UNESCO-NIE Centre for Arts Research in Education (CARE)

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Name of Author: 
Krishnan, Pushpalatha
National Institute of Education
Year of completion: 
Country of Research Data: 

An Academic Exercise submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for Bachelor of Arts (Hons)


Traditional theories on children's development in art describe development in terms of a progression through universal sequential stages. For an example, an oversimplified interaction of Piaget's early theory has tended to create the impression that development is an orderly, stage-like progression from primitive early stages to increasingly superior ones as the child matures. Piaget's idea is that 'the child's mental life marches forward in one direction toward greater logical heights. The march is composed of qualitatively distinct and invariantly ordered stages' [Thelen and Smith, 1998, p. 211.] The assumption being that growth is a linear, unfolding process that naturally moves towards a predetermined goal. Moreover, in its most diluted form, this predictable stage-like model is assumed to be universal; that is to say, development is assumed to move through the same sequences of stages to arrive at the same endpoint, regardless of the society in which one is brought up [Duncum, 1999; Lowenfeld and Brittain, 1987; Piaget and Inhelder, 19691].

Such traditional theories' concern has been with the common, in other words the universal, characteristics in children drawings. For this reason the theories seem inherently inappropriate for distinguishing among children's unique abilities, except most broadly in terms of their overall stage of development. Hence, I do not believe that children's development can be measured in such a systematic and predetermined way and I doubt the paradigm of a universal stage theory that assumes that children go through the same sequence of development thus arriving at a same endpoint - producing similar w o r k s . This so-called similar endpoint has raised questions on the measurement of creativity and individuality in children's development among recent theorists [Atkinson, 2002; Brent Wilson, 1985; 1997; Matthews, 2003, in press]. 

In fact, though based on patterns, I believe children's development is a dynamic process, constantly in a state of flux according to a multiplicity of conditions available at any given moment. Other writers too have also noticed this l i e Atkinson [2002], Barnes [2002], Wilson [2000], Matthews [1999], Kindler [1970], Horovitz, Lewis and Luca [l9731 and Horovitz [1976]. However earlier theorists failed to account for this individuality in children's art development. Hence, through this paper, I am proposing that it is totally unrealistic to categorise children's development with Piaget's universal 'stage' theory. As I feel it is impractical to look at the similarities in children's pictorial representation into drawing conclusions that children go through the same sequences of development thus arriving at a similar endpoint. I hope to provide evidence that each child's journey through development, though passing through a sequence which has universal characteristics, is nevertheless a unique journey. I will then move on to talk about the implications of my findings to art education, in order to assist teachers and caregivers to understand and motivate children's individual development in art.

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