children and drawing -- 2/10/23

Today's selection -- from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. How children develop drawing skills:
"After some days or weeks of scribbling, infants -- and apparently all human children -- make the basic discovery of art: A drawn symbol can stand for something out there in the environment. The child makes a circular mark, looks at it, adds two marks for eyes, points to the drawing, and says, ‘Mommy,’ or ‘Daddy,’ or ‘That's me,’ or ‘My dog,’ or whatever. Thus, we all made the uniquely human leap of insight that is the foundation for art, from the prehistoric cave paintings all the way up through the centuries to the art of Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Picasso.
"With great delight, infants draw circles with eyes, mouth, and lines sticking out to represent arms and legs. …This form, a symmetrical, circular form, is a basic form univer­sally drawn by infants. The circular form can be used for almost anything: With slight variations, the basic pattern can stand for a human being, a cat, a sun, a jellyfish, an elephant, a crocodile, a flower, or a germ. For you as a child, the picture was whatever you said it was, although you probably made subtle and charming adjustments of the basic form to get the idea across.
"By the time children are about three and a half, the imagery of their art becomes more complex, reflecting growing awareness and perceptions of the world. A body is attached to the head, though it may be smaller than the head. Arms may still grow out of the head, but more often they emerge from the body -- some­times from below the waist. Legs are attached to the body.

Art by a three-year-old girl

“By age four, children are keenly aware of details of the clothing -- buttons and zippers, for example, appear as details of the body drawings. Fingers appear at the ends of arms and hands, and toes vary imaginatively. I have counted as many as thirty-one fingers on one hand and as few as one toe per foot.
"Around age four or five, children begin to use drawings to tell stories and to work out problems, using small or gross adjustments of the basic forms to express their intended meaning…
"By around age five or six, children have developed a set of sym­bols to create a landscape. Again, by a process of trial and error, children usually settle on a single version of a symbolic land­scape, which is endlessly repeated. Perhaps you can remember the landscape you drew around age five or six. …
"[A]t nine or ten …children try for more detail in their art­work, hoping by this means to achieve greater realism, which is a prized goal. Concern for composition diminishes, the forms often being placed almost at random on the page. Seemingly, children's concern for where things are in the drawing is replaced with con­cern for how things look, particularly the details of forms. Overall, drawings by older children show greater complexity and, at the same time, less assurance than do the landscapes of early childhood.
“Also around this time, children’s drawings become differentiated by sex, probably because of cultural factors. Boys begin to draw automobiles -- hot rods and racing cars; war scenes with dive bombers, submarines, tanks, and rockets. They draw legendary figures and heroes -- bearded pirates, Viking crewman and their ships, television stars, mountain climbers, and deep-sea divers. They are fascinated by block letters, especially mono­grams; and some odd images such as (my favorite) an eyeball complete with piercing dagger and pools of blood.

“Meanwhile, girls are drawing tamer things -- flowers in vases, waterfalls, mountains reflected in still lakes, pretty girls running or sitting on the grass, fashion models with incredible eyelashes, elaborate hairstyles, tiny waists and feet, and hands held behind the back because hands are ‘hard to draw.’…
“By around age ten or eleven, children's passion for realism is in full bloom. …When their drawings don’t come out ‘right’ -- meaning that they don’t look realistic -- children often become discouraged and ask their teachers for help. The teacher may say, 'You must look more carefully,' but this doesn't help, because the child doesn't know what to look more carefully for. …
“Many teachers wish children at this age would be freer, less concerned about realism in their artwork. But however much some teachers may deplore their students' insistence on realism, the children themselves are relentless. They will have realism, or they will give up art forever. They want their drawings to match what they see, and they want to know how to do that.  …
"A few children are lucky enough to accidentally discover the secret: how to see things in a different (R-mode) way. I think I was one of those children who, by chance, stumbles on the process. But the majority of children need to be taught how to make that cognitive shift. Fortunately, we are now developing new instructional methods, based on recent brain-research, which will enable teachers to help satisfy children's yearning for seeing and drawing skills."



Betty Edwards


The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain


Penguin Putnam Inc.


Copyright 1999 by Betty Edwards


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