Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/October 1897/Free-Hand Drawing in Education

By H. G. FITZ.

MR. CHARLES WHEELOCK, Head Inspector of the Regents of New York State, voicing the opinion of fifty-five hundred teachers in this State, says, that for the twenty years during which drawing has been a part of the curriculum of the public schools, "the results are not much of anything."[1]

This statement, coming from such a source, is worthy the careful attention not only of teachers, but of all taxpayers as well. If true, it seems that for each child in the public schools of this State about forty hours a year are wasted; this means an aggregate of years of time and thousands of dollars.

The Art Students' League of New York city gathers pupils from most of the States in the Union. It stands second to no art school in America. Mr. Henry Prellwitz, a well-known artist of this city, and instructor of the portrait class at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N. Y., has for some time past been Director of the League, and has had ample opportunity for studying the work of those admitted to the classes. His opinion is that "applicants who have been trained in other than pure art schools have received no benefit from their lessons in drawing; their efforts have been misguided, the undoing of which results in loss of time, and their progress is less rapid than those who have received no such previous training." Mr. Edward A. Bell, a well-known figure painter, who was awarded the bronze medal at the Paris International, also second Hallgarten prize at the New York Academy of Design, who has had several years' experience as a teacher, agrees entirely with the opinion expressed by Mr. Prellwitz. Mr. Dwight W. Tryon,[2] N. A., Professor of Fine Arts, Smith College, whose reputation as an artist is international, whose pictures have been practically loaded with medals, the list of which would be too long to publish here, has had vast experience as a teacher, but has taken no note of the previous training of the pupils that come under his observation. He says of the average adult, "The power of observation seems hopelessly atrophied."

The above-quoted opinions of men who have a reputation as artists in the highest art circles seem to corroborate Mr. Wheelock, and extend the application to the whole country, the opinion of the "art teachers' associations" to the contrary notwithstanding.

The late Mr. William M. Hunt, reputed one of the ablest art teachers of America, said to his pupils:[3] "You don't drill enough. None of you know what mechanical drawing is. Go into the schools where that and nothing else is taught, and try to add their exactness to what you are now doing. . . . One thing let me tell you: you must learn to make exact lines."[4] This opinion, held almost universally, that the mechanical drill of drawing exact measured lines and spaces leads to the exact observing of lines and spaces, form and color, has led to the use of mechanical drawing methods to obtain accuracy of location in educational free-hand drawing. It seems plausible; but mechanical drawing, like writing, is to a degree technical. "What arts and skills a young man may learn of any master for the sake of mere advantage is in itself just as indifferent to the educator as the color he chooses for his clothes."[5]

By actual measure the error that will escape the effort of the mechanical draughtsman, directed for fifteen minutes to its removal unaided by any mechanism, will be four times as great as the error that will elude the figure painter for a like time, opinions of the figure painter to the contrary notwithstanding.

The following table shows the error, in inches and fractions, and angle in degrees, that will be left by the average adult recorded in the several vocations named:

A.[6] Figure painters of national repute ·08
B. Landscape painters, telegraph operators, coasting and yacht |mates and masters, village blacksmiths, expert baseball players ·17
C. Mechanical engineers ·30
D. Mechanical draughtsmen ·40
E. Teachers, journeymen house carpenters, farmers thirty years old or more ·50 12°
O. Children eight years of age 2.00 50°

To remove opinion the test must be equally new to all tested. It must be easy enough for the child of eight to draw quickly; difficult enough, so that the most expert of any age will be unable PSM V51 D775 Assisted freehand drawing in education.png to reproduce it perfectly. To be novel to all it must be abstract. The above table is the result of measures obtained in the following way:

Tests No. 1 and No. 2, mechanically enlarged to three feet by two feet, are placed vertically before groups of from twenty to fifty or more individuals. The copies are drawn on paper nine by six inches, and must not be raised from the horizontal position.

The usual mechanical aids to accuracy, such as measuring by the hand or pencil held between the eye and the object, are not allowed in any way.

For test No. 1 the operator calls attention to the chart that is to be proportionally reproduced by words that in no way hint at the position or proportion, and by motion, pointing out and holding for a few seconds, until recorded, each point on the chart. The time consumed will be about two minutes, and the result tabulated for age and error may be read in line No. 1 on large chart, showing no variation for age. The least error is nothing; greatest, six tenths of an inch; average, three tenths of an inch. Between this line and the top of the chart lies all the error of eye and hand. The eye of the child sees as accurately as the adult's.

Test No. 2 is to be drawn under exactly the same conditions as the above, except that no word or motion must aid the attention of those drawing, either to the chart or their copy of it. The attention given it must be voluntary. The result, measured and charted by age, position, and angle error, may be read for any age—eight to twenty—on line No. 2. This curve is the center of groups selected and associated by the school examinations into classes. The adult end of it (seventy-five per cent) is the position of the center of groups trained in the schools of the United States and part of Europe. The adult farmer who does nothing else stands on exactly the same center as those graduated from the high schools and colleges who have been licensed to teach. The youth of the rural districts stand five per cent higher than the adult, but they will not all be farmers many of them will drift into the cities and become successful business men with a center at eighty-five per cent or more, which is the point of accuracy attained by all those of any profession reputed by co-workers to have marked ability, which means, as read from the chart, the successful have as much power to direct their own attention to the uninteresting thing as can be lent to them by external aid. That the average school training has carried those who have followed it no nearer success in drawing than those who have not been so trained seems to go far toward taking Mr. Wheelock's statement out of the realm of doubt and extending the scope of it to the school drawing of Europe as well as to the "great State of New York."

Not the least singular of the facts brought out by these experiments is that, while the figure painter (position A) needs ninety-five per cent of the power measured by the test, and the landscape painter (position B) has acquired ninety-two per cent by years of labor, the telegraph operator (also position B), whose training certainly has not been toward eye accuracy, should also be able to locate by observed proportion and direction to ninety-two per cent. By what means did he get the power to locate with an accuracy almost double that possessed by the average mechanical engineer? The telegraph operator has been trained in voluntary attention to such an extent as to be able to listen to certain sounds, not in themselves interesting, and inhibit all others. Herbert Spencer says success in everything depends on the power of observation.

It seems that the foundation of the power of observation is voluntary attention.

Balzac is quoted as saying, "Almost the whole of human genius consists in observing well." And Taine writes, "Success in life depends on knowing how to be patient, how to endure drudgery, how to make and remake, how to recommence and continue without allowing the tide of anger or the flight of the imagination to arrest or divert the daily effort."[7]

Prof. William James writes: "The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. . . . An education which, will improve the faculty will be the education par excellence"[8]

Whether any one, in the ordinary lay interpretation of the act, is ever able to draw or not is of very little educational importance. But, since we see that the ability of the telegraph operator to attend by ear gives him also the power to attend by eye, we may infer that training to conscious and effective effort by one sense trains all others to some extent. The inference seems rational that training one to attend by eye will strengthen the power of observation in all directions.

The above-quoted opinions all seem to point to the ability to set aside the things that clamor for attention and attend to those that ordinarily escape our observation, as the foundation of success.

Line No. 2 (on chart) differs from line No. 1, because the subject must, before an attempt to locate is possible, determine which of the points will be taken first. This having been selected from the seven and located, six remain. The choice must be made six times, the location seven, each of which is the result of a distinct conscious effort of the will in "bringing back a wandering attention," which, if left free, would be like Huldy's feelin's described by Lowell:

All ways to once her feelin's flew
Like sparks in burnt-up paper."

To arrest those sparks, bring them back, and hold them for a fraction of a second, means a considerable conscious mental effort, each of which brings nearer the state where fatigue prevents further effort and the sparks are followed instead of driven; hence the curve.

The very young child has a good conception of the vertical and horizontal positions and of their conventional representatives in lines. Bat when the line is oblique, the concept of it, as oblique, is altogether insufficient for representation. It slants right or left. This or that end is high, how much?[9]

The composite drawing of fifty-three pupils, average age eleven (position on chart at 0, a year and a half above the average of their age), shows the vertical recorded nearly upright fifty-one times, greatest variation twenty degrees, while the oblique

PSM V51 D778 Composite drawing of 53 eleven year olds.png

lines of the trapezium show the maximum possible variation forty-five degrees, with few lines near the right slant.

The so-called child drawing, so much written about of late, that Herbert Spencer and many others deem of educational importance, may be described as line making without conscious effort—the graphic record of a muscular movement associated with a concept. It becomes more plausible as years advance, but never gets beyond caricature, and has no direct educational value.

Drawing, to have educational value, must be the graphic record of a perceived fact.

The drawing in itself is of no consequence except as it stands for the record of an exploration and discovery.The teacher, to succeed, must be able at a glance to determine whether the child is recording concept or percept.

The result of training the child to explore, discover, and record is shown by the dotted line beginning at the eleventh year on line 2 of large chart, ending at fourteenth year (No. 30). This line is the history of a parochial school. The pupils had thirty minutes' exercise a week for about thirty weeks a year up to the first circle, from then on one hour a week for about thirty-five weeks a year. The average rate of increase in power of observation equals maintaining the average rate from the ninth to the tenth year, to the fourteenth; twenty per cent above the average of their age, ten per cent above the adult average. The line beginning in a circle at the sixteenth year, ending at nineteenth year at No. 19, is the history of a high-school class under the same drawing teacher as the above described. They received four times the training (one hundred and eighty hours a year) given the parochial school, and made, as the chart shows, exactly the same increase in two years that the former compassed in eighteen months. All the lines between these two are of classes trained by the same drawing teacher and the same method; the numbers in which they terminate indicate the number of pupils of which the circle is the center.

Is it not possible that between the lines 30 and 19 we may read the record of the atrophy suffered because of too much instructing, by putting the child in possession of facts instead of faculties, described by Dr. H. E. Armstrong, F. R. S., and in the article[10] in which he also writes: "In the future all subjects must be taught scientifically at school, in order to inculcate those habits of mind which are termed scientific habits; the teaching of scientific methods—not the mere shibboleths of some branch of natural science"?

We see by the chart that the class that began to study drawing as a science at eleven, at twelve and a half had reached seventy-seven per cent, three and a half years in advance of the later class; they reached eighty-five per cent four years in advance of the (31) boys of the high-school class, and that at an expenditure of one fourth the time.

The value of this training is necessarily a matter of opinion. The regular teachers of the classes shown on the chart at positions 29, 28, 33, 51, 39, 44, estimate that the one hour per week exercise in drawing as a science study, by the reduction of time required for a certain subject, makes the class of fourteen years equal one of fifteen years not so trained. Four of the teachers place the gain at from forty to fifty per cent in study power. One teacher (class position 44) puts the gain at one hundred per

PSM V51 D780 Chart of voluntary attention in education.png
Explanation of Marks on Voluntary Attention Chart.
21,600 measurements of 2,700 individuals.
The error to two inches may be read in tenths of an inch at right-hand end of horizontal line, at the left end read up the lines are five per cent apart; 0 per cent arbitrarily placed at eighth year; vertical lines divide year spaces fourth to twenty-first.
Line No. 1 (at thirty inches and eighty-five per cent).—Externally sustained attention. All those reputed by coworkers to be superior are at or above this line by test No. 2.
Line No. 2.—Voluntary attention. Average line of centers of groups trained in the schools of many States in the Union as well as Europe.
Line No. 3 is the high limit of the above and ends in A. × marks the individuals through which the line is drawn. From fourth year to fourteenth all are females. From fifteenth year up all are males. ? Marks the rather doubtful lower limit of groups.
Marks center of composite drawing, average age eleven. High and low limit marks.
Marks the center of three hundred and seventy pupils trained by free-hand drawing as a science study.
Marks known positions.
━━ Movement between measured centers.
┈┈ Supposed movement.
oA Figure painters measured in the order named: E. A. Bell, Clark Crum, C, C. Curran, Kenyon Cox, Joseph Boston, Arthur B. Davies, Henry Prellwitz.
oE Fifty-three teachers. High and low limit marks.

cent in geometry, claiming to have covered certain ground satisfactorily in half the time usually needed for a class without the special training.

By imagining line No. 3 (the high limit of group) prolonged downward and to the left, three years, and line No. 2 treated in the same way to the same age (one year), it will be seen that at the age of twelve months children are almost infinitely separated in power of observation. At eight the average has reached, through the training of life's experiences, to within hailing distance of the leaders eighty-five per cent away; at fourteen the average will be seen to have gained on the leaders so much that only thirty-two per cent divides them. At twenty only twenty-five per cent stands between the average and the highest human

PSM V51 D781 Teacher student achievement relation chart.png

attainment. By a more complete coordination of scientific and educational methods, I believe there will be no trouble in raising the average, now at line 2, to the dotted line above it, beginning at eighth year, passing through (Fig. 30) at fourteenth year, ending at (B) twentieth year.

This would make the power of the average child at twelve years, by the above-described test, equal to that now acquired by the average adult, and the gain would not be attained by giving power to a few already bright pupils who do not need it, but by bringing all those now weak up to or above the present average. (See charts 51 and 29.) The position of the fifty-three teachers[11] (chart E) represents as nothing else could the value of the instruction received in the common and high schools in which they were trained, of which Mr. Wheelock says the results are "not much of anything." On this chart we find five individuals above the eighty-five-per cent line, while chart 51 shows nineteen higher than eighty-five per cent and only two below the average line, as compared with sixteen below in the former group.

The unsatisfactory condition mentioned by the Regents' Head Inspector is due almost entirely to the methods of examining drawing. Teachers will teach for that which the examiner seeks, and the drawings shown will be as free from error, as neat and clean, as the spelling would be under the same plan of examination, and have no more educational value. The ability to locate correctly is the foundation of success in free-hand drawing, and to a great extent in all the graphic arts. It can be as well tested in five minutes as in fifty. A glance at line 1, eighth year, shows that if the teacher has lent no greater aid to the class than sustaining the attention during the exercise, the drawing that would without that aid be so badly located as to be almost unrecognizable may be made to appear on the eighty-five-per-cent line, ten per cent better than the average adult unaided would make it. That this is true will be recognized by all teachers who have studied the exhibitions of pupils' drawings where a whole class seems to do excellent work. Sustaining the attention of the pupil is invaluable in instruction; by its power the child of any age above eight may learn as much fact in two minutes as the average adult can unaided in fifteen (see lines 1 and 2), but sustaining the attention makes voluntary effort unnecessary; that which makes conscious effort needless makes it impossible. The power to direct the attention unaided by outside stimulus becomes atrophied, observation impossible. The use of transparent planes, the theory of perspective, and all devices by which "drawing is made easy," only serve to rob it of educational value by putting the child in possession of technical tricks which make observing facts of no account.

Having the child draw the familiar object from Nature is another fatal mistake. The familiar object and language co-ordinate to perfection. The child may study and try to represent the difference between two objects as seen without danger, but he will correctly describe that in language long before he can graphically, because he can, while looking, put what he sees into words; but to draw, he must look at a blank page and recall, what? The strongest impression, whether because of the recency, frequency, or intensity of it. I have known the recall to reach back a whole week, a month, three months, because of the greater intensity put into some former effort to observe objects associated with those to be represented, the concept of which the pupil, though four-teen years of age, was powerless to inhibit. It is to this inability to indefinitely continue the inhibition of the conceived thing, rather than to lack of knowledge or defective vision,[12] that most of the local errors seen in the works of many masters, old and modern, may be attributed.

If the free-hand drawings were set aside or destroyed as soon as made, it would remove the temptation that now exists to waste time in technical finish that might to the pupil's lasting benefit be spent in new effort at discovery, discriminating differences in various inclosed areas, values, or colors.

We might then come to be able to see the beautiful in Nature spread at our feet, and in common things at our very door, and not as now, under the name of art, hew down the mind of the rising generation to the narrow notion that the beautiful must be sought only on the canvases and in the conventionalities of the past or present age of interpreters, however exquisite or grand their works may be.

  1. School Journal, June 10, 1896, p. 728,
  2. Tryon, Dwight William, born in Hartford, Conn., 1849. Pupil of Daubigny, Jacquesson de la Cbevreuse and Guillement. A. N. A. Member of American Water Color Society. Medals, American Art Association, 1886 and 1887. Second Hallgarten Prize, 1887. Ellworth Prize, Chicago, 1889. Palmer Prize, Chicago, 1880. Webb Prize, 1889, and many more. (Catalogue Society of American Artists, 1891.)
  3. W. M. Hunt. Lectures, second series, p. 17. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1883.
  4. Ibid., p. 36.
  5. Herbart. Introduction to General Pedagogics.
  6. These letters will be found on chart, indicating the relative position of the centers of these groups.
  7. Art in the Netherlands, p. 23.
  8. Psychology, William James, p. 228.
  9. In the tests for line 2 no lines were horizontal, none vertical, none parallel to each other or the margin of the paper, no line prolonged would hit an angle. On the nine-by-six-inch paper the triangle sides were 3·4 inches, 3·05 inches, 1·55 inches. The longer diagonal of the trapezium measured 4·1 inches; the sides, 3 inches, 2·87 inches, 2·90 inches, and 2·86 inches. The measurements for the chart were obtained by placing a test sheet over the drawn one, matching the edges with care, and making with a point holes for the true positions of corners, as mechanically located on test sheet. The errors were aggregated on a slip of paper and divided by the number of points (7). The greatest angle error was then selected and divided by 24 (because that figure seemed to make the angle error coeffective with the distance error). The result is added to the average of the first. divided by 2. To get per cent, divide by 2 again and subtract from 100, because 2100 inch = 1 per cent. Thus, total error, 2·1 inches; greatest angle error, 7·2°.
    2·1 ÷ 7 = ·3; 7·2 ÷ 24 = 3;
    ·3 100
    ·6 ÷ 2 = ·3 ÷ 2 = ·15; ·15
    85 per cent.

    When time is limited and an approximation is desired, the greatest angle error treated as above will give a result within two per cent of an average for a class.

    The angle error may be ignored where the personal position is not desired, as it will change the average center but little, the personal position very much, particularly of the concept recorders.

  10. Popular Science Monthly, September, 1894.
  11. This group may not represent the average standing of teachers at all, and it is only just to the many noble workers in the field of education to state that, so far as measured, all having charge of classes averaging over thirteen years of age range between eighty and ninety-five per cent, as the successful in all vocations do.
  12. Lucien Howe, M. D. (Popular Science Monthly, August, 1895), seems to think that eyesight plays an important part in accuracy as seen in drawing. The facts do not sustain the idea. A gentleman who has drawn the test twenty times, with an average error for each location of ·075 of an inch, on one occasion made an error of only ·033 of an inch, 1·5°, and at this time it was discovered that so considerable was the astigmatism of his