Development in a
University of Massachusetts at Boston
Representational development in the visual arts is a uniquely human endeavor that emerges relatively early and quite spontaneously in ontogenetic development. It is a symbolic activity that sets humans apart from their closest non-human relatives, the great apes; and to date, there is no convincing evidence that symbol (language) trained apes create representational drawings and sculptures (Boysen, Berntson, & Prentice, 1987; Miles, 1990; Miles, Mitchell, & Harper, 1996; Smith, 1973). Great apes can recognize photographs and drawings of people and objects; however, findings regarding their ability to produce representational drawings are ambiguous at best.
Reports on apes' modeling with clay have not yet been published, but some research has been undertaken with capuchin monkeys who are noted for their skillful tool use. When provided with clay, stones, sticks, paints, and leaves, the monkeys modified the array of items and with their hands and stones reshaped the clay (Westergaard & Suomi, 1997). Their actions included squeezing, tearing, and rolling the mass, striking it against the cage, and incorporating leaves into the clay mass. When provided with sticks, stones, and a slab of clay fastened to the floor, the capuchins used their hands as well as the sticks and stones as marking tools and produced at least one set of lines across the surface of each form, a nonfigurative pattern which, according to the authors, is indicative of the monkeys' nonrepresentational behavior that lacks any symbolic significance (see Fig. 15.1A and Fig. 15.1B).
The prolonged exposure of some symbol trained apes to drawing and painting implements, and the generally negative findings regarding their capacity for symbolic representation in this medium, highlights the amazing achievements of young children who, without training or great effort, evolve their first basic representational shapes, name them, and expect others to recognize them.
A chapter devoted to representational development needs to define what is meant by this term, and what the boundaries of this concept are. The concept of representation in its broad meaning refers to thought that is based on a system of differentiated symbols and their referents,