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Cognitive and Neuroscientific Approaches to the Arts (December 2018): Artistic Creation by Children

By Travis Nygard and Lauren S. Weingarden

Artistic Creation by Children

Children also experience and participate in the arts, and they do so in ways that reflect their level of cognitive development. There is an important body of empirical work that focuses on artistic creation by children—work developed by psychologists using art as a window into child psyches, a technique that is especially useful before children can verbally express themselves in sophisticated ways. Educators with training in psychology have also contributed to understanding of art made by young people. Psychologist Michael Parsons’s How We Understand Art: A Cognitive Developmental Account of Aesthetic Experience offers a useful model of how humans develop the ability to appreciate art. Using the development of moral judgment as a comparative framework, Parson posits that because aesthetic appreciation (like moral judgment) requires a high level of cognitive sophistication, a cognitive framework focused on aesthetics can be based on this earlier paradigm of moral judgment. Parsons developed a working model in which he argued that people innately progress through a stage of favoritism, then appreciation for realistic beauty, then expressiveness, then understanding of style and form, before finally achieving aesthetic autonomy. Addressing more practical aspects of childhood education, Arthur Efland’s Art and Cognition: Integrating the Visual Arts in the Curriculum brings together a range of cognitive theories to form a rationale model for integrating the visual arts into the public school curriculum. Patterns of Artistic Development in Children: Comparative Studies of Talent, by psychologist Constance Milbrath, focuses on how children develop artistic abilities, tracing how they learn to control lines, render images of people, develop complex visual compositions, and understand artistic viewpoints. Milbrath includes data from robust experimental studies, using cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis. A classic in this field is The Arts and Human Development: A Psychological Study of the Artistic Process, by psychologist Howard Gardner.

Gardner compares the creation of art by humans to comparable acts in the nonhuman animal world, such as the songs and nests of wild birds, and paintings by chimpanzees made in captivity; discusses artistic modes and symbols in the art of children; synthesizes experimental research on the psychology of art; traces the development of artistic mastery in adults; and contextualizes the arts within the broader realm of human psychology. Gardner’s subsequent book on children’s drawings, Artful Scribbles: The Significance of Children’s Drawings, is also worthy of study. Psychologist Claire Golomb’s The Child’s Creation of a Pictorial World also constitutes a major contribution to the field. Golomb focuses on how children’s art reflects their simple cognitive abilities in the areas of color, space, and composition.

Works Cited