This is a summary/review of an article I thought had particularly compelling evidence for why understanding sequential images is a learned trait. Highlights are all mine…
Narratives of urban Japanese children (manga) were compared to those of village Egyptian children. The argument was made that development differs based on graphically “rich” versus graphically “poor” environments. Egyptian children teach each other how to draw (“world of childhood graphic imagery rather than adult imagery” p. 10). Egyptian children’s drawings were floating, static, 2D, and symmetrical– more a reflection of perception (“intrinsic and intuitive bias towards simplicity”…”reflect humans’ innate preference for simple nonoverlapping shapes” p. 15). Japanese children’s drawings were often occluded, cropped, with lots of visual elements, had some sort of plane to ground the images, and employed “cinematic” techniques– similar to that found in manga (Japanese children by 8 or 9 may have passed the point where they are inspired by innate factors– p.15).
Over 2/3 Egyptian children drew narratives where the contents of one frame was not sequentially related to the next frame. All Japanese children drew sequential narratives – and at a “higher level of story structure” (p.16). “Japanese children were three or four times more likely to depict a related series of events or process.”
Their conclusion is that the urban versus village lifestyle, plus other cultural factors encouraging drawing are what lead to the difference in representational ability. My response would be that its not the urban/village lifestyles that cause this, but exposure to VL and practice with it. Japanese kids live in rich visual language culture (manga), and actively develop those this graphic fluency. They do note though, that Egyptian children did not have access to comics, and “television for the Egyptian children seems not to provide a functional model for producing the structure of graphic narrative plots” (p16). Manga, of course, does provide that for Japanese children.
This is another example of how looking at graphic creation through a Language perspective alters the way data is interpreted. Because drawings look like what they represent, the Art POV will attribute influence to all sorts of perceptual and societal influences. A Language perspective focuses mainly on the exposure and devlopment of those particular structures in their cultural surroundings: if you’re going to produce (visual) language, what (visual) language is around you?
Wilson, Brent, & Wilson, Marjorie (1987). Pictorial Composition and Narrative Structure: Themes and the Creation of Meaning in the Drawings of Egyptian and Japanese Children, Visual Arts Research, 13 (2)
[Originally Posted 1/6/06]