The Calf

Artist: Edwin Evans
The Calf, a painting

Edwin Evans (1860-1946), 1899, oil on canvas, 28 x 34 inches, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Maria Winder.

Commentary by Clyde Robinson
Associate Director, School of Family Life

From a human development disciplinary perspective, Edwin Evans’ painting of The Calf is a wonderful depiction of two important ways that children learn about their world and environment. First, the eminent Swiss child psychologist, Jean Piaget theorized that it is more optimal for children to obtain knowledge about their world through self-constructed cognitive processes than through memorization processes. To Piaget, children are like little scientists that are curious, observe, and explore their environment by personally interacting with concrete things and events through “hands on” experiences. In this painting, Edwin Evans has admirably depicted school-age children interacting with a calf by touching and feeding the calf in a sensitive, serene, and unhurried manner, allowing the children to contemplate what they are experiencing. Evans’ panting gives one the impression that these children will cognitively benefit more through this type of direct interaction than through more abstract ways, such as reading books about calves. The second important way, depicted in The Calf that children learn about their world comes from ideas from a contemporary of Piaget, the Russian child psychologist Vygotsky. Vygotsky enlarges upon Piaget’s ideas about optimal ways of cognitive development by pointing out that children not only learn through personal individual interactions but through shared experiences with caring and more capable others (such as teachers, parents, siblings, and peers) who may help guide and scaffold natural curiosities and cognitive explorations. Whether the children in this painting are siblings or friends, Evans shows them as possibly facilitating each other’s curiosity during this tender shared experience.
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