Article Submission

Children's Artistic and Aesthetic Development:
The Influence of Pop-Culture in Children's Drawings

Masami Toku, Ed.D.
California State University, Chico

*This paper was presented at the 31st INSEA (International Society for Education through Art) convention in New York, Summer 2002.


Prior to the end of the nineteenth century there were some questionable assumptions in the study of children’s artistic development, such as universal and non-universal domains of children’s artistic abilities. Primary among these is the assumption that young children’s drawings evolve and change in predictable and universal ways regardless of their culture, that no matter where children are born, their pattern of artistic development does not differ in the early stages of artistic activity. Characteristic and universal patterns, such as representational graphic patterns, spatial patterns (how to create depth/space on two-dimensional surfaces), and so on, seem to emerge with cognitive development and physical growth at an early age (See, for example, Arnheim, 1969, 1974; Cox, 1992; Golomb, 1974; Goodman, 1978; Kellogg, 1969; Matthews, 1984). For example, regardless of ethnic and cultural differences, toddlers start to draw scribbles first and there is no referential meaning in drawings. Toddlers just enjoy playing with the drawing materials and discovering the emergence of lines. Then the scribble is developed to schematic patterns. Generally the first is a circle due to the limitation of children’s motor skills. Right after that, the circle assumes a particular meaning as a person, animal, flower, or sun, even though the circles look like just circles to adults. With the development of children’s motor skills and cognitive abilities, the patterns develop to show a concrete schema. Thus, seemingly there is a general direction in children’s artistic development. According to Piaget (1952), the universal patterns that exist in children’s drawings shift from stage to stage qualitatively equally in all cultures and countries, which means that there is a direction in children’s artistic development.

Although children’s drawings in their early stages indicate a universal pattern in artistic development, their drawings also show another important characteristic: the influence of culture and society. This means that the universal tendency of artistic development is generally limited to the early years from toddler to about five or six years of age before cultural and educational influences strongly appear. Children have a tendency to be influenced by their cultures and societies and the influences start to emerge in their drawings as a characteristic pattern (See, for example, Alland, 1983; Gardner, 1980; Harris, 1963; Wilson & Wilson, 1982). The influence of culture and technology emerges strongly in children’s drawings especially in elementary school, leading them to produce new and different characteristics in their drawing patterns depending upon the cultural and technological context.

Because of this fact, some questions remain in the study of artistic development. One, what kinds of universal patterns do exist in children’s drawings and do these patterns develop from one stage to the other regardless of socio-cultural contexts, as in Piaget’s theory? Two, if the pattern in children’s drawings is different depending on the particular culture and society, what do the differences reveal.

In this study, I focused on examining universality and non-universality (socio-cultural influences) in spatial treatment, which is how to create depth/space on two-dimensional surfaces, based on Japanese children’s drawings in elementary schools. What kinds of patterns in spatial treatment do Japanese children show? Which is predominant: universality or socio-cultural influences in the developmental process of spatial treatment in Japanese children’s drawings? If unique patterns appear, I would discuss reasons why Japanese children use particular ways to create space in drawings that U.S. children seldom use.



Based on the results of the pilot study implemented in 1993 (Toku, 1998), the focus of this study was to confirm the characteristics of spatial treatment observed in Japanese children’s drawings. First, by collecting Japanese children’s drawings from three regions of Japan from northern to southern areas in 1996, I attempted to determine whether there was a direction in children’s artistic development, especially in spatial treatment in drawing: in short, whether children’s artistic ability shifts from one stage to another as Piaget stated in his developmental stage theory. Secondly, in the pilot study, at least three unique patterns of spatial treatment appeared in Japanese children’s drawings which American children seldom used. The main issue of this study was to determine whether these three unique patterns (including “exaggerated views,” “bird’s-eye views,” and “multi-perspective views”) were really common characteristics in Japanese children. Since these characteristics appeared in Japanese children’s drawings regardless of the region in 1996, the kinds of socio-cultural influences that could have impacted their drawings were examined in 1997. Finally, in addition to the analysis of drawings, the relationship between children’s preferences and their actual drawings was examined based on six questions in which children were asked to indicate their favorite picture and the one closest to the way they created space among seven different types of spatial pictures. This was done to find whether children’s drawing reflected their preferences and knowledge of spatial representation.

This research was analyzed by two methodological approaches: 1) quantitative method with statistical techniques, and 2) qualitative method with observations and interviews.


First, collected drawings were classified by expert judges according to Eisner’s 14 spatial categories. In addition to Eisner’s categories, new categories were developed to analyze spatial treatments in Japanese children’s drawings that could not be classified according to the 14 Eisner categories. In addition, this method was used to compare age groups and locations. Secondly, the statistical method Chi-Square was used to judge the probability of spatial similarities and differences in children’s drawings among the three areas in Japan.

To find what kinds of socio-cultural factors actually influence the characteristics which appear in spatial treatment in Japanese children’s drawings, two tasks were administered: one was a drawing task (spatial presentation in drawings) and another was a judgment task (aesthetic and preference tasks) with the following hypotheses:

1. There is a direction of development in spatial treatment in Japanese children’s drawings regardless of area in Japan.
2. There is an artistic developmental stage theory which can describe a qualitatively equal shift from one category to another in spatial treatment.
3. The patterns of spatial presentation in children’s drawings are the same regardless of social-cultural differences.

As Cole (1996) mentioned, cross-cultural research should collect enough data based on the same standard. I decided to collect drawings from three regions in Japan. Japan is a small country; however, there are diverse cultures in many districts. To find common characteristics in Japanese children’s drawings and also not to reach easy conclusions, collecting data from several areas in Japan with different cultures was essential. Data was collected by the researcher in three locations in Japan:

1. Northern area (Morioka city): Morioka City is the capital city of Iwate prefecture and a typical middle sized city with a population of about 200,000. Morioka City is located in the northern part of Japan and has almost the same latitude as Chicago in the U.S. About 700 drawings for the drawing task and 350 questionnaire reports for the judgment task were collected from first through sixth grades in the elementary school attached to Iwate University.

2. Central area (Tokyo, the capital city): Tokyo is well known as the capital city of Japan and has one of the biggest populations in the world (about 12,000,000 people - almost four times the population of Chicago). About 700 drawings for the drawing task and 350 questionnaire reports for the judgment task were obtained from first through sixth grades in the elementary school attached to Ochanomizu Women’s University.

3. Southern area (Naze City): Naze City, the smallest of the three cities with 50,000 people, is in the southern part of Japan. One characteristic of this city is that it is located in the center of a small island, Amami-Ooshima , which is situated between the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea. Naze City has almost the same latitude as New Orleans in the U.S. About 500 drawings for the drawing task and 250 questionnaire reports for the judgment task were collected from first through sixth grades in Naze Municipal Naze elementary school, and about 700 drawings for the drawing task from first through sixth grades in Naze Municipal Amami elementary school.

About 2,500 drawings by first through sixth grade students who studied under the Japanese national curriculum were collected from four elementary schools in three areas of Japan from May through July, before summer vacation in 1996: Morioka City (Northern area), Tokyo (Central area, capital city), and Naze City (Southern area) to confirm whether characteristics which appeared in drawings were really particular to Japanese children. The reason for this limited period to implement this experimentation was the educational calendar. In Japan, the academic year goes from April through March, unlike the U.S. where it goes from September through June. To look at especially the first grade student’s drawings before they were influenced markedly by the nationwide art educational curriculum, the experiment needed to be implemented at the beginning of the school period, which is before summer vacation.

After discussing the details of the procedure with the researcher, this experiment was implemented under the same conditions (the same content of instruction, the limited time, the place, and materials) in each location. Drawings were collected either by the classroom teacher or the art teacher in each area depending on each school’s situation. For example, in one school, the drawing task was implemented at the same time in all grades in each classroom by the chair person of the research through the school intercom. In another school, the task was done separately by the instruction of three first grade classroom teachers in each classroom and two art teachers (one is for the second through fourth graders and the other is for the fifth and six graders) in each art room. In another school, the task was separately implemented by each classroom teacher in each art class period. Familiar materials which were used in the pilot study in 1996, such as drawing paper (11” X 18”), eight different colored crayons, and pencils and erasers, were distributed. Students were instructed to draw, “My friends and me playing in the school yard,” a theme investigated in earlier studies by Elliot Eisner (1967, 1972) and others (Golomb, 1983; Stansfield, 1979; Toku, 1997, 1998) . Students were asked to finish their drawings on the same subject within 30 minutes without any teacher support. Drawings collected by teachers in each school in Japan were handed to the researcher in July.

Collected drawings were first classified according to Eisner’s 14 categories in September in the US. Eisner’s categories were constructed to show children’s creative techniques to express space in two dimensional surfaces. These categories emphasize the relationship between figures (morphemes) and ground lines, the ways in which figures are drawn on the ground line, and the concept of overlapping, the ways in which figures overlap with the ground line and other figures (See Figure 2).

Then the researcher constructed new categories based on Eisner’s 14 categories to classify Japanese children’s unique patterns of spatial treatment which could not be classified by Eisner’s categories. As with Eisner’s categories, Toku’s twenty categories do not form a spatial scale to show developmental stages which always develop from one to another, but these categories show a developmental direction in the schematic categories. This means that children do not always develop from one to another category with age, although these categories show a developmental direction from simple to complex in spatial treatment. (See Figure 1).

The main difference between Eisner’s and Toku’s spatial categories is that Toku’s categories include the concept of relative size and location, photographic and exaggerated views, bird’s-eye views, and multi-perspective views, in addition to Eisner’s categories, which were based on the relationship between figures and the ground line and the concept of overlapping. To classify Japanese children’s unique ways of spatial treatment, Eisner’s spatial concept was not sufficient and needed to be adapted to an advanced concept of spatial presentation. Also, Eisner described the first category as the floating figure in space; however, this category was replaced by the concept of mapping in Toku’s categories. At the early stage, children tended to gather and draw all figures and things that they knew related to the playground drawing theme, “Me and my friend in playground.” In their drawings, figures and things are mapped and drawn rather than floating in space. Thus, categories two through twelve follow Eisner’s categories, but the first category and categories thirteen through twenty were developed by the researcher.


Figure 1: Toku's 20 Categories of Spatial Treatment in Children's Drawings

The basic style of verbal descriptions of spatial categories fundamentally follows Eisner’s descriptions, and the content of each category is as follows:

I. Mapping

Category 1: Morphemes “mapping,” not standing on edge of paper.

II. Alignments without a ground line

Category 2: Morphemes standing on bottom edge of paper.
Category 3: Some morphemes standing on bottom edge of paper. Others floating in space.
Category 4: Morphemes standing and aligned in space.

III. Alignments with a ground line

Category 5: Some morphemes standing on bottom edge of paper, others floating above horizon line.
Category 6: Some morphemes standing on bottom edge of paper, others standing on horizon line.

IV. Alignments on/above/overlap a ground line

Category 7: Morphemes standing on horizon line.
Category 8: Morphemes floating above horizon line.
Category 9: Some morphemes standing on horizon line, others floating above horizon line.
Category 10: Some morphemes standing on horizon line, others floating above horizon line.

V. More than two ground lines

Category 11: Two or more horizon lines drawn, morphemes standing on horizon lines/ bottom-edge of paper.
Category 12: Two or more horizon lines drawn, some morphemes standing on horizon lines, others overlapping horizon lines/ space.

VI. Open space

Category 13: Morphemes (same size) spreading over space --- the concept of relative position.
Category 14: Morphemes spreading over space, but getting smaller --- the concept of relative position & size.

VII. Photographic & exaggerated views

Category 15: Morphemes spreading over space, but some are cut by the edge of paper --- photographic view.
Category 16: Some morphemes are exaggerated drawn in space --- exaggerated view.

VIII. Bird’s-eye views

Category 17: Grid is drawn and morphemes are drawn from front and side view.
Category 18: Grid is drawn and morphemes are drawn from top view.
Category 19: Grid is drawn and morphemes are drawn from open view.

IX. Multi-perspective views

Category 20: Unclassifiable drawing including the multi-perspective view, which is drawn from different views at the same time.

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).”

Secondly, the statistical method (Chi-square) was used to analyze the spatial similarities and differences of children’s artistic development found in the drawings under the following five comparisons (hypotheses). 1. U.S. students in suburban Chicago vs. students in Champaign in 2nd, 4th, and 6th grades 2. U.S. students in both suburban Chicago and Champaign vs. Japanese students in suburban Chicago in 2nd, 4th, and 6th grades
3. U.S. students in both suburban Chicago and Champaign vs. Japanese students in suburban Chicago in 2nd grade
4. U.S. students in both suburban Chicago and Champaign vs. Japanese students in suburban Chicago in 4th grade
5. U.S. students in both suburban Chicago and Champaign vs. Japanese students in suburban Chicago in 6th grade


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
Using the Chi-square (= .05 & .01), it was found that all hypotheses were overturned due to the significant differences of spatial representation of children of different nationalities (See Table 1 & 2, Figure 3).


Figure 2: Comparison of the Development of Spatial Treatment in Drawing
between US and Japanese Children (Frequencies falling in each of Eisner’s
14 categories)

Table 1: Comparison of Children’s artistic development in Japan based on
Eisner’s 14 Categories

Table 2: Proportion in each Eisner’s Spatial Category in each School in Japan (N = 2551)

Figure 3: Figure 3. Proportion in each Eisner’s Spatial Category in each School in Japan (N = 2551)

After classifying children’s drawings by Eisner’s categories, new spatial categories were developed to classify Japanese children’s creative techniques which could not be classified into Eisner’s categories. As a result, 20 spatial categories were constructed: categories 1 through 12 incorporated almost the same concepts as Eisner’s, which were based on the relationships between figures and the ground line. Category 5 however was removed from the original Eisner’s categories due to the fact that Japanese children failed to use this method of spatial treatment in their drawings. Categories 13 through 20 were added to classify Japanese children’s characteristics in spatial drawings based on the concept of relative position and size and the multi-perspective views from different directions in space. As imagined, more than 35 percent of Japanese children’s drawings from first through six grades, regardless of region in Japan, were classified into the new spatial categories of 13 through 20. The rate expanded with their age.


Table 3: Comparison of Children’s Artistic Development in Japan based on
Toku’s Main 9 SpatialCategories

Table 4: Proportion in each Toku’s 9 Main Spatial Category in each School in Japan (N = 2392)

Japanese children showed a tendency to often use complicated techniques of creating space considering their ages. More than 35 % of drawings of Japanese children from 1st through 6th grades at 4 schools in 3 regions in Japan were classified into categories 13 through 20, which were constructed to classify the unique patterns in Japanese children’s spatial presentations. This number of 35 % was equal to those which were not classified into Eisner’s spatial categories.

According to the distribution in each category, we can find a tendency of Japanese children’s spatial treatment in their drawings. After using a ground line to create space on the two dimensional surface, children start to express the space without the ground line. By spreading figures over the whole surface of the drawing paper, children create space with the concept of relative position, in which figures standing on the bottom of the paper are closer and figures drawn in the top are farther; however, figures are still drawn the same size without the concept of relative size at this stage. Then children start to use more advanced techniques to create space, like the concept of relative size where figures are drawn progressively smaller with distance. After finding the concept of relative size to create space, children have a tendency to use a special technique, called “photographic view.” The characteristic of this technique is that some figures are consciously drawn as “cut-off” bodies in the drawing. For example, a body is drawn cut off in the center by the left edge of the drawing paper or cut off in half horizontally by the bottom edge of the paper. As a result of using this technique, the space is assumed to continue beyond the edge of paper without limitation. At this stage, children find that the paper is just a small square to express space and they no longer try to contain space inside the paper; they just use the paper as a part of the larger natural space. Also, these two spatial techniques of relative size and photographic view are often used at the same time in the same drawings. Not all, but some, children develop another technique of creating space in their drawings, the “exaggerated view.” This is the most impressive and advanced technique to create space since this technique demands not only the knowledge of space, but also considerable artistic skills. However, results of the drawing task suggest that the tendency did not appear in younger students’ drawings (first and second graders). This may be due to lack of skill rather than lack of knowledge of the concept of space: Children might not know how to draw, experiencing what Feldman (1980) calls a “performance problem.” They may tend to use alignment techniques until their skill level matches their knowledge and their preferences for space.

Contrary to the tendency to develop spatial treatment by spreading figures to the exaggerated view, there is another tendency in the process of creating space on the two dimensional surface, which is called “bird’s-eye view.” Mostly, there is a grid to express a playground in the drawing in this spatial pattern, but there are three patterns depending on the angle of looking at the square line: side, top, and open view. The reason for drawing the square grid line may well be due to the environment and the system of Japanese schools. In Japan, schools are built with three or four floors surrounded by a big playground. Also, there is at least 5 minutes recess time between each class and students use that short time to play on the playground. As a result, students have frequent chances to look down at the playground from their classrooms. The pattern was produced from an ordinary scene from their school life. The side view is the most popular pattern and figures are spread equally in the square. The top view is the rarest of these three patterns with the square line in the drawing, but there were two to three cases in each school. This pattern is the most advanced pattern among the three since this is drawn as a top view looking straight down from the top. Figures are drawn with the head, arms, and feet without drawing the body itself. The third pattern of open view is very common in younger students such as first and second graders. Lowenfeld and Brittain (1970) also mention this tendency as one of the common solutions when younger children create space; they call this view of “folding over.” As the result of younger children’s struggle to create space, they create this pattern due to their lack of motor skills and the knowledge of how to reproduce the actual space on two-dimensional surfaces. However, with age, the tendency to use this pattern decreases.

The choice of this technique of bird’s-eye view seems to depend on the location and circumstance of the school that students attend. According to the data based on the Toku’s 20 categories, on the one hand, more than 25 % of students in Naze elementary school, which has five floors and has a nice view looking down on a big playground, chose this technique to express their playground scene. On the other hand, only about 7 % of students in the elementary school attached to Iwate University, which has two floors, chose this pattern to draw their play scene.


There are some socio-cultural factors in Japanese children’s creative techniques in the spatial presentation in their drawings that are seldom found in other cultural groups of children. Why and how Japanese children start to create such unique ways to express space on two-dimensional surfaces is the subject of this discussion. Based on findings of this study, there are 3 possibilities factors of socio-cultural influences in Japanese children’s drawings: 1) educational system factors, 2) traditional aesthetic factors, and 3) popular cultural (pop-culture) factors. The Educational system factor is the effect of the Japanese national curriculum, which provides structured art educational curricula during compulsory education periods from 1st to 9th grades. Aesthetic and traditional factors form the cultural aesthetic which Japanese traditional art must. It can be restated that the peculiar cultural aesthetic tends to appear in art. In fact, Golomb (1992) states that the balance of spatial arrangement differs in each culture depending on the concept of the aesthetic that each culture holds. However, she does not mention why and how each culture has a different aesthetic. The factor of pop-culture is the influence of Japanese popular culture of comic books, which appeared in the entire sociey in Japan. Particular characteristics which appeared in children’s drawings were sometimes influenced by a single socio-cultural factor, but other times influenced by the interaction of a number of factors. Which factor dominated children’s artistic ability totally depended on each child’s background.

In this discussion, I would like to focus on the influence of popular culture in children’s creativity. It is well known that Japanese comic books (called “Manga” in Japanese and pronounced “Mahngah”) have had a strong status as a part of Japanese culture for at least three decades, more than in any other country (Schilling, 1997; Schodt, 1983; Yang, 1997). Due to the popularity of Manga all over Japanese society, it is also well known that the influence strongly dominates children’s artistic creativity, appearing throughout their drawings (Gardner, 1980; Toku, 2002; Wilson, 1997, 1999).

Before starting to discuss how and why the influence of Japanese comic books appears in children’s graphic presentation, it may be necessary to clarify the process through which Japanese comic books (Manga) became an essential part of Japanese culture. In the U.S., the popularity of the American comic book has declined dramatically since the 1950s due to overregulation and competition from television. American comic books have a cumulative monthly circulation of 300,000, but there are no weekly comic books any more. On the contrary, Manga are popular and the influence will not stop soon in Japan. For example, over 5 billion books and magazines were produced in Japan in 1984, making it one of the most print-saturated nations in world. About 27% of these publications (about 1.4 billion) were comics, Manga, in magazine and book form. In the 1990s, it is said that the proportion of Manga among all publications is almost 50% in Japan. Manga are read not only by children but also by adults in Japan. Most Manga are divided into boys’ comics (“shoonen manga”) and girls’ comics (“shoojo manga”) and each comic has a kind of gender characteristic in the cartoon and the story itself that the other does not have. Both boys’ and girls’ comics are published weekly and monthly and each comic includes more than 10 stories by different cartoonists (authors); as a result, the typical volume exceeds 350 pages and sometimes reaches 600 pages, unlike comic books in the U.S. (where each generally has 10 to 20 pages with one story) (Schodt, 1983, p. 12).

However, manga could not have become an integral part of Japanese culture unless there had been a genuine need. To be sure, younger children read comics for the same reason children everywhere do - they are immediately accessible when still learning to read, and fun. But for older children, teenagers and adults, manga are faster and easier to read than novels, more portable than television sets, and provide an important source of entertainment and relaxation in a highly disciplined society. Also, it should not be forgotten that the educational system is set up in response to the highly competitive society in Japan. Because of such a competitive society, children are not allowed to have their own free time and they are forced to study for a grueling cycle of exams that determines their scholastic and vocational futures. Only reading manga can give children their own free time and can release them from such a tough reality since manga allows children into their imaginative world. Likewise, the reason manga has become an integral part of Japanese culture is in response to Japanese needs. The needs of Japanese for manga seems to be stronger than other cultures due to the above reasons.

Finally, how does the influence of manga appear in children’s graphic presentation in their drawings? As mentioned earlier, there are some gender differences in children’s drawings since there are girls’ and boys’ comics books in Japan and the characteristics differ in each comics.

On the one hand, it must be easy to find the influence of manga in pictures that children draw. In boys’ pictures, there are cartoonistic and humorous figures out of proportion with real human figures, with a short bodies and exaggerated facial expressions or ideal figures with muscular bodies. In girls’ pictures, the characteristics of figures are more obvious than in figures drawn by boys. The proportions of the human figure are of course, ignored and depicted as ideal, slender bodies with long, skinny arms and legs, and big eyes, and sometime the nose is depicted as a dot in the center of the face. No one will be at a loss to find the influence of manga in figures depicted in children’s drawings (Schodt, 1983).

On the other hand, most people tend to overlook the influence of manga in spatial presentation in children’s drawings. Although Japanese manga have many characteristics that other comic books do not have in other countries, one of the characteristics is the detail and the complexity of the background. Not only figures but also the background of the story is often carefully depicted with the techniques of linear-perspective view. Also, figures are often drastically cut off by the edge of picture frame and exaggerated in the picture space without any depiction of background. Such dramatic techniques used in manga seem to have strong impact on children’s visual thinking. As a result, the influence appears in children’s drawings to satisfy children’s aesthetic in spatial presentation. Thus, the influence of manga appears not only in figures but also in spatial treatment in children’s drawings.


Why do children start to show certain socio-cultural characteristics in their graphic presentation at a certain age ? Why do children show a universality in their graphic presentation in their drawings regardless of socio-cultural differences? Some researchers say that we already start to be influenced by a particular culture right after we are born through parents, brothers and sisters, since people themselves are assumed to be a part of culture. We cannot be alone and we cannot be free from culture as long as we are born into society.

Regardless of the culture, the development of perception is never qualitatively different from either person to person or culture to culture, although the development might be quantitatively different from person to person. Physical growth is also qualitatively equal regardless of cultural differences. As a result, because children’s artistic abilities are supported by cognitive development and the development of motor skills, children’s artistic development in graphic presentation basically shows a universal direction from simple to complex, at early ages before going to school (approximately 2 - 6 years old).

For example, it is well known that all infants start to draw from a scribble; however, the scribble does not have any referential meaning and it is just a pleasure that infants accidentally find through playful activity with their hands. Then, the scribble changes to make a certain graphic shape, which is a circle, because of the limitation of their motor skills, which is a matter of physical construction (Arnheim, 1954, 1974). For younger children, creating geometric shapes of squares and triangles is an incredibly difficult task since they cannot control straight lines well. By using circles, children express everything that they want to. Even though the circles that children draw look like just a circle which does not have any meaning, each circle has a particular meaning for children: mother, father, dog, cat, sun, flower, and so on (Arnheim, 1954, 1974). Likewise, such a universal tendency in graphic presentation develops from the simple to more complex patterns with cognitive and physical development until children start to be exposed to strong socio-cultural factors, approximately before elementary school (Golomb, 1992).

Depending on the interpretation of the definition and the realm of social-cultural factors, many researchers would argue for earlier peer influences and the possibility of social-cultural influences appearing in children’s early artworks. This would suggest that there is no universal tendency in children’s artistic development even before in elementary school. However, I would also argue for the possibility of strong social-cultural influences appearing early in children’s drawings since elementary school is the first society where children are socialized systematically, but these influences are probably not felt earlier. Even though younger children could possibly be exposed to social-cultural factors before starting compulsory education, the chance is lower than those of elementary children. There are still some universal patterns which exist in young children’s graphic representation before elementary school.

In spatial presentation in children’s drawings, there is also a universal tendency in certain periods until their works of art start to be dominated by particular socio-cultural factors by which children are surrounded. First, children seemingly do not have any concept of space when they draw; as a result, figures are often just floating in their drawings. In other words, it is difficult to see the concept of space in children’s drawings since figures are often randomly floating in their drawings without systematically standing on something. Secondly, children start to use the bottom edge of the paper as a ground line and all figures are depicted standing on the line. Next, children invent a horizon line in the drawing to solve the problem of creating space in it and all figures and others are still standing on the line. With the emergence of the horizon line in children’s drawings, their creativity rapidly develops and they start to express the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface. When children find the effect of overlapping by themselves or from peers, artistic ability naturally reaches a certain peak. Whether children can find other effective factors to create a realistic three dimensional world on two dimensional surfaces, such as relative position, size, density, and linear perspectives depends on children’s backgrounds. Depending on whether children are exposed to particular strong socio-cultural factors, the manner of spatial treatment in their drawings will differ. If children are not influenced by any factors in a culture, their ability will not develop naturally. However, when children have many chances to be influenced by socio-cultural factors, the influence will appear in their drawings and it will lead to unique ways of spatial presentation that other cultures seldom show.

In conclusion, on the one hand, regardless of socio-cultural differences, human beings develop their artistic ability from simple to complex graphic presentation, reflecting their cognitive development (cognitive and perceptual abilities) and physical growth (motor skills). This means that there is a universality in the pattern of graphic presentation during a certain period regardless of cultural differences, although the universal stage theory does not exist in children’s artistic development.

On the other hand, children start to show cultural characteristics in their drawings at a certain time period since they are exposed to strong factors in each culture, although we may not be able to precisely define the main factors. This indicates that children’s artistic development in graphic presentation is not always a linear development, but often shows a circular development. Although children generally show a pattern from simple to complex in their graphic representation with age, some children show another tendency to create a new technique in their presentation after reaching the period of complexity, which may be called advanced simplicity. In the daring simple composition, we will see advanced techniques and higher cognition, which is different from the simplicity of composition in the early period due to the lack of children’s skills and their performance problems.

As a result, children’s graphic presentation develops differently from person to person. Furthermore, children who are strongly influenced by particular socio-cultural factors start to show their original creativity in their graphic presentation, and characteristics become the particular socio-cultural differences which may be called cultural originalities. In this study, Japanese children’s drawings of “Me and my friends playing in the school yard” show the children’s unique ways of creating space although they also started to draw and create space in their drawings with the same kinds of techniques at their early ages as U.S. children do. In a certain period of their growth, Japanese children started to show their own creative ways in spatial presentation due to strong socio-cultural influences. There are mainly four socio-cultural factors: 1) the educational factor, 2) the environmental factor, 3) the traditional aesthetic factor, and 4) the popular culture factor. In addition, these factors are sometimes combined and influence children’s artistic ability.

Bruner (1996) says that development is undoubtedly not free from culture. Nevertheless, Cole (1996) argues that there is no theory which explains how a particular culture affects cognitive development in a particular direction. This may be true since it is very difficult to define what socio-cultural factor causes a particular direction in children’s cognitive development. A conclusion cannot easily be reached because the process of cultural development is not simple at all. However, it is also true that it is relatively easy to find some socio-cultural characteristics which appear in children’s artistic development in a particular culture. The problem is that we cannot determine what the main socio-cultural influences that cause such characteristics are.


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