“To put it succinctly, drawings reveal people’s conceptions of things, not their perceptions of things.” — Barbara Tversky
Conception and perception, two actions or results with interrelated meanings. Conception is described as the act or power of forming notions, ideas, or concepts. Perception is a single unified awareness derived from sensory processes, while a stimulus is present. A concept is a thought—formed from our memory—with important details represented to communicate an idea, design or plan.
As Tversky points out in What Does Drawing Reveal about Thinking?, drawings “are representations of reality, not presentations of reality.” From maps to graphs to comic books, drawings may be used to represent a variety of concepts, but they do not always accurately present reality. Often a drawing may include abstract elements, such as glyphs, symbols and non-related items.
But what details do drawings leave out and which must they keep or add, to represent a concept?
An investigation of a simple child’s drawing may provide some insight into the concept of a figure. Regardless of the subject matter—sister, brother, mother, father, friend or self—the illustration reveals the child’s conception of the individual. The drawing centers on the head and face, with the depiction of hair, ears and extremities apparent, although outside of the focal point of the piece. Emphasis is on the eyes and mouth, perhaps providing a glimpse of the potential concept—sadness, embarrassment or some other emotion. We recognize the figure and disregard the lack of detail and accuracy. It is nor relevant to the communication.
Conception is also the act of conceiving or fertilization. It may also be described as the origination or beginning. Maybe that’s why a child’s drawing is a good representative of the difference between the two words. In the youth we may be more primary in our perceptions, providing for less abstract concepts.
Of course, each of us may have different ideas about an illustrative concept. While a drawing’s meaning may be clear to some, it may be perceived entirely differently by another.