During our second lecture, Exploring Cognition, we began with a talk about the movement from observational drawing to abstract art. Even in Prehistoric times this is easy to see – in my last posts on the Birth of Symbolic Language, I wrote about the Lascaux cave paintings and the Pictograms of the Rinconada Canyon. Here, we can easily identify the move from the representational paintings to the abstract symbols.

An interesting example of the move from representation to abstraction is the study Pablo Picasso made in his series El Toro. He began with an accurate study of a bull, and in 11 stages broke it down to its most basic characteristics in a much more abstracted image. Through each stage Picasso analyses, adds line, tone then removes them, finishing with an image that captures the true essence of the bull. The 11th stage shows the great, hulking body, the horns, and the equal size of the head and genitals. Picasso uses the bull as a metaphor throughout his work, but always remained ambiguous as to its true meaning. Some have called it a representation of the Spanish people, or a stance on fascism and brutality, even a self portrait, as many say that his signature is the 12th stage, and therefore a depiction of his own nature. I personally really love this series. Picasso’s exploration of different ways to break down the form of the bull and the train of thought throughout the eleven stages is really interesting to see, and the eventual resolution is an excellent representation of the true nature of the bull.

ImageEl Toro Pablo Picasso

Scott McCloud also illustrated this process in his popular 2000 book, Reinventing Comics. In this image he looks at the development of Mesopotamian Cuneiform script, showing the evolution of the bull and wheat, until their final forms bear little to no relation to the first image.

Image Scott McCloud’s evolution of Sumerian Cuneiforms

I have done some research into how Chinese characters evolved in similar way, but there are many different theories and it is difficult to ascertain which are most accurate. However, I have drawn a few I have found, just to show another language that has developed in this way over time.

Image Illustration of how the Chinese character for ‘fish’ has evolved over time.