

Knowing that a good pictorial like-ness is not necessarily an exact copyof a scene as it actually appears, art-ists often deliberately break the rulesof perspective. For example, to correctfor the size distortion called for by therules of perspective, they may draw adistant mountain larger than it wouldappear in a photograph. Perhaps forsimilar reasons, children may not atfirst draw objects with optical realism;they are interested in showing thingsin the most informative way ratherthan showing exactly how things look.

Do children improve further as theyget older? If realism is the standard,the answer is clearly yes. For exam-ple, their figures hecome more com-plex, and they can represent depththrough linear perspective. But I be-lieve, on esthetic grounds, that chil-dren’s drawings actually get worsewith age. ’ . .

Because preschool children are un-concerned with realism, theirdrawings are free, fanciful and inven-tive. Suns may be green, cars mayfloat in the sky and complex, irregularforms in nature are reduced to a fewregular geometric shapes. They preduce simple, strong pictures thatevoke the abstractions found in folk,“primitive” and contemporary art(Figure 7).

The older child’s drawing may bemore realistic, neat and precise, but, inmy opinion, it is also less imaginativeand less striking (Figure 8). Suns arenow appropriately yellow and placedcarefully in the comer of the picture,and cam now rest fkmly on theground. ..

This development is inextricablytied up with acquiring the technicalskills essential for adult artistic act%ty. Nonetheless, once such skills aremastered, artists often turn back toyoung children’s drawings for inspira-tion and may work .hard to do con-.sciously and delibetitely what theyonce did effortlessly and because theyhad no choice. “I used, tq #raw like Ra-phael,” Picasso is quo@ 88 saying,“but it has taken me a whole lifetimeto learn to draw like children.” fl

Ellen Winner is a psychoZog&t at BOS-ton College and at Project Zerr, of I&-vard Universitty.