Previously, many researchers such as Lowenfeld and others created developmental patterns in spatial representation, but only Eisner created enough spatial categories to analyze children’s drawings. His scale was constructed for classifying children’s drawings with respect to spatial syntax in a developmental schema of spatial treatment from a simple to complicated manner qualitatively. It was originally developed based on the relationship between figures and baseline, and the existence of occlusion in the spatial treatment. For this reason, Eisner’s 14 spatial categories are often used to judge spatial order and artistic development objectively. For example, children tend to draw figures without any spatial relationship due to the lack of concept of space and depth. In this stage, figures are drawn as floating figures and objects (Eisner’s category one). With age, children use the bottom line of the drawing paper as a ground line and all figures and objects are drawn standing on the bottom line of the paper (category two). Then children start to draw a baseline on the paper instead of using the bottom of the paper as the ground base (category 4). Finally they use the technique of overlapping with figures, objects, and even with the ground to show space and depth on a two-dimensional surface (category 13). Eisner also created category 14 for unclassifiable drawings. Generally, those drawings are assumed to be advanced technique drawings in spatial treatment.
Due to Eisner’s assumption in his research, his visual-verbal categories were selected as my study’s standard. Although these categories were developed to compare the drawing performance of culturally advantaged and culturally disadvantaged children, which was different from my study, it proved useful. Eisner says in his article;
“One major assumption of the study was not only that the various morphemes found in each category were present in children’s drawings, but that the categories were ordered hierarchically. That is, the scale was not viewed merely as a scheme for classifying drawings but as a progression of category ordered according to development (Eisner, 1967, pp13).”
First, based on Eisner’s constructed categories, the relationship of nationality and artistic development, specifically spatial development was examined. Second, the universality of spatial treatment and cultural specificity in their drawings were observed. We examined differences in the scale or the transition pattern from one category to another between U.S. and Japanese students, and the reasons for this. In addition to the spatial treatment, other findings in figural orientation and color were also discussed. Finally, the mechanism of relationship between universality and cultural specificity was observed.
Findings in Spatial Treatment
Note. Total N = 942
In comparison 1, the relationship between U.S. students in suburban Chicago and Champaign in 2nd, 4th, and 6th grades was significant, although the difference between them was not as great as that difference in the relationship between different nationalities between Japan and the U.S. (See Figure 2). There were some differences in the scale or the transition pattern from one category to another between two districts of American students. Students in suburban Chicago seemed to transfer from one category to another faster than those in Champaign. Also, the rate of category fourteen for Chicago (7.7%) was higher than that of Champaign (2%) as a whole (2nd, 4th, and 6th grades). This indicated that even in the same country there is some difference in the process of children’s artistic development depending on the social and education level.
In comparing 2 to 5, the relationship between U.S. students (including both suburban Chicago and Champaign) and native Japanese students in suburban Chicago in each grade, 2nd, 4th, and 6th, significant differences were shown in the process of their spatial treatment, In addition, there are some interesting findings from the data in the rate of each category (See Figure 4, 5, & 6).
First, there are almost no Japanese students in the low categories, 1 and 2, even 2nd grade students, unlike U.S. students in both Chicago and Urbana-Champaign. This means that Japanese students already have some knowledge of spatial treatment when they start elementary school, at age six or seven. Conversely, about ten percent of U.S. students in 4th and 6th grades are still in the first category where figures are presented “floating” in the space of the drawing. In addition, the transition speed from the lower categories to the higher categories is seemingly faster in Japanese students than in either group of U.S. students. In the 4th grade, more than sixty percent of Japanese students are already in categories11 to 14, figures presented overlapping in horizontal space, although less than twenty percent of both groups of U.S. students are in those categories.
Another finding is that there are many unclassifiable drawings from Japanese students, which are classified as number fourteen of Eisner’s categories. In spite of the fact that most U.S. students (more than ninety percent) can be classified in the categories, about fifty percent of Japanese students in 6th grade are not suited to Eisner’s categories. This result indicates that the transition from one category to another is not universal and not consistent. The reason will be discussed below.
Other Findings in Pictorial Representation
A more interesting result might be the difference between female and male children in their figure drawings. Because of the different types of comic books for girls and boys, they imitate figures differently. For example, in the case of girls, there is the idealization of figures in their drawings, which have large-eyes, invisible noses with just a line or dot, and skinny bodies that have narrow and long legs. Similarly, figures in boys’ drawings are still drawn with idealized face and body, but in another way, we can see more exaggerated movement and muscular bodies there. Sometimes, figures and facial expressions in boys’ drawings are more exaggerated and cartoonized (e.g. funny faces and baby-like shrunken bodies) than girl’s figures in an idealized manner. Wilson (1998) classified Japanese children’s figurative drawings into 7 types corresponding to different characters in Japanese comic books (manga), such as doll, robot, monster, and so on. According to his research, more than 70 % of 6th graders showed some kinds of cartoon influences in figures.
In the case of only female figures, the figures’ clothes are colored with both warm and cool colors because of their sense of color balance. In the case that only male figures are drawn, warm and cool color mixes are used as in the case of female figures. When female and male figures are drawn at the same time, an interesting tendency emerges. At that time, children tend to color the females’ clothes with warm colors and males’ clothes with cool colors. This is due to Japanese culture because Japanese have a tendency to dress female children in warm colors and male children in cool colors. Children may learn this unconsciously.
Furthermore, it was very interesting that children never blended more than two colors in clothes or anything else. Rather they seemed to prefer coloring with single colors regardless of cool or warm colors.
Another reason for the differences between U.S. and Japanese students is the national differences in kindergarten. In Japan, kindergarten teachers are well trained as music and art experts. A lot of time is spent teaching art and music in the classroom. As a result, many children are exposed to art education and socialization with peers before going to the compulsory educational system (See, for example, Peak, 1991, Tobin, Wu, & Davidson, 1989). Due to the differences in the educational systems in the U.S. and Japan, one assumption is that Japanese children will progress faster than U.S. children will in each category of development. At the same time, these results show that art educational programs help to contribute to the progression of children’s artistic development. When children struggle to transfer three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional flat surface, they may be able to find the solution through art education and socialization in the classroom.
Another reason may be the difference of language. Psychologists, Harold W. Stevenson and James W. Stigler mention in their book, The Learning Gap (1992), that the Japanese and Chinese languages are more systematic than English especially in “counting.” Therefore, Japanese and Chinese are apt to learn mathematics more quickly and easily than U.S. children in cognitive development. Although they use the language differences to explain the difference in the development of mathematics skill related to cognitive development, the effect of systematic language might also be used to explain the difference of artistic development between U.S. and Japanese children (Pickard, 1996). Vygotsky also says that language development helps in the development of cognition and perception (“Mind in Society,” 1978). In early childhood education, Japanese children already have an opportunity to develop their language skills through peer dialogue in the classroom. This language development might also help their artistic development.
Finally, Eisner’s categories were originally developed based on the relationship between figures and baseline, and the existence of occlusion in spatial treatment. He classified spatial treatment into thirteen progressive categories and then created a fourteenth category for unclassifiable drawings, which could not fit in the other thirteen categories. While we found many unclassifiable drawings in Japanese students, most U.S. students’ drawings were classified among the thirteen categories. Unclassifiable drawings from Japanese children were further divided into three types, an exaggerated view, a bird’s-eye view, and multi-perspective view. How should we interpret these results? The main reason for the Japanese children’s unclassifiable drawings is apparently cultural and social influences.
The cultural and social influences strongly appear in the exaggerated and perspective views. It is well known that Japanese culture is strongly influenced by the “cartoon,” so-called “manga” in Japanese. However, the influence of cartoons in comic books dominates Japanese society, especially children’s society more than most people think. Sometimes educational books also use cartoons, and these books effectively support education. Unlike in the U.S., in Japanese society cartoons are not just used in comic books. One of the characteristics of Japanese cartoons is the depiction of the background, where the negative shapes including architecture and landscapes are depicted in aerial and linear perspectives. Also, another characteristic of expression in cartoons is the exaggeration method, in which one part of the body or place in the composition is exaggerated by excluding other parts. Likewise, it is easy to imagine that most Japanese children are influenced by these techniques in creating space in the limited composition through cartoons. In addition, there is a flood of graphic and artistic advertisement throughout Japan, since Japan does not have a control system to regulate advertisements in public space, unlike the U.S. As a result, people are unconsciously surrounded and visually influenced by graphic advertisement (Schodt, 1983).
The other unclassifiable drawing is the so-called “bird’s eye” drawing, which is a view that a bird looking straight down from sky would have. Because of the title of the drawing, “Me and my friends playing in the school yard,” children might have to create a new way to show the playground view with friends. One reason that Japanese children create drawings this way is the influence of technology, TV and computer games. It might suggest that children are watching sports on TV. As a result, they can easily see playground scenes with the bird’s eye view through the TV screen. However, another question arises. Why don’t U.S. children use the same method, although U.S. children are also exposed to the same technology? In the U.S. students’ drawings there are few bird’s-eye view depictions of space. Another possible reason why Japanese children often draw with bird’s-eye views is the influence of traditional Japanese methods of depicting space in painting. It is well known in art history that traditional Japanese artists used so-called “bird’s-eye views” in the seventeenth century. Is it possible for Japanese children to be influenced by the traditional method of creating space in their drawings? This answer to this is probably “No.” There is little possibility of children being exposed to such traditional methods today, even though children may have a chance to see paintings using the bird’s-eye view technique. Therefore, the traditional methods in Japan do not explain the phenomenon of Japanese children’s creativity. Then what is the cause of Japanese children’s creativity?
A possible reason is children’s aesthetic for spatial arrangement in the drawing. We have to recall that this subject “Me and my friends playing in the school yard” was not drawn through direct observation, rather it was drawn from memory and depicted in the classroom with limited time (about 30 minutes). When the subject was given, children recalled the playground scene with friends from their memory and created the spatial scene in the drawing. Nancy R. Smith mentions in “Experience & Art (1993)” that “children do not try to create space in the 2-D surface, rather they use 2-D space to represent their presentation.” Furthermore, Claire Golomb states in her book on the child’s creation of a pictorial world (1992) that the balance of spatial arrangement differs in each culture depending on the concept of the aesthetic that each culture has. For Japanese children, the figures arranged equidistant in the square space with bird’s-eye view might be an expressive method to show the playground and their sensitivity for the aesthetic balance of spatial arrangement, which might be stronger in Japanese children than U.S. children.
Figural orientation and the usage of colors
For example, in girls’ drawings, the depicted figures have the same characteristics, which are doll-like big eyes with stars in them, an almost invisible nose, and a model-like skinny body. The images come directly from girl’s manga since those images are repeatedly depicted in girl’s manga as ideal figures. It is no wonder that the images are unavoidably printed in girls’ minds and decoded when they draw. In boys’ drawings, there are two patterns of figural orientation; one is an ideal muscular figure and the other is a funny shrunken figure with big eyes. Why do boys draw in these ways which girls do not? Wilson (2000) gave one possible response to this question that boys may draw their own images as they believe others see them as well as ideal figures. Accordingly, girls do not want to examine the way they look. Rather they want to keep drawing the ideal figures to satisfy their desires for what they want to be. However, boys ironically draw such a funny baby-like shrunken body to show exaggerated perceptions of others although they also have a desire to be an ideal figure like girls do. Schodt (1983) analyze that it is evidence of a “revolution in the way Japanese people view or wish to view themselves” (p.92).
Unlike the popularity of comic books, which decreased with the emergence of TV in the U.S. during 1960s, manga and TV in Japan interacted to inspire children’s curiosity, and developed from a simple moralizing drama of good vs. bad to a complicated human drama. Once a story manga became popular, the story became an animation series on TV. Serial stories in manga and animation successfully kept children’s attention and attracted their visual curiosity endlessly.
From this drawing experiment, “Me and my friends playing in the school yard,” some results emerge. One is that art educational programs contribute to children’s artistic development. The reason is not only the art education system itself in Japan as a required course during compulsory education from 1st through 9th grades, but also the socialization with peers in the classroom during the art class. Interaction with peers through dialogue in the art classroom inspires children’s visual thinking skills through the development from egocentric speech to social speech (Thompson, 1995). As a result, children’s artistic ability rapidly develops. For example, as my research shows, children can find solutions to create a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface through socialization with peers, thorough such means as imitation and conversation, easier than working alone.
The tendencies of children’s drawings in spatial order and other pictorial presentations are not always qualitatively or quantitatively universal in linear progression from simplicity to complexity and also not consistent from category to category (Freeman, 1997). For example, in spatial treatment, Japanese children create new ways to show spatial complexity: exaggerated view, bird’s-eye view, and multi-perspective view. However, these are not visually complex, but intellectually complex. In figural orientation, Japanese children prefer abstract symbolic figures without the details to complicated realistic figures with the details.
Gestalt theory says that children tend to draw what they see rather than what they know (Eisner, 1967). On the contrary, there is another very famous theory that children tend to draw what they know rather than what they see (Goodenough, 1926). Which one is predominant? It may depend on subject. It may depend on cultural specificity. However, I would like to add to on these theories that children tend to draw based on attractiveness more than what they know or what they see. In other words, children tend to imitate the way in which nature and figures are drawn in cultural media rather than how they are seen through their own eyes.
Children, exposed to the cultural influences in their society, like what they see through cultural media such as TV, magazines, photography, and so on, rather than what they see their own eyes. An art teacher, Franz Cizek (1921), the father of the study of child art, believes that children are endowed with an inborn creativity and an intrinsic artistic timeclock . In other words, if children can keep their own pace in their own natural manner without any influence from culture and society, they will be able to maintain the creativity of child art until adulthood. Cizek believed that the influence of culture tends to disadvantage children’s normal artistic development (Wilson, 1988). However, the influence of culture is not always detrimental to children’s artistic development. Children seem as adept as their elders at absorbing influences and turning them to their own advantage. In other words, children first seem to imitate from other sources when they draw because of the desire to draw more realistic or idealized figures. Their attitude seems like simple imitation. However, finally, this imitation attitude leads to their own originality. Children never stop at just imitating from other sources. They turn the imitated ideas into their own ideas and develop them in original ways. The imitation attitude is helpful in inspiring their own originality and creativity.
As long as we live in our culture and society, it is impossible for us to cultural influences. Therefore, art educators have to admit the fact that culture is one of the ingredients of children’s artistic growth.
Alland, A. (1983). Playing with form: Children draw in six cultures. New York: Columbia