Which Came First – the Sculpture or the Drawing?

Which Came First – the Sculpture or the Drawing?

Posted on May 21, 2014by cawmiller

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In a conversation with my cousin, who has an art degree and is pursuing his masters in fine art, I said something which I forget about teaching children to draw first, and my cousin replied that we should teach sculpture first to children.

When drawing, we need to look at a 3-dimensional image and convert it to a flat, 2-dimensional image, and change the size. That takes a lot of brain power. In sculpture, the art and the inspiration are both 3-dimensional and the only change is likely to be size. That should be lot easier, although having followed the usual art lessons in America, I learned to draw first, then sculpt, and sculpting was much harder. Although I found sculpting with snow to be great, the key I think is that I could remove and add snow to the piece, correcting errors.

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In a conversation with a friend I mentioned what my cousin said about teaching sculpture first and my friend asked what did ancient humans do first, sculpture or drawing.

From memory I knew that both mediums were contemporary and so I did a little research and found that the oldest representational sculpture was 36,000 to 40,000 years old, the same age as the oldest representational drawing. I did not include abstract sculpture (carved lines and hashes) which has a date of 77,000 years ago. Of course, stone tools far predate this, but those are tools not representational art. The oldest abstract cave art is the same age as representational drawings, but I assume that older abstract art was lost or destroyed by natural forces.

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Interestingly, both the sculpting and drawing of 40,000 years ago were well developed, hinting that both forms of art were happening well before the first found examples. That is the problem with the patchiness of the fossil record. We might not ever find the oldest examples of early human art, and even if we did, we might not recognize it.

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A further complication is that the earliest human representational art might have been made by Neanderthals or other early humans, not modern humans, and so how do you account for that?

Scientists do know that modern humans have been around for at least 100,000 years. About 45,000 years human culture dramatically increased in complexity. I would guess that representational art started then and eagerly look forward to archaeologists finding art from our earliest ancestors.

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Until then, if ever, I'll just have to wonder. A test, though, could be made in teaching art to children by teaching some children sculpture first and teaching others drawing first. I would do it myself but my kids are already too old for that. Maybe Play-doh would sponsor the study?

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