Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Aesthetic Development in Cross-Cultural Contexts: A Study of Art Appreciation in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Aesthetic Development in Cross-Cultural Contexts: A Study of Art Appreciation in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States

Article excerpt

Parsons (1987) originally presented a largely universal account of the development of five stages of the understanding of Western art. He suggested ages at which these stages typically develop, though he acknowledged that there may be great variation in these ages. He suggested that environmental factors might have considerable influence of the rate of development, but not the character, of the stages: yet at the same time he suggested that innate factors have more influence up to the development of the third stage, and environmental ones after that. Although Parsons attempted to draw a meaningful distinction between innate and environmental factors of aesthetic development, this leaves a number of questions about making crucial distinctions between universal and nonuniversal cognitive domains (Goldsmith & Feldman, 1988).

Claims for the universality of traditional accounts of children's development have been questioned for several decades now, with most researchers agreeing that cognitive development of any kind is greatly influenced by culture and experience (see, for instance, Michael Cole, 1996, for a summary of Vygotsky and other influences on American recent psychology). In art education, a number of authors emphasize the importance of particular goals in the production and understanding of art, and the multiple styles and dimensions of development that they produce (Kindler, 1999; Wolf & Perry, 1988). While we find this line of thought important, few have attempted to investigate directly the effects of different cultures on children's dealings with art. This is a report of a study that tried to get at the differences on one important dimension of aesthetic development among comparable samples of children in the United States, Japan, and Taiwan. That dimension is their understanding of visual works of art.

Cross-cultural Research on Aesthetic Development

Most cross-cultural research on aesthetic response has emphasized the similarities between cultures. Long ago Eysenck (1941) pointed out that preference for colors was similar among children, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Subsequently, Chan et al. (1980) showed that culture also makes very little difference on this variable. In general, aesthetic sensitivity has been considered an intuitive property only remotely connected with training and learning.

Cross-cultural research has mostly supported the Piagetian view that children's perceptive capacities are constant across cultures (Kuo, 1986; Machotka, 1966). Kuo, however, though emphasizing cross-cultural conformity, also found different test scores in different contexts of art education. Part of the problem is that cultural differences have not been sought in a clear manner, and there have been insufficient studies. As Eisner (1979) pointed out, regional data should not simply be collected to present general similarities and differences; it is important to compare data on similar measures across-cultures.

In our study, we chose to use Parsons's (1987) account of the development of understanding visual artworks. Parsons's work has attracted attention in both Taiwan and Japan and an attempt has been made to replicate it with Taiwanese children (Cui, 1992). The reason, no doubt, has to do with the increased awareness in art education circles in Taiwan and Japan of the importance of children's understanding of artworks as an educational goal.

The hypothesis of our research was that there would be differences among children growing up in different cultures, even when they were measured on this general model of stage development. We had three goals: to re-examine Parsons's theoretical framework of stage development from a cross-cultural point of view; to examine and clarify the different developmental characteristics in the three cultures; and to interpret these differences in light of differences in the contexts of art education in the three cultures.

Defining Aesthetic Development

What do children experience in accordance with their age when they look at paintings? …

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