Analyse stages of drawing development

Explain and critically analyse stages of drawing development as described by Luquet and Piaget.

Children’s drawings are studied and analysed to learn about the acquisition of drawing skills. The types of skills we can interpret from drawings include motor execution, planning strategies, spatio-geometric, part whole relations and artistic talent. There are several theories that can be discussed about the processes of drawings such as Perceptual theories (Willats, 1977, 1997) Gestaltists theories (Kellogg, 1970,. Arnheim, 1974). Cognitive development theories (Luquet and Piaget, 1927, 1956., Karmiloff- Smith (1990). The theories which will be discussed and is the most significant to this discussion are the cognitive development theories.

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Cognitive development is how a person perceives and how they

think; this includes the way their behaviour is influenced by genetic and learned factors. Piaget (1927) believed that the knowledge consisted of schemas which are ‘basic units of knowledge used to organise past experiences and serve as a basis for understanding new ones’. The schemas are complementary associated with processes known as assimilation and accommodation. ‘Assimilation’ takes new information and incorporates it into the existing schema while ‘accommodation’ is when the schema accommodates and changes to co-exist with the new knowledge. The balances between these two processes are called the equilibrium. This theory includes four stages, the child develops through each of them and builds up new knowledge from previous stages, and they tend to occur at certain ages in a child’s life. These stages are called ‘sensorimotor’ (infancy), ‘pre-operational’ (toddlerhood – early childhood), ‘concrete operational stage’ (elementary – early adolescence) and ‘formal operational stage’ (adolescence – adulthood).

A second theory of cognitive development is Stage theory which was adopted by Luquet (1927). Luquet argues that children’s drawings process through four stages of realism (Costall, 2001). The first stage ‘fortuitous realism’ is essentially scribbles. The second ‘failed realism’ is topics in the drawings that are recognised but several mistakes have occurred. The third ‘intellectual realism’ is where the child depicts the salient pictures of topics and the fourth ‘visual realism’ is that the child develops a desire to produce life like representations. The main aim of Luquet’s frame work featured analysing spontaneous drawings and not what children might draw in experimental studies. ‘Luquet argues that drawings produced under experimental settings often produce distortions of what children normally draw’ (Costall, 2001). In support of his theory Luquet observed children drawing over a period of many years and associated their pictures with current and past events in their lives.

The first stage of drawing development which will be discussed is “scribbling” this stage first begins from the age of 12 months old. During this stage the children cannot produce recognisable drawings “they may look realistic by accident, without the child’s intentional attempt to create a realistic drawing (Luquet, 1927). This is because the children are simply enjoying kinsthetic activity and not attempting to portray the visual world (Lowenfield, 1985). After six months of “scribbling” children become more engrossed, they tend to take on more definite shapes, circling movement is first as it is more anatomical ( Edwards, 1985). Individual differences affect this stage of scribbling as each young child may draw different types of scribbles for different types of objects, this is also described when a drawing is said to be considered a scribble when the same form has been used when drawing other objects (Matthews, 1984). This is known as “fortuitous realism”.

The criticism with ‘scribbling’ is it can take on many forms for example closed forms (imperfect circles), (Matthews, 1984) these forms make it hard to distinguish imperfect rectangles or representational drawings and as discussed previously they look realistic by accident. Supporting evidence from a study involving 917 participants ranging from the ages of two to forty-three years old were tested individually and asked to draw a picture of a cube which was in front of them. Participants drawings were put into four categories which were 1) scribbles, 2) single units 3) differentiated figures 4) integrated figures. Results showed that the stages that were differentiated theoretically began after certain ages and in a certain order. All children under the age of two years and six months produced only scribbles.

The second stage is first representational shapes and forms. These are single units standing for the whole object. During this stage children aged two realise pictures depict objects (Kavanaugh and Harris, 1994) and children aged two to three find that meanings are imposed on to the pictures. Older children aged three to four begin to use lines to represent boundaries. Studies have shown that a single unit drawn to represent cubes may have different meanings. (Moore, 1986,.Willats, 1995). For example younger children (under the age of 8) draw a single square; they show that this represents the whole cube, whereas for older children the square refers to one face of the model.

This stage can also be referred to as the pre-schematic stages were the first record of a child’s thinking process occurs. They begin to draw such things as people, yet in a simpler form of a circle and lines to represent the body parts, new forms of drawing become more complex at a later stage, children continually search for new concepts so symbols constantly change (Lowenfield, 1985). According to Edwards (1985) this stage is split into two parts “The stage of symbols” and “the picture that tells stories”. The stage of symbols occurs after weeks of scribbling children make the discovery of art and use symbols to represent real things in the environment such as circles. The pictures that tell stories stage, the child begins to tell stories and work out problems with the drawings they change basic forms needed to express meaning to help them cope with problems better (Edwards, 1985). Within this stage Luquet’s second and third realism occurs ‘failed realism’ this is elements are unrelated/unconnected and ‘intellectual realism’ were children draw what they know, instead of what they see.

The support for this stage includes the study carried out Freeman and Janikoun (1972). In this study a picture of a cup was shown to children with the defining feature not visible, in this case this is the handle. A non- defining feature which is visible was a flower painted on the front of the cup. The findings in this study showed a developing trend, when drawing the picture of the cup the children stopped drawing the picture of the handle and started including the flower instead. This shift in intellectual realism to visual realism occurred between the ages of seven and eight years old. This study supports the finding that children tend to ‘draw what they know rather then what they see’ this appears to be true up until the age of eight to nine years old when the shift occurs.

A further study carried out by Karmiloff – smith (1990) carried out a number of drawing experiments on children between the ages of five and nine years old. Experiments were aimed to give open ended challenges to alter their pictorial routines. Tasks included drawing a ‘man with something missing’, ‘a man who doesn’t exist’ and more specific tasks ‘a man with two heads’. Findings showed ‘older children made spontaneous innovations that were obtainable from younger children under specific instruction (Berti and Freeman, 1996). Younger children relied more on external models, carried out more advanced planning and had greater awareness of what they did. In conclusion it is argued that external models play an inspirational role within younger children when developing drawing skills.

The third stage is referred to as differentiation of the objects into parts; this drawing should include more then one subpart at that stage. These are more realistic drawings and occur at the ages of five and six years of age, the drawings become more complex but still contain perceptual distortions. At the ages of six and seven more realism is included into the pictures, E.g. representation of 3d (Brain et al, 1993). We expect that the relationship between parts to be usually unrealistic, this is because the decomposition of a drawing precedes articulation and integration of differentiated drawings. (Pargue, 1992).

If the faces of a cube are drawn as true (object centred) shapes rather then as foreshortened and distorted views and three or more faces are shown in the drawing then these faces cannot be made to join properly (Freeman, 1986, Willats, 1887)

At this stage the child usually arrives at a schema, this represents the child’s active knowledge of subject and all their drawings are sat on a baseline. In contrasts to this stage by Lowenfield, Edwards has named this the landscape stage. The children progress to produce a set of symbols to produce a landscape picture using lines and symbols to separate the sky from the ground etc, using blue and green colours.

This is ‘visual realism’ (object centred) occurs and is the integration of differentiated unit; this is when the relationship parts are not realistic when joined together. According to Lowenfield (1985) this stage occurs at the ages of eight to ten years old and is known as the ‘gang stage: the dawning realism’. At this stage in drawing development the child no longer finds that schematic generalisation no longer suffices to express reality. Children draw using more detail and start to draw overlapping objects; they become more anxious and critical of their work to conform to their peers (Lowenfield, 1985). Again Edwards has spilt this stage into to two separate parts, the ‘stage of complexity’ and ‘the stage of realism’. At the ‘stage of complexity’ children draw more detail to attempt to portray realism. While the ‘stage of realism’ consists of drawings that are drawn to look real, the children seek help to resolve conflict when the drawings do not come out “looking right”. (Edwards, 1985)

Support for this stage visual and intellectual realism is carried out in the study of Clark (1927) the apple and the hat pin. The aim of this study was to test weather children did draw what they see. Piaget argued that the mental image is a dominant factor in intellectual realism in coping and drawing up until about seven to eight years of age (Freeman and Janikoun, 1927). In the study Clark (1897) showed children an apple with hat pin stuck in it. Children under the age of six years demanded that the total part of the pin was shown all the way through the apple and children above the age of eight were more given to the realistic representation. Rouma found that the same continuance on the part of the younger group portrayed what they knew to be there; he says that when he would stop them and ask them to look at the object they seemed to be annoyed and would only give it the required observation.

There has been several criticisms about the roles of stages in drawing development, including the stage theory been seed as rigid and been has been left behind, however children still show evidence of sequential cumulative progression in drawing development. The evidence against this argument is the study of gifted children and autistic savants. The question is ‘do individuals with autism progress through drawing stages more rapidly? (Earnes & Cox, 1994; Charman and Baron – Cohen, 1993) No evidence was found that they progressed more rapidly, yet they still produced intellectual realistic drawings, like children with typical development. The autistic children have the capacity to represent non- mental representations (using their internal model).

Pring and Hermelin (1993) investigated the mental process which contributed to the graphic aptitude of the savant artists, they asked the question in support of autistic savants ‘ does reproduction memory and picture sorting rely on structure or semantic features in savant and non- savant artists?’ They also found no evidence to suggest that savants have a particularly well developed memory for the visual structured features of object or have an overall more efficient visual memory. This supports the argument that the stages are rigid.

On the other hand Snyder and Thomas (1997) argued that autistic artists made no assumptions about what is seen in their environment, they do not have mental representations about what is salient in their environment and they see all details as equally important, this is seen as perception is less top down.

Other criticisms against this model states that the roles in culture and the environment are not considered within drawing development for example studies carried out on autistic artists. Other factors which may effect the development of these children include individual differences, age, education and experience all of which have been discussed using participants aged between two and forty-three representing different developments in nursery education or adults out of education. In conclusion ‘Luquet’s firm belief that children intend their drawings to be realistic led him to totally ignore the very clear evidence that children’s drawings can be expressive of moods and ideas (Jolley, Fenn and Jones, 2004)

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Freeman, N.H., Janikoun, R. (1972). Intellectual realism in Children’s drawings of a familiar object with distinctive features. Child Development: Blackwell Publishing. Vol 45 (3) pp 1116 – 1121.
Jolley. R., Fenn, K., Jones. L (2004) The Development of Children’s expressive drawing. British Journal of Experimental Psychology. Vol 22, pp 545-567
Luquet, G.H. (2001) Children’s Drawings. Translated with an introduction and notes by Alan Costall. London. Pp 168.
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