Early Pictures in Ontogeny

Process and Product

Dieter Maurer, Xenia Guhl, Nicole Schwarz, Regula Stettler, Claudia Riboni

First Steps

For a first impression, please refer to the series of pictures and picture processes entitled Animations. – If you want to examine in detail the pictures and processes of the archive, or to read the book, please look at the related assistant in the Help menu. – If you want to display all pictures of the archive, please refer to this direct link to All Pictures. – If you want to search for pictures and picture processes, please refer to the Search Form. – The video of the title page corresponds to the record 78.

Actual Version 2014-12-30

Form of citation: Dieter Maurer, Xenia Guhl, Nicole Schwarz, Regula Stettler, Claudia Riboni (2012):
Early Pictures in Ontogeny – Process and Product. Part 1: Text. Part 2: Film Archive. English Version.
Online in Internet: [First published 2012-09-20; cited see date of actual version].


How do pictures appear, "come into being"? What qualities, structural formations and development tendencies can be observed in early graphic expressions? Are early pictures products or processes? Are early pictorial characteristics cross-contextual, contextual or individual? What does early pictorial cognition and aesthetics consist of? What general aspects of early symbolic behaviour do early pictures indicate? What picture concept arises from picture genesis?

Our research at the Zurich University of the Arts has been devoted to this complex of questions since 1999. The background and motivation here are based on the insight that hitherto there has been a lack of reliable and empirically well-founded insights into early graphic expressions in ontogeny.

In the first place, our research re-examines the earliest pictorial qualities, structural formations and development tendencies in children’s drawings and paintings, often called "scribblings" in everyday language. We hope to establish a basis here for arriving at general theses on questions about the earliest cognitive pictorial processes – some scholars call this "iconic" cognition –, and, at the same time, theses on questions about early aesthetic behaviour.

In 2007, we first presented the results of an investigation of early pictures as finished products, relating to drawings and paintings by children from Europe (cf. Maurer und Riboni, 2007a, b; see also Maurer and Riboni, 2009a, 2010a-d). Please look at:

In parallel to this, we also reissued the historic archive of Rhoda Kellog in digital form (cf. Kellogg, 1967/2007). Please look at:

The present film archive, accompanied by explanations in the form of an electronic book, shows the results of an investigation into the early graphic process, again in relation to children and pictures from Europe and the first six years of life. Parallel film recordings of the drawing and painting process formed the basis of the study, one recording documenting the drawing child and the other the emerging picture.

At the heart of the investigation stands the issue of examining the description of early pictures as finished products: do early graphic processes confirm the description of early picture features as intentional and formal expressions, as they are interpreted using drawings and paintings as finished products? Do early graphic processes confirm the references of early pictures − self-references of the graphic aspects, analogies ("depictions"), indices, expressions, impressions of the graphic aspects − as they are interpreted using drawings and paintings as finished products? Beyond this critical examination of a morphological description of early pictures as products, the study offers in addition a rich insight into the early graphic process itself.

The film archive (access see menu) published here documents 43 children and comprises 184 selected pictures with the corresponding video recordings of the graphic process. – The complete collection, which forms the basis of the selection, comprises 667 pictures and film documents of 53 children from Switzerland.

Licence - Terms of Use

Images, film documents and texts of the present publication are freely available but only and exclusively for private viewing and reading and exclusively in the form of projections for training and research purposes at publicly recognized teaching and research institutes. – Images, film documents and texts must not be taken out of the context of the present publication and introduced into other contexts. Images, film documents and texts must not be manipulated in any way prior to projection. – All other kinds of presentation, projection, copying, storage, reproduction or any other types of use or publication of images, film documents and texts in full or even only as excerpts or in any form whatsoever are strictly prohibited without the separate permission in writing of the authors, including translations and radio, television and internet adaptations. – Images, film documents and texts may only be used for the discussion of the pictorial and esthetic development as such and for the discussion of references to general developmental psychology. Any interpretations beyond this, in particular individual psychological or psychoanalytical interpretations are prohibited. The contextual information required for such interpretations is either not included in the publication or has been anonymized. Individual psychological or psychoanalytical interpretations would thus violate deontological rules.

Portal "Early Pictures"

For a description of our scientific projects concerning early graphic expressions of children, for a list of related publications and for a direct access to other archives of pictures and films, including related electronic books, please refer to our homepage

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The present study was realised in cooperation with:
Kinderhaus Entlisberg (Sozialdepartement Stadt Zürich), Switzerland
Prof. Dr. John S. Matthews, National Institute of Education NIE, Nanyang Technological University NTU, Singapore
Prof. Dr. Hans-Günther Richter, Universität Köln, Heilpädagogisch-Rehabilitationswissenschaftliche Fakultät, Köln, Germany


The present study was supported by:
Swiss National Science Foundation, DO REsearch funding programme (SNSF/DORE)
Z Zurich Foundation Switzerland Mercator Foundation Switzerland
Zurich University of the Arts: Department of Cultural Analysis, Institute for Cultural Studies and Art Education, Institute for Contemporary Art Research