CHILDREN'S CONCEPTIONS (AND MISCONCEPTIONS) OF THE ARTS
WITH ELLEN WINNER
WE WOULD NOT expect children to learn to understand computers by having them examine a terminal or a printout. Yet that is the way we expect the young to become sensitive to ballet, theater, and the visual arts. Schools bus them to plays and museums; Leonard Bernstein offers youth concerts on television; and somehow artistic understanding is supposed to result.
To find out what such activities might accomplish, we asked questions of the children themselves. We wanted to see how their understanding of different art forms, concepts, and processes develop. We did not have explicit "right" answers in mind, but we wanted to understand better the way children of different ages think about the arts. And we found that, irrespective of social class, children pass through three distinct stages in their understanding of art.
Very young ones, between four and seven, go through a mechanistic phase in which they concentrate on the concrete aspects of art. Ask a five-year-old boy where a painting by Goya came from, for example, and he is likely to say a factory. Children of this age view artistic