Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Child Development in Art

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Child Development in Art

Article excerpt

This welcome new anthology includes a wide range of current writing and it tells us much about where we are now with the study of child development in art.

The topic has been of interest since the very beginning of the study of child development, which is to say for at least a century. Most young children like to make marks, scribble, draw, and manipulate materials, and their products go through noticeable changes. By a happy coincidence, the notion that these products should be considered art also arrived about a century ago, with the birth of modern art. Since then the idea of development has been at home in the visual arts.

Theories of development in art have inevitably been influenced by larger movements, especially by changes in art theory and in psychology. Although the essays in this volume are contemporary-and are written for the anthology-they represent much of the change of the last 40 years. It was about 40 years ago that psychology took its celebrated cognitive turn (Gardner, 1985), a turn that was successfully transported to the psychology of art. There it gave rise to new approaches to artistic development. Since that time theories of artistic development have depended on two basic concepts: of art in the artworld and of cognition in psychology. These two concepts have independently undergone considerable change and it is a question whether theories of artistic development have kept up with them. It seems clear that the authors' findings here depend as much on their preconceptions as they do on the facts of development. As Brent Wilson says, when we look at "different classes of children's creations from different aesthetic or ideological positions, our interpretations lead to quite different conceptions about what is classified as child art, how it develops, and the functions it plays in children's lives" (p. 82). And of course the reader will rightly observe at this point that a reviewer's preconceptions will also shape the review. This is especially so with such an ideologically sensitive field. Caveat lector.

This collection begins, almost inevitably, with the results of the cognitive turn of 40 years ago. At that time a trio of giants translated the new cognitive interest in psychology into the arts and established a dominant paradigm of artistic cognition. The three were Gombrich (1960), Goodman (1976) and Arnheim (1954; 1969)-especially Arnheim. The paradigm provided a powerful and continuing basis for research into children's abilities. Its power, in my opinion, rested on the fact that it fit so well with the assumptions of the artworld of its time i.e., with the assumptions of modern art. Only recently has it begun to be seriously challenged. A main virtue of this anthology is that it contains representatives of both the still dominant paradigm as well as several recent efforts to supplant it.

The first essay is by Arnheim himself, who looks back briefly on what he titles "a century of growth." He reviews the paradigm of cognition in art that he helped establish and contrasts it with what went before. In the behaviorist (pre-cognitivist) past, perception had been conceived as noncognitive, as the passive (though influenced by emotion) reception of sensory impressions. Cognition-thought-came into play only after sensory impressions were received, organizing, analyzing, generalizing them, after the facts were in. In the same way, art had been considered non-cognitive. It was either or both the reproduction of particular impressions or the expression of feelings, both of which could be achieved directly, without the intervention of thinking.

Arnheim countered this tradition with two immensely influential arguments. The first was that perception, as it occurs, is already cognitive, because it requires the perceiver to select, generalize, and abstract aspects of objects perceived. Such selection is the essence of perception and is obviously a mental activity, not a sensory passivity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.