One Size Does Not Fit All: A Theory of Artistic Development

What I Read This Week

This week I read the Louis (2005) study of early representational development in paint, Wolf’s (1988) article on artistic learning, the Thompson (2005) article on constructing understandings of children in art teacher education, and Pearson’s (2001) push for a theory of children’s drawings as social practice.

Summary

These authors encourage researchers to adopt a more comprehensive and flexible approach when studying artistic development. Wolf (1998) suggests this may be accomplished by “studying complex, long-term learning” (p. 154), and Thompson (2005) encourages teachers and researchers “to construct knowledge directly based upon their own experiences with children” (p. 22) rather than rely on concrete developmental stages. The Louis (2005) article pulls researchers away from a view of development that emphasizes “ when children acquire certain information and skills and invites a consideration of the changes in the way children make use of information and skills they already possess” (p. 342). This is also the focus of Pearson (2001) who commands us to pay no attention to the imaginary stages that theorists have concocted but rather to the ways in which children use drawing (p. 362), particularly as a social practice.

How These Readings Compare to Readings from Last Week

Last week’s readings considered the artistic development of the human species from a grand, sweeping point of view while this week’s articles hone in on the artistic development of young people. Authors from both weeks agree that artistic development does not have definite stages (Thompson, 2005). Rather, it is a fluid, multi-faceted process steeped in the unique and immediate needs and desires of the art-maker (Louis, 2005). Authors from this week’s readings, especially Pearson (2001), confirm Dissanayake’s (1974) and Mithen’s (2001) point of view that art-making is a social practice and should be treated as such when considering artistic evolution and development.

How to Understand the Artistic Tendencies of Young People

It is futile to prescribe a one-size-fits-all explanation of artistic development because, unlike the consistent stages of metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly , the artistic development of young people happens in varying ways, at varying rates, and for varying reasons (Pearson, 2005). The best way to understand artistic development is to study children as individual artists with unique goals for their art-making (Louis, 2005). Wolf’s (1988) case study of a single student reveals a rich, nuanced, and extremely complex process of artistic development that no standardized chart of stages or phases could have predicted. Though familiarity with artistic behavior typical of certain ages may comfort new art educators, we should by no means treat these typical behaviors as “normal, desirable, or stable” (Thompson, 2005, p. 19). As the Reggio Emilia approach suggests, the most plausible contemporary method for understanding the artistic tendencies of young people is to practice a “pedagogy of listening” (Thompson, 2005, p. 22).

Resources
Louis, L. L. (2005). What children have in mind: A study of early representational development in paint. Studies in Art Education, 46(4), 339-355.
Pearson, P. (2001). Towards a theory of children’s drawing as social practice. Studies in Art Education, 42(4), 348-365.
Thompson, C. M. (2005). Under construction: Images of the child in art teacher education. Art Education, 58(2), 18-23.
Wolf, D. (1988). Artistic learning: What and where is it? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 22(1), 143-155.

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