Portrait of the young artist as a logician

20th October 2006 at 01:00
Small children quietly drawing are in fact demonstrating skills of competitiveness, logic and the ability to stick to a winning formula, according to new research.

Academics from Warwick university observed over three years classes of three to five-year-olds from five different schools. Most children responded to external stimuli, drawing family, friends and characters from favourite books or TV series. And they revealed a keen awareness of artistic technique.

The academics, Elizabeth and Andrew Coates, quote a conversation between Grace and Sophie, two four-year-olds. "Water's supposed to be scribbly,"

said Grace, "'cause it's wavy". Sophie then advised Grace that she should draw a duck with only one eye: "'Cause the other eye should be on the other side."

Recurring elements of the children's drawings included the "big head"

person, with outsized heads balancing on stick limbs.

Most of the children also drew thin strips at the bottom and top of the page, indicating the ground and the sky.

The report says: "The child fails to see why the area down to the ground needs to be filled for, as someone who is focused on the moment, anything other than expressing the immediate may seem irrelevant." Adult praise also plays a significant role. The report states: "Once a formula for an object has been learned by a child and found by them to be acceptable to adults, it would be used again and again in different guises." For example five-year-old Nicholas reproduced an original leopard drawing as "cheetah", "baby cheetah", and also "cheetah with birds and raindrops".

Often, the children talked about the subjects of their illustrations as they drew. Four-year-olds Jamie and Chloe used this as an attempt at one-upmanship. Chloe said: "I've got a big friend," to which Jamie responded: "And I have...a bigger friend than you."

They also brought imaginative play into these discussions. Painting a picture of the sea, Sophie said: "If someone's been naughty, their mum asks them to go in that seat, and it's got a hole in the bottom just big enough for a person. So they'll fall in the sea."

And children often made links between art and other media. Several hummed "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" while drawing a sun, or "The Alphabet Song", while incorporating letters into pictures.

The report concludes: "Far from being a quiet, self-absorbing task, drawing in pairs may provide a focus for the development of a range of creative skills."

The paper is Young Children Talking and Drawing, by Elizabeth Coates and Andrew Coates. e.a.coates@warwick.ac.uk

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