The Art of Childhood and Adolescence: The Construction of Meaning

The Art of Childhood and Adolescence: The Construction of Meaning

The Art of Childhood and Adolescence: The Construction of Meaning

The Art of Childhood and Adolescence: The Construction of Meaning


The Art of Childhood and Adolescence is composed of completely new research on the development of representational thinking from infancy through to adolescence. It makes an important contribution to the theory of children's development and to practitioners' understanding, as well as suggesting new paths of inquiry. The book draws on highly detailed longitudinal studies, conducted over 24 years (20 in London and 4 in Singapore). Line drawings and photographs are used to illustrate important concepts. Matthews, highly respected internationally, also sheds light on current debates, such as the opposition of culturally specific and universal development in children the world over.


The scene is a nursery class. A group of eight children, average age three years, are sitting around a table drawing five models intended to represent human figures. Each model is made of two plasticine ovoid volumes, attached in a vertical alignment, the top ovoid smaller than the lower, representing the 'head'; the larger, lower ovoid representing the 'body'. The 'legs' of these figures are made from two rods, inserted into the lower ovoid. There are no 'arms'. The children have arrived at various solutions for drawing these figures. Some just draw elliptical shapes from vigorous rotational movements of their drawing hands. Some of these children are singing as they draw, the cadences of their voices matched to the emphatic thrusts of their pencils. Other children have found a way of showing two, joined, roundish volumes, by overlapping two rotational or closed shapes-roughly circular linear closures. Other children draw series of straightish, parallel lines. Perhaps they are drawing the legs of the figures.

A few children draw a single closed shape with two lines attached-known as the 'tadpole' figure-even though the three-dimensional models have two connected round forms. Similarly, even though there are only two rods attached to the three-dimensional model before them, some children do not stop when they have attached two lines to their single closure, but go on to add many more. It is as if they find the repeated action of attaching these rays to the perimeter of a closed shape irresistible.

A few of the children make drawings in which two elliptical or circular closures are attached along a vertical axis, with two vertical, parallel lines adjoined to the underside of the lower oval. These drawings could be said to visually correspond to a notional view of the objects. Other children however, do not seem to look at the models at all, and their drawings seem in no way to resemble them. For example, a girl called Wen Hui makes a zigzag line.

Other drawing actions seem, at first glance, to be quite haphazard, and easily influenced by random events, as if the children have difficulty concentrating on a single task. Some children's drawing seems influenced by subtle, barely detectable events. Sounds and movements in the environment seem to repeatedly deflect the course of their drawing. Other children, who initially capture in their drawings some of the observable characteristics of the objects (two linked closures with two straight lines), seem to quickly lose track of the original task of drawing the model figures. They repeatedly draw these components with great enthusiasm, but as isolated elements, without any apparent regard for the observable models.

Given the nature of some of random disturbances that occur, it is not always surprising that children's drawing procedures should sometimes be affected. One such disturbance

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