I observed the art making of my nephew Oliver as part of a Child Art Making Exercise for Belmont's Master of Arts in Teaching program in Nashville, TN. The observation fell on Spring Break. And, here's what happened.
For the first time in about 3 months, I had a childless week. I teach about 3 classes per week, and this particular week no classes were scheduled until Saturday. So, I called up my sister and asked her if my 5 year old nephew Oliver could participate in the art making exercise for my graduate program at Belmont.
My nephews were on Spring Break, but she said yes. Oliver loves to draw and make things, so this project was a natural fit.
She lives in Dallas, TX and I live in Nashville, TN so we arranged for this to happen via telephone and video (Skype would have been too cumbersome for collecting physical data).
Oliver sat at the kitchen table while his father videoed him. His brother Liam was behind the camera calling out various things to draw. But, Oliver stayed focused.
His first drawing was of a red marker. He was drawing with markers, so there was a bit of hesitation at the beginning when he thought he would have to use the red marker he is looking at to draw the same red marker, exclaiming, "but how do I draw this it?" After a few seconds, he quickly realized he could draw the red marker with the pink marker. And, so he began.
He confidently drew the outline of the marker, only lifting his marker once from the page. And, then he carefully lettered the name "Bic" on the side of the marker. What struck me as interesting is that he left out the line that defines and separates the cap from the main part of the marker. I thought it was interesting because he knew the marker was red as it has a red cap, but he didn't bother to color it in with the pink marker. I think he made this decision because the marker was pink and the marker he was looking at was red. Why would you color in a red cap with a pink marker? It's not the same color!
The second drawing that Oliver was making, I asked him to draw from his imagination. He drew a ship on the water. The ship was u-shaped with a line across the top and contained 3 windows. It had a mast with a sail. The water was bright blue, matching the sky. A sun was tucked like a yellow spider in the upper right hand corner of the page. Then he drew what appeared to be a dock: a long brown line in the water, with four lines attached, perpendicular. After proudly exclaiming he was finished, his brother Liam yelled from behind the camera, "draw a human!" Easily falling to pressure, Oliver quickly drew a stick figure standing on the deck of the ship.
It had been raining a lot during the week of his Spring Break, so I can imagine why water was in his thoughts. But he didn't add any fish or birds to his drawing, which I thought was surprising. Both of my nephews are big animal-lovers, but maybe he felt rushed. It is a bit awkward to be forced to draw on the spot, especially on camera.
Another thing I found interesting was the order of which he drew the items on the page. First he drew the water, then drew the boat (without the windows), next was the mast and sail, then the sun, and finally the dock. He went back with a green marker and drew the windows on the boat and the blue sky was the absolute last addition.
Where Lowenfeld is concerned, I believe Oliver's drawings fit squarely into the schematic stage of artistic development, particularly in the 2nd drawing: a definite base and sky line are apparent, the items in the drawing are spatially related, the colors are reflected as they appear in nature, and the shapes and objects are easily definable.
As for the developmental stages of artistic development, Oliver's drawings connect an image with an idea, assign meaning to a drawn shape. He is in the symbol-making stage. Oliver is relating symbols to an environment and creating visual stories.
Everyone receives and expresses information differently. For me, I believe paying attention to the stages of artistic development can aid arts-based facilitators in teaching strategies and assessment. Knowing where a young person is in their artistic development can help plan lessons that uniquely strengthen each individual's technical and creative problem solving skills.
Sometimes I am bogged down by the "stages" as hyper-intellectualized research and somewhat dated. I mean, isn't it sort of intuitive that every person will go through similar processes, but at different times? It happens with language, movement, everything. So, it should be no surprise that it happens in art making.
I like to think of art making as visual communication of a particular idea or theme. In 2009, I took a visual arts studies portfolio class and learned about the work of Dr. Bernice McCarthy. When I am teaching and creating lesson plans, I like to refer to The Natural Cycle of Learning. Similar to the Anatomy of a Unit chart, it begins with connecting, next is conceptualizing, then applying, and finally creating & celebrating. While these are not necessarily stages of each individual's artistic development; it speaks to meeting the young person wherever they are in their creative journey, affording all young people the opportunity to find meaning in art making.
Experiential learning through creative problem solving and idea creation are essential to my facilitation of art making. I do not teach drawing. I relate to 3D. To me, drawing is a sketch of a bigger idea. However, I know that drawing is a huge technical skill required by most school districts. Again, this feels a bit dated and not very connected to the present art world.
While standards in school-based art learning exist, my default will always lean towards the young person. What do they want to make? How can I make this a meaningful experience that will catapult them into a successful lifelong art making journey? What can I do to better connect with each young person? And, how can I create opportunities for celebration of art making within the classroom?
Art as a visual language has a 3-part conception open ended to accommodate a wide range of possibilities: integrating the search for a visual form embodying thought, feeling, and idea with a command of symbolic language in which visual symbols are used to create meaning.
Strong art programs cultivate artistic behaviors creating meaning in making, contributing to the entire educational process, and contributing to the individual lives of the learner.