Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Does the U in the U-Curve Also Stand for Universal? Reflections on Provisional Doubts

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Does the U in the U-Curve Also Stand for Universal? Reflections on Provisional Doubts

Article excerpt

In commenting on Pariser's and van den Berg's attempt (1996) to replicate my u-curve study (1991), I begin by providing some context for my remarks. Specifically, I focus on the history of my interest in the notion of a u-curve as well as some thoughts on the underpinnings of the modernist interest in children's art. This context should help to acknowledge that the recognition of young children's artistry transcends the boundaries of both contemporary psychology and modern art. Against this backdrop, I begin addressing several of the points raised by Pariser and van den Berg in their preliminary work and end with some suggestions for future research into the cross-cultural implications of u-shaped development in graphic symbolization: future considerations of whether the u of the u-curve might indeed also stand for universal.

I first noticed the similarities between the drawings of young children and artists in the early '60s when I was teaching art at a summer day camp and taking drawing classes at the Art Students' League in New York City. In my life drawing classes, my instructor, Thomas Fogarty, was encouraging me to loosen up-to transcend the schema I had developed for recording human figures and instead keep my eye glued only to the model. My arm was to be busy replicating the gestalt of what I saw and experienced in my vision: the gesture of the human form that I encountered. The venerable artist and teacher Kimon Nicolaides, identifies gesture as "the function of action, life, or expression," and writes of gesture drawings in his classic treatise, The Natural Way to Draw:

They are like scribbling rather than like printing or writing carefully, as if one were trying to write very fast and were thinking more of the meaning than of the way the thing looks, paying no attention to penmanship or spelling, punctuation or grammar... (1941, p.18)

Perhaps it was my own struggle with the challenge of capturing gesture that made me particularly aware of the fluency that my youngest students demonstrated in their achievement of that objective. During a week-long project in which all the children (ages 5-12) focused on the topic of "people," I was impressed that it was the drawings and paintings of the youngest of my students that would have most pleased Mr. Fogarty and most closely resembled the work of the more expert artists in his class.

A concomitant recognition was that the older children's drawings were more restrained and schematic. Indeed I could predict among a group of ten-year-olds that their drawings would contain replicas of the same yellow suns, the same straighttrunked, bubble-headed trees, and the same clean line of green grass dotted with three petaled flowers. Variations included schematized representations of other themes such as bunnies, boats, and oval-bodied bees, or rocket ships.

In sharing my discoveries, I claim no ownership of the recognition of the obvious and enviable fluency of young children's artistry and the tightening constraints that come with development. I have never encountered an art teacher who does not celebrate the early gift and ponder the challenge of development. Interested parents are equally aware. In the collection of data for the study described in Drawing's Demise, several subjects' parents took me aside to commiserate about what they saw as their children's loss of early proficiency and productivity in drawing.

As an art teacher, I designed exercises for children in the "literal stage"activities like drawing "the child sitting opposite you at a table without looking at the paper" or drawing "anything with your eyes closed." As a researcher three decades later (Davis et. al., 1993), these recollections resonated as I observed a drawing class for pre-adolescents at the Children's Art Carnival in New York. The teacher called out as she walked among her 10- and 11-year-old artists at work: "Only abstract drawings allowed in this class!"

Considering the familiarity of this phenomenon, I was not surprised to learn that cognitive psychologists were aware of and intriqued by the similarities between young children's drawings and those of adult artists, as well as the possible loss of early gifts as a casualty of development (Gardner, 1980; Gardner & Winner, 1982). …

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