One of the major problems facing art education is the loss of children's interest in art as the get older. This loss of interest may be due to internal struggles of adolescence or to external stresses, oftentimes in the art classroom itself. Artistic developmental theories explain this loss of interest in art as a universal, cross-cultural tendency. However, recent research (Toku 1998, 2000; Wilson, 1997, 1999, 2000) has suggested that Japanese children may be an exception to this tendency. Throughout adolescence Japanese children tend to continue to acquire skills to express visual narratives in the form of comics, or manga (pronounced "mahngah"). This brings up an important question for art educators: How can this interest in comic books be utilized as a teaching tool in Japan or even extended to countries like the United States?
Internal and external disruptions in children's artistic development
Piagetians, including Lowenfeld and Brittain (1970) describe children's artistic development as a hierarchical linear progression called the stage theory of cognitive development. However, there is an argument that children's artistic development does not always show a linear progression and artistic ability often stops during the transition period from child to adolescent art. For example, Read (1958) explains that most children's artistic abilities decline around 11 to 14 years old due to the loss of interest in and motivation to create art. He called it the "period of oppression." Gardner (1980, 1990) and Davis (1997) also explain the tendency of decline during middle childhood in the pattern of a U-curve of cognitive development. Why do children lose their interest in art at a certain age?
There is no simple answer, rather complex internal and external factors. Internal disruptions relate to issues of self-awareness; children start to realize their own limitations in producing realistic art. They also start to compete with their peers and to judge the relative value of their artwork. External disruptions relate to the social environment. Art is often undervalued as an academic subject. Children may be sensitive to criticism from art teachers. Art curricula are often developed without regard for students' interests.
But do all children really tend to lose their interest in art due to these internal and external disruptions? Is there no hope for teachers to support artistic development through this difficult period? Cross-cultural analysis of children's artistic development in the United States and Japan may suggest such a hope.
The influence of manga in children's artistic development in Japan
Wilson and I have found that there is an impressive movement of young amateur Japanese comic book, or manga artists, whose sheer numbers suggest that Japanese children may be less vulnerable to the "period of oppression." Many of these artists participate in the phenomenon of the Japanese comic markets that were developed to provide young people with an opportunity to exchange their ideas by creating and selling their own original manga magazines. By reflecting Japanese young people's desire to depict their own stories in manga and communicate with peers through these original manga, the comic market has rapidly expanded since 1975 (Schodt, 1996). During 3 days of summer 2000 in Tokyo, more than 300,000 young people from all over Japan participated in the market, with more than 20,000 booths selling original manga magazines. The large number of young people involved in these amateur publishing ventures is one example of their continued interest in graphic narrative. It appears that while attending and after graduating school, Japanese children continue to acquire skills to express visual narratives through this model of pop culture, rather than through art education in schools. Instead of ceasing to express themselves through art, they develop their problem-solving skills and learn visual techniques to replicate their thoughts in the visual narratives of manga (Wilson, 1999). …