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Deep Development Across Cultures
During the earliest stages of graphic development a universal norm dominates. Drawings evolve from simple markings to more complex forms. Children pass through the same stages of prepictorial and early pictorial deep development no matter where in the world they happen to reside. This cognition is tempered by access to materials and environment. However, the urge to explore a flat surface by marking on it seems to be one of the basic finger paintingspontaneous drives in human nature. The eruption of scribbling activities at around the age of one and a half marks the beginning of artistic and perceptual development that will continue to evolve, given the opportunity, throughout childhood as the child explores and solves different visual dilemmas that indicate that progress from a more simplified form to a more complex communicative drawing is happening.

In most cultures the earliest stages of drawing are considered playful interactions of the toddler and the crayon and no real interest is taken in the abstract prepictorial markings until the child begins to draw the human person. Once a child has entered the pictorial phase of drawing, adults, who carry the cultural component, begin to take interest in these drawings. It is then that the cultural expectations begin to be expressed and reflected in the young child’s art. Certain cultures select schemas early on to begin to initiate a child into an artistic tradition, as for instance, the Chinese culture begins by teaching the very young children how to use triangles and ovals to make fish and butterflies, images of formal traditional Chinese art.

Obviously children are part of a culture, and from the earliest time observe and take in their surroundings. The global influence of media like television and films also impact subject matter of the child’s drawing. However, the choice of subject matter and the rendition of culturally specific details still occurs within the framework of a developmental progression. A five year old child in Japan may draw women in kimonos at a festival. A child in Africa may draw women of his village dancing. However, a five year old’s drawing of the human will have the same compositional characteristics as his or her counterpart in other places of the world. The details and environment may be different but the proverbial human figure will generally stand straight, face forward, and be balanced from left to right, a graphic solution that is universally typical and age appropriate.


Early Human Figure: Ages 2 1/2 to 4 Years Old

Early drawing systems for rendering a three dimensional known form on a two dimensional surface:

  1. Human: oval as representing the object stands for the whole

    a) All parts face forward.

    b) All parts show — there is no foreshortening.

    c) Form is symmetrical and balanced.

  2. Animal: profile is stated and necessary
  3. a) Symmetry is secondary to “animalness” of four legs and a tail.

    b) For some animals like rabbits, symmetry remains dominant because of the two rabbit ears.

    c) For others, like elephants, the most characteristic feature is the trunk that is best rendered in profile.

    d) Variations are unique.

Early Animals are positive expression of self. Animals tell stories of special celebrations and honor a sense of self. The dark side of animals are monsters, also very prevalent in children’s work. Many animals represent diverse cultures, narrating stories of special celebrations.

  1. Animals that connect to rituals: raindeer, turkeys, bats, elephants

  2. Diverse story telling animals: pigs, monkeys, horses, dogs, ducks, donkeys, elephants, bears, sheep, goats

Early Greek cross fingerpainting grids, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.