Childish drawing, in addition to being a recreational activity, is one of the means available to children to translate reality on a sheet or other type of support. Whether it’s their imagination or their particular view of the world they live in, their drawings represent their constructions of what the world is like.
The relationship between the child’s mental images and his drawings is very close. While mental images are internalized imitations, drawing is an externalized imitation. In many cases, therefore, investigating the qualitative development of children’s drawing allows us to understand, with certain reservations, the symbolic capacity of the child.
Childish drawing: phases
In this article we will talk about Luquet’s various studies on the phases that concern child drawing. In them he began by stating that the main characteristic of children’s drawing is that it is realistic, since children are more focused on drawing the characteristics of reality rather than aspects related to artistic beauty. The stages in which childhood drawing evolves are: (a) fortuitous realism, (b) lack of realism, (c) intellectual realism and (d) visual realism.
Drawing begins as an extension of motor activity that is captured on a support. It is why the baby’s first productions will be what we know as scribbles. The scribbles are traces left by the child from his first investigations into his movements. They provide the foundation for the next steps.
Soon the children begin to find similarities between their drawings and reality or even try to capture it, even if they cannot. If we ask them what they are drawing, at first they may not tell us anything, but as soon as they find a certain analogy between their drawing and reality, they will consider it a representation of it.
This stage is called fortuitous realism, since the representation of reality arises after or during the making of the drawing. There is no previous intention to trace a concrete aspect of reality. The similarity is casual or fortuitous, but the child welcomes it with enthusiasm and sometimes, after noticing the analogy, tries to improve it.
Lack of realism
The child tries to draw something precise, but his intention has to deal with some obstacles and the realistic result he wants fails. The main of these limitations is the control of motor activity, he has not yet developed sufficient precision to carry out his drawings. Another problem is the discontinuous and limited nature of children’s attention: by not paying enough attention, some details that the drawing must respect are neglected.
According to Luquet, the most important aspect of this phase is the “synthetic inability”. It is the child’s difficulty in organizing, arranging and orienting the different elements within the drawing. When drawing, the relationship between the elements is very important, as their organization configures the drawing. However, at this stage children have some problems with this aspect. For example, it may happen that when drawing a face, they put their mouths over their eyes.
Once the obstacles of the previous phase and the so-called “synthetic incapacity” have been overcome, nothing prevents the child’s drawing from being completely realistic. But a curious aspect is that infantile realism does not resemble adult realism. The child does not capture reality as he sees it, but as he knows it is. Let’s talk about an intellectual realism.
It is perhaps the phase that best represents children’s drawing and the most interesting when it comes to research and study. In this phase we will see two essential characteristics: “transparency” and “lack of perspective”.
When we speak of “transparency” we mean that the child makes hidden things visible, making transparent what prevents us from seeing them. For example, draw a chicken inside an egg or feet inside shoes. And the other process, the “lack of perspective”, consists in the projection of the object on the ground, ignoring the perspective; an example is to draw the facade of a house vertically and the interior of the rooms seen from above.
These two characteristics show us that visual factors are not the most relevant aspect in drawings. The child looks at his mental representation and tries to capture what he knows in what he wants to draw. And this is why “errors” appear, such as the transparency of opaque things or the little importance of maintaining perspective.
After the age of eight or nine, a drawing close to the adult one begins to appear, where the child draws reality as he sees it. To do this, the child adheres to two rules: that of perspective and that of the visual model. The characteristics of intellectual realism completely disappear: it eliminates non-visible objects, adopts a single perspective and maintains the proportion of dimensions. In other words, the child adopts a visual realism.
Because of this, children’s drawings lose that peculiar characteristic that defined them. Furthermore, many of the children begin to lose interest in drawing because they begin to feel that their ability does not allow them to make drawings that come close to reality.
In conclusion, it is interesting to mention that although it is possible to establish a development of child drawing in stages, we must be cautious. This development, in fact, is not linear as we can imagine, we will find progress and setbacks during the different phases. Faced with a more difficult task, therefore, the child can adopt the strategy of an earlier stage.