Anthropomorphism

It is a vast and complex subject, as old as storytelling itself in current and past civilizations. This ability we have to project human features and qualities to non-human animals, plants and things is so omnipresent, we just have to glance at gamer avatars, or our sport team mascots to measure its far reaching impact. It can be found in basically any art form.

A short blog post cannot dive into the intricate complexity and ramifications of anthropomorphism. This post is meant to highlight the fact that some researchers with various backgrounds are increasingly questioning how the, let’s call them traditional storytellers, are making use of anthropomorphism. So, parents, writers, illustrators, playwrights, and even clerics, pay attention because a diverse group of literary critiques, cognitive scientists, social theorists and ecologists want to talk about anthropomorphism as a double edged sword.

On one hand, there are the well-known benefits, as mentioned by Nigerian researcher Helen Adhuze, in an article titled The face and phases of anthropomorphism in children literature, “Anthropomorphized characters boost empathy in children.  This relational attitude is facilitated through the human imagination operational at the various stages of human development. Essentially,  anthropomorphism  is  a  human attitude  developed  as  a  child  and  maintained through adulthood.  It is a specific human attitude, not a childish mistake.” (Adhuze, Journal of Language, Literature and Culture, Vol. 1, no. 1, 2022)

Growing up, we become experts “anthropomorphers.” Parents and educators know too well how anthropomorphic characters can be efficient attention grabbers, and motivation boosters for children engagement. For example, take this school activity developed by Creative Exchange, a collaboration project of the England Arts Council and Durham University (United Kingdom). The activity shows “How to use anthropomorphism to release children’s creativity,” to develop their imagination and collaborative skills. The vast majority of contents in elementary school libraries include anthropomorphic images.

Not everyone agrees that anthropomorphism has only benefits, and some give it a thumb down, pointing to what may loom in its shadow. We find much of these warnings in an exhibition catalogue, of Animals Are Us: Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature; Celebrating  the Peter Solomon Collection. The exhibition was presented in 2021 at the Houghton Library, in Cambridge. The catalogue by Thomas Hyry and several others, offers a great reading experience, and includes awesome illustrations. Four contributors penned the chapter “The Pitfalls and Potential of Anthropomorphism in children Literature.” It shows clearly how the practice more than often perpetuates stereotypes and demonstrates blatant lack of representation and diversity. We cannot help, it seems, but project both our virtues and flaws into whatever we want to make more human. The authors raise important red flags, and see greater awareness as an important step for better storytelling.

They close with a glimpse of optimism, saying that as fields such as childhood studies, psychology, and literacy education developed their understanding of the child reader, children’s literature also evolved to position children as more purposeful, thoughtful, and agentive”(Animals Are Us exhibition catalogue, p.23)

In 2014, psychologists Patricia Ganea, Caitlin Canfield, and Kadria Simons-Ghafari investigated and concluded that anthropomorphism will actually inhibit children’s ability to learn actual facts about the animal world. It is, they argued, as if the fantastic nature of anthropomorphic characters “may not only lead to less learning but also influence children’s conceptual knowledge of animals.” In their article Do cavies talk? The effect of anthropomorphic picture books on children’s knowledge about animals (Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 5, 2014), they explain that there is a range of anthropomorphism that goes between a completely fantastic and a partially realistic characterization. They saw that when selecting books for their students, teachers tend to favor less realistic images, and rarely choose books where animal characters are shown in their natural environment. This, they say, may bring children to a lack of understanding of biological aspects of animals. In other words, children should be told when they are exposed to anthropomorphized creatures, told that it is not factual information, even when this might seems obvious to adults.

If you think educators, psychologists and literary critics are the only ones interested in the subject, think twice. Scholars in computer sciences, as well as religious studies are also showing interest in how children go about anthropomorphism. See what some of them have to say in this amazing book When Children Draw Gods A Multicultural and Interdisciplinary Approach to Children’s Representations of Supernatural Agents, published by Springer in 2023, as part of a book series New Approach to the Scientific Study of Religion. The chapter by Gregory Dessart and Pierre-Yves Brandt, Humanness and Non-Humanness in Children’s Drawings of God: A Case Study from French-Speaking Switzerland is of particular interest. It presents a case study with a focus on de-anthropomorphization as a progressive process. According to them, children undertaking religious education could be less inclined to portrait God with human traits.

As I reflect about the scientific articles cited above, isn’t it interesting that ecologically minded educator and religion educator might each hope that children be less impacted by anthropomorphism each for a different motive, the first for giving access to biological facts, and the other for less human-like representations of the divine? The socio-emotional power of anthropomorphism is immense. Is it too strong or misleading? It is an important question.

You want more anthropomorphic images? See this quickly read, well-illustrated article by Meagan Jones, on the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies’ website: Degrees of Humanity: Anthropomorphism and its development in children’s book illustration (2013).

portrait, landscape, religion, crayons, paper, 1960s
Great (detail) as in God is Great. By Leo, c1969. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

The sound of drawing

The visual depiction of sound and music has kept musicians and artists busy for a very long time. The evolution of music notation is one of many examples of this lasting connection between the two forms of expression. One could argue that music notation probably has more do to with writing than drawing. The graphic display of soundwaves seems a more direct way to show sound. However I have never seen or heard of a musician using an image of soundwaves as partition.

In illustrations, say of someone shouting or playing trumpet, we are used to see lines coming out of a mouth or an instrument. The illustrator will sometime accompany the lines with onomatopoeia, to specify what the viewer should hear. Another example is that of making voices visible in comic strips with the three basic balloons of thought, talk and scream, and their many variations in emotional tone.

With the advent of cinema, video, and audio recording, image and sound eventually came together in a such way that we tend to forget their independence. Cinema and video is about moving images, and artists have always shown interest in exploring their relation to sound and music.

One of them is Danny Clay, who takes music notation to new playful heights by inviting students to invent and draw their own music notation icons for composing. This is a sound to image to music process.

Other artists committed to explore sound and images, is the duo Heike Liss and Fred Frith who improvise the sound and the image that emerge as one, during a live performance. This may appear a simultaneous act of creation, but the sound leads the drawing in this artistic performance. It is a sound to image process.

The simultaneous production of sound and images  has become quite sophisticated with the aid of digital programs and devices. One prolific artist in this field is Benjamin Heim, who works both individually or with numerous collaborators on large scale projects. This is a simultaneous music-image process where the music determines the movement and duration of the image.

In this relation between audio and visual expression, the preoccupation with visually depicting sound seems the main concern. Only with moving images, do creators preoccupy themselves with what images sound like. But what about still images? Are they condemned to remain silent? The only sounds that are connected to still images are the ones made while the image is created. The only movements connected to fixed images are the past movements of its making, and the movements of the eyes of the viewer.

Luckily, artists never stop searching, and some are exploring sound as it emerges from images, movement, or movement making images. Anna Ridler is one of them. She uses traditional visual media with contemporary digital and audio devices, to created images out of movement and sound.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that there are now ways to draw on screen with movement and sounds without even touching the screen. Google partnered with CreateAbility Inc. to create Sound Canva. Go ahead and try it out. Tutorials are available too.

Below, André Franquin’s Gaston signs office documents with a deafening jackhammer.

Gaston. Ink on paper, by Léo Beaulieu, c1974. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

Website update

We wish everyone a fantastic 2024, and we take this opportunity to thank the nearly 14,000 people who visited our website this past year. The site received over 400,000 hits, which is a 30 per cent increase from the previous year. Users obviously appreciate that we made the collection accessible and searchable online.

These past few months, our e-newsletter list also grew to over a 1,000 subscribers worldwide. We keep the distribution to only a few issues per year, so your inbox is safe with us.

PUZZLES

There are simple and elaborate ways to make your own puzzles, from your own images or drawings.

The easiest way is just to cut up the image in random pieces of whatever shape or size you want. It is probably better to make the pieces the same size, but you can decide otherwise. However, this method will likely result in the pieces not nesting into each other, and the mosaic will not hold well.

Weather you use this technique or another, it is a good idea to use a reproduction of your original. By doing so, you have a model to guide you. This is particularly useful if you gift the puzzle, and the recipient has never seen the original.

If you have a printer and are patient enough to cut traditional puzzle shapes from a blank model, there are a couple of great tools we found online. Have a look at this puzzle tool on Telegnom.org. There are also several templates on Twinkl, but unlike the previous one, you will need to create an account.

There are also retail options for blank puzzle pieces, and they vary greatly in price and quality. CreateJigsawPuzzle has a good selection, including wooden and acrylic pieces, beside the regular cardboard.

Pikkii sells blank puzzles with a traditional style painting frame printed along the edges.

If you buy blank puzzles to draw or paint on, take a photo of your drawing after it is done, so you have a guide when you put it back together.

Images that fill the page, and show a variety of colors and contrasts, make great puzzles.

landscape, pencil, paper, 2020s
Landscape. Sri, 2021. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

World Children’s Day 2023

Children should mean the world to us all, but still so many are suffering, even dying, east and west, north and south. This November 20th, we join a large number or not-for-profit organizations worldwide in denouncing the neglect and aggression on children.

Let us all familiarize ourselves better with children’s rights, and take part in open dialogue and civic participation in support of children’s safety and growth. There are many good sources of information at our fingertips on Internet. Take for example the research and reports by KidsRights, based in Amsterdam. Their findings are up to date and their programs involve youth directly, in nearly forty countries.

Meanwhile, as reported from the United Nation’s meeting of the committee on Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Issues this past October, you could hear national representatives throw the blame at each other regarding children’s safety worldwide. It is certainly a positive thing that they have the conversation, but the tone and good will should definitely improve.

In Canada this November 25th, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children will host a webinar titled Youth Researchers’ Peer-to-Peer PAR Journey and Findings. For this occasion, youth researchers will discuss their work and findings. The webinar is open to children and youth who are interested. It is free and pre-registration is required.

Burning house. By Yvon, c1967. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

Hold that deep thought

Pundits of so-called artificial intelligence are only starting to surprise us with demonstrations of how this new tool can change the way we look at, and think about children’s art.

Computer scientists use different apparatus to achieve classification and analysis of children’s drawings, their elements, or processes that create them. To put it simply, they use digital visual recognition and mathematical models to build deep learning machines. Inspired by observations and studies made by humans, they sometimes compare the types and number of characteristics and categories which computers can process, with that of human scrutiny, in terms of accuracy.

Researchers who aim at developing tools for ever more efficient analysis of children’s drawings, will often prefer providing touchscreens to participants, and leave aside the pen and paper. This is a bit odd because not only drawing on a screen is a far cry from drawing on paper, but also the proportion of children who have access to a touchscreen is and will remain marginal for quite some time. This raises the serious question of whose drawings they are really talking about.

Take for example a study published in Alexandria Engineering Journal (Vol. 60, issue 1) in 2021, titled Classification of children’s drawings strategies on touch-screen of seriation objects using a novel deep learning hybrid model. The article by Dzulfikri Pysal, Said Jadid Abdulkadir, Siti Rohkmah Mohd Shukri, and Hitham Alhussian is available on Science Direct. It concludes that a quantitative analysis of children’s drawing process from a computational system is both faster and more accurate than a qualitative human analysis.

So be it, but one should keep in mind that the study uses born-digital images. We would think that this gives the computer a head start over humans.

For methodological reasons, researchers who develop machine learning systems for drawing analysis often prefer when children draw on screen. Another case in point is a study by Seth Polsley, and four fellow scientists titled Detecting children’s fine motor skills development using machine learning, and published in 2022 in the International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education (Issue 32). Here again, the original drawings are created on electronic devices for the study.

There are AI scientists who dare challenge computers to “look” at and analyze children’s drawings created on paper. Ochilbek Rakhmanov, Nwojo Nnanna Agwu, and Steve Adeshina, of the Nile University of Nigeria did just that, in a study titled Experimentation on hand drawn sketches by children to classify draw-a-person test Images in psychology. Their findings were presented at the 2020 33rd International Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society Conference (FLAIRS 2020). It would be unfair to try and summarize their detailed article here. They sure deserve our respect for offering the only presentation, out of well over a hundred at that conference, to consider children’s drawings worthy of attention. The point is, it is nice to know that children’s drawings on paper can help research on machine learning.

One of the key challenges AI researchers face is the quality and size of data set they have access to. Researchers increasingly resort to online crowd sourcing to amass significant amount of data for their work. One of most accessible such initiative is QuickDraw, created by Jonas Jongejan, Henry Rowley, Takashi Kawashima, Jongmin Kim, and Nick Fox-Gieg, in collaboration with Google Creative Lab. This game invites anyone to help machine learning, simply by drawing on screen. According to Google, 15 M people have submitted 50 M images so far. The tech giant is transparent and upfront about making these images open source material for research.

Advancements into AI seem to already outpace human ability to keep up. Yet, we must try to grasp as much as possible its potential and impacts. The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) holds its 11th Conference on Human Computation and Crowdsourcing (HCOMP 2023) at Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), this week until November 9th.

Robot. By Léo Beaulieu, c1972. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

Meet our Youtube volunteer

If you still have art from your childhood or teens, our new Youtube volunteer is looking to interview you.

Taran is based in the United States, and will meet you on Zoom for about 30 minutes. The recorded interview only takes 5-8 minutes. Feel free to ask Taran about robotics, or any of his many interests.

The activity is meant to encourage families to preserve these precious objects, and prevent their disappearance.

With Taran, you will share the image you have saved, its story, how it was preserved, and how you feel about it. We welcome interviewees from all backgrounds and walks of life. A broadcast release form will be provided. Simply email Taran at info@cdic-cide.org.

New items now online

Nearly 150 new items are now available for viewing online. They were all created almost twenty years ago, and a contribution made by Gisèle Dallaire and her children in August.

The new images include several school activity sheets by Claire, and drawings by her pre-teen big brother, who showed enthusiasm for muscle cars and some comic book characters.

Autumn (detail). By Claire Chambers. c2004. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

Chezuba and Neha have our back

Recruiting highly skilled volunteers can be challenging for an all-volunteer charity with acute strategic planning needs. These past several weeks, we have been assisted by Chezuba in finding the right talent, and develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy adapted to our mission and vision.

Chezuba is a platform that empowers individuals to make a meaningful impact on their communities and beyond through volunteering. It was founded with the vision of creating a bridge between skillful, passionate volunteers and organizations striving to make a difference. Chezuba believes that volunteerism is not just about giving back; it’s about personal growth, community building, and creating a ripple effect of positive change.

Chezuba helped recruit Neha Panchal. Her strategic thinking acumen combines local commitment with global sensitivity that matches our values and networking. Hailing from the vibrant nation of India, Neha is a multifaceted development sector professional with a profound passion for community advocacy and a deep love for the environment.

Neha Panchal is not only a dedicated professional but also a passionate advocate for environmental protection and community service. She proudly co-founded the Vadodara Garden Lovers Group, a community of over 4000 members dedicated to nurturing green spaces. Additionally, she is an active member of the Creative Group of Women of Waghodia Road, where her passion for community service and environmental preservation continues to shine. Her commitment to community service is further exemplified by her role as Director of Community Services at the Rotary Club of Vadodara Heritage. With a wealth of experience in the development sector, Neha’s professional skills shine brightly, encompassing proposal development, documentation of MOUs, project compliance management, reporting, and program evaluation.

Neha Panchal

Neha’s dedication goes beyond her professional pursuits, as she has an extensive history of volunteering domestically and internationally across a wide range of causes, including animal welfare, arts and culture, children, disaster and humanitarian relief, economic empowerment, environment, health, poverty alleviation, and social services. She is the Volunteer Fund Raising Strategist for our Collection.

Hands full

Most of us have a so-called dominant side. We have heard that a left handed person might have a competitive advantage in sports, or challenges in other activities such as writing from left to right. How do you feel about your dominant side when you draw? Did you ever try to draw or paint with your other hand, or both? Maybe you are ambidextrous to some degree, and never pushed your limits as to know to which extend.

There are different ways to explore this. The simplest one is to draw simultaneously each side of one symmetrical object with each hand, like a jar, or a butterfly. It can even be just simple abstract lines that you draw to concentrate on your movements and not a figure, like in this exercise presented by encaustic artist Ruth Maude. You may find that you naturally slow down your dominant side to accommodate the other.

For more advanced level examples, you should follow Colin Darke, but if you do, go to his social media accounts. You will find more of his drawings there. Warning, an Irish contemporary artist has the same name, but with a very different artistic outlook. If you get as good as Colin, you might be able to draw an asymmetric picture with both hands, or even a different subject with each.

Now, if you are ambidextrous and you think you have a super power, you have never heard of quadridextrous Raja Cenna from the Netherlands. What she does is so mind blowing that it feels like you need to see her live to believe your own eyes.

Double draw exercise, by Alisa Burke. Source: AlisaBurke. blogspot.com, September 2023.
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