conveying information ideas & knowledge

children drawing image

Without delving too deeply into the psychological aspects of human development it is interesting to note that children will learn to draw, eventually, without being taught.

Given a stick or pencil, a child will begin scribbling with it at about the age of one-and-a-half. At first there is possibly only the satisfaction of the action itself, and the visual pleasure of the marks they make, that stimulates the child to continue the actions. By about the age of three a child will be drawing clear representations of things in his/her world.

The images are not works of art but eventually the child recognises things in them and, importantly, recognises that he/she can consciously make shapes that will represent things in the world around them and be recognised by others. He or she discovers, along with speech and the many gestures we make facially and bodily, that they have another means of communicating with the world.

It is tempting to assume that early humans started out in a similar way, but that something in the perceptual nature of our species set us apart from others in realising the value of this tool as a means of communication. Chimps can make marks in the dirt with a stick but they don’t write to each other or draw each other pictures.

Bison cave painting

Bison cave painting

An early example of the understanding of the power of communication is evident in the cave paintings at Lascaux and numerous other sites around the world. Some of these are over 20,000 years old and are the earliest evidence of human beings recording their presence, their actions, and their environment.

Perhaps the paintings were executed as the record of a kill, showing how many hunters there were, what the animal was, where they made the kill and any casualties amongst them. They may have been messages for other visitors who might inhabit the same spot, recording the possibilities for hunting in the area, or they might have warned of any danger from other tribes.

Handprint Lascaux image

Handprint Lascaux

Bearing in mind that these images were produced in these caves by firelight (and after an event) it shows an extraordinary ability to recall and reproduce a scene on a two-dimensional surface – and for a purpose! This seems to indicate that humans were capable, even then, of retrospective thought and contemplation and were aware that they could represent symbolic information by using drawn and written symbols and that others understood the nature of the message.

Symbols →