When looking at Manet's, 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte', I find it hard to see anything but a beautiful and idyllic scene, complemented with subtle blues, greens and yellows; yet, is there something more to it? Art is said to be the criticism of life, but is this really true? Could Manet have really been hiding a darker and more sinister undertone of life, and somehow weaved it in to this piece of great art, only to be seen by the more sensitive of people?
I asked 50 adults, and 50 children in nursery, to simply "draw", after providing them with a pen and paper. This may seem a basic and childish task, but how and where do you start? The human mind is such a complex phenomenon; often people tend to search for a deeper meaning, even with this type of challenge where none exists. The human mind is anything but simple!
So, when faced with this challenge, the adults and children differed initially in their behaviour. The adults pondered for a long time; a number gazed starry-eyed into the distance, some gave an occasional rueful sigh, and others looked at me as if I'd gone mad. In contrast, the children were in their element, scribbling beaverishly away, as if no time or paper could hold what they had to give.
After gathering up the pictures, it was determined that apart from the obvious differences in formation and presentation, the adults and children drew very much the same thing. This 'thing' was people. More specifically, from what I gather, the 'thing' was themselves; some even with bold arrows labelling 'me', or a somewhat 'abstract' and amplified version of a unique feature recognisable in any context!
So why is this? When given the opportunity to draw anything, why had pictures been limited to the confines of only humanity, and what we can see instead of actively imagine? In a world where expression is a sign of individualism and is increasingly encouraged, why have these people of all ages drawn the same thing, with no knowledge of what anyone else had drawn?
The answer may lie with my earlier statement; Art is the criticism of life. By drawing people, are we subconsciously criticising people? This may be the often selfish and cruel nature of human beings, or alternatively the way in which humanity is destroying or changing our beautiful world.
A Russian Psychologist named Vygotsky (1896-1934), stated that we become ourselves through others. Many other Social Psychologists also agree that our behaviour is influenced by the people around us, such as members of authority or heirachy. So, perhaps by drawing other people, we may be criticising ourselves instead; whether this is living in a world full of regret and missed opportunities, or looking at a future one with the same outlook.
If adults and children both draw the same thing, does this mean that we effectively see the world in the same way? This would dispute the work of famous Psychologists such as Piaget, who assume that children are not just 'miniature adults' and actually have different cognitive processes depending on their age. However, if children and adults see and criticise the world in the same way, could development be merely a process you have to pass through, to fine-tune the skills you already have. Ultimately, does this suggest you see the world in the same way in childhood and adulthood, but just present yourself differently?
Either way, if art is the criticism of life, has humanity really evolved after such a long time, to be critical of the best it can offer? You!