Drawing with a meaningful body

Year: 2013

Author: Wright, Susan, Diederich, Joachim, Cross, Russell

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Art educators have long recognised that children draw to know - to create and express complex meanings about themselves and their worlds. Symbol making through drawing captures children's sensory modes in emotional and embodied ways. Through art, children can communicate astonishing conceptual understanding and imagination, well beyond what can be expressed through language, even language in narrative form, and much earlier than can be communicated by them through written language.
This presentation will describe and present examples of how drawing provides a significant avenue for children's constructive, higher order thinking and feeling. At its core, drawing is embodied experience through action and representation. This is a form of intelligence that underpins all other forms of reasoning and learning in other symbol systems, such as storying, writing or numbering.  Vygotsky, for instance, emphasises how the practical activity of volitional, goal-directed, sign-and-tool mediated action develops the ‘mind'. Similarly, Merleu-Ponty argues that perception and representation are structured by the acting body - the embodied agent - in its purposeful engagement with the world. Langland-Hassan conceives visualization as a form of sensorimotor reasoning. In the cognitive linguistics literature, perceptually grounded concepts have been defined in terms of image schemas - schematic idealizations that capture recurrent patterns of sensorimotor experience, such as the Source-Path-Goal schema.
Embodied cognition and schema theory are significantly relevant foci in the fields of early childhood and art education. These theories are grounded on the view that concepts are built in children's minds and are based on the conclusions children draw from their experiences. Schema-oriented researchers, such as Arnold, have investigated patterns in children's spontaneous play and activities, which are mostly patterns of action but also include visual patterns that extend to mark-making on paper or on other surfaces such as: separating, connecting, containing, enveloping, vertical/horizontal and going through.
This presentation provides examples of the reciprocal relationships between three modes when children draw: (a) graphic assembly of actions, (b) enacted meaning with the body and (c) expressive narration of ‘live' events. The textual features inherent in these multimodal representations are similar to that of film and theatre, involving: characters; objects, place, setting, scenery, décor; speech, actions, subtexts; and the flow of information, articulated in space and time (e.g., themes, plot, events and sequences).  Such graphic-narrative-embodied events reveal children as philosophers, dramatists, technicians, aesthetes and fantasy creators - they illustrate the significance of the semiotic act of meaning construction in early development.