Developmental Learning in Art

Developmental Learning in Art

Human developmental theories can be found in education, society, and even in peace research: cognitive, developmental, social learning, and socio-cultural developmental theories all have contributed to the educational system that is present today in the United States of America. Researchers such as Darwin, Freud, Erickson, Piaget, Watson, Skinner, Kohlberg, Bandura, Vygostsky, Bowlby, Bronfenbrenner, Gilligan, among many other scientists have done extensive research that today has influenced education throughout the content areas. The purpose of this article is to analyze two human development theories and create a lifelong learning curriculum for the art education throughout the lifespan of a learner.

Cognitive Developmental Theory

To understand is to invent, or to reconstruct by reinventing.                           

  Piaget (1972, p. 24)

Jean Piaget

Even though some critics say that Piaget’s theories are not correct, others support his research. To understand a bit better where the theories originated from lets discuss the origin of Jean Piaget. In 1896, born in a French-speaking part of Switzerland a child was born to a medieval literature professor called Arthur Piaget. According to his father, Jean was a precocious child who developed an interest in natural science (biology and the natural world), and even published a number of papers before he graduated from high school about mollusks. His lifelong passion was to understand how humans create knowledge. Piaget’s efforts founded the discipline of genetic epistemology (biological foundations for knowledge), and established a framework that continues to affect the way teachers are trained and students are taught.

He served as a professor of psychology at the University of Geneva from 1929 to 1975 and is best known for reorganizing cognitive development theory into a series of stages, expanding on earlier work from James Mark Baldwin: four levels of development corresponding roughly to (1) infancy, (2) pre-school, (3) childhood, and (4) adolescence. Piaget spent years observing and interviewing young male children in an effort to further his theories about the construction of knowledge. According to Nagarjuna (2006), Piaget “thought that by observing the ways that children create meaning, he could learn more in general about the development of knowledge.”

Development from one stage to the next according to Piaget is the accumulation of errors in the child’s understanding of the environment; theses errors eventually causes such a degree of cognitive disequilibrium that the structures within the child require reorganizing. According to Murray (2007), “All development emerges from action; that is to say, individuals construct and reconstruct their knowledge of the world as a result of interactions with the environment.”  According to Nagarjuna (2006), “Cognitive structures are understood to be the ways that young people make sense of the world, given their lack of adult sensibilities.”

Jean Piaget viewed intelligence as a process that help an organism adapt to its environment and proposed four major periods of cognitive development. The four development stages described in Piaget’s theory are (1) sensorimotor stage, (2) Preoperational stage, (3) Concrete operational stage, and (4) formal operational stage. Each cognitive structure in Piaget’s theory is defined by a series of traits, and corresponds loosely to specific age. These chronological periods are not rigid rules, just approximate values to set the stages in an order starting from birth to 2 years of age defining the sensorimotor stage, where the children experience the world through movement and senses and learn object permanence. The preoperational stage starts from the age of 2 to 7 years and the child has an acquisition of motor skills. In the concrete operational stage starts from 7 to 11 years and the children begin to think logically about concrete events that are taking place in their environment. In the formal operational stage begins after the age of 11 and it is when the child develops of abstract reasoning of the world around them.

            Based on his life long research, Piaget felt that “students should not be seen as empty vessels to be filled by expert teachers, but rather active participants in the building of their own knowledge” (Nagarjuna, 2006). According to Murray (2007), Piaget concluded “that schools should emphasize cooperative decision-making and problem solving, nurturing moral development by requiring students to work out common rules based on fairness” (p. 2). Even though the explanations offered may be incorrect today, according to the latest adult sensibilities and research, but “the fact that children do offer explanations for these things shows that they are actively working to understand the world around them” (Nagarjuna, 2006).

Following Piaget’s line of reasoning, Selman (1980) examined children’s cognitive understanding of the social world. To understand relations and interactions between people, children need to understand that others also have an internal state which influences how they are behaving. Selman reported that rather young children realize that different people have visual perspectives which are independent from their own. . . . Implying Piaget’s insight in peace education would ask for an active, exploratory process in which conflicting information and social dilemmas are allowed to exist. In such a process, learning to understand the underlying perspectives (visual, social, or emotional) of other people would broaden our possibilities of being confronted with and understanding differences.

Hakvoort (2002)

Lev Vygotsky

The second theory that will be used to write the art curriculum for the lifelong learners is the cognitive theories of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky insists that children’s minds are shaped by the particular social and historical context in which they live and by their interactions with adults, explaining why educators will never be replaced with technology no matter the advances that we reach. His social development theories play a fundamental role in the development of cognition. Vygotsky (1978) states:

Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals (p.57).

Vygostsky’s theory of art developed a “dynamic overall approach by (1) the writer’s intentions, era, and background; (2) the form, content, and symbolism of the literary piece; and (3) the readers’ experience and interpretation of the work” (Lindqvist, 2003). Vygostsky did not regards art as something spiritual and metaphysical, which raises the artists genius above the shape and contents of the work being created. Instead, he saw art as a reflection how society touches the people’s lives and how society developed. Art is an excellent tool for studying not only society, but emotions, and psychology. According to Lindqvist (2003), “Vygostsky regarded the psychology of art as a theory of the social techniques of emotions. His analysis reflects the artistic process.”


The Britannica Online defines art as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.” The first and broadest sense of art is the one that has stayed closest to the older Latin meaning, which roughly translates to “skill” or “craft,” and also from an Indo-European root meaning “arrangement” or “to arrange.” In this sense, art is whatever is described as having undergone a deliberate process of arrangement. Art can describe several things: a study of creative skill, a process of using the creative skill, a product of the creative skill, or the audience’s experience with the creative skill. Art is something that visually stimulates an individual’s thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas. Art is a realized expression of an idea – it can take many different forms and serve many different purposes.

Using this last definition art would be a good tool to used to help students acquire a sense of belonging in their environment. According to Wekipedia, the common characteristics displayed by art are:

  1. encourages an intuitive understanding rather than a rational understanding, as, for example, with an article in a scientific journal;
  2. was created with the intention of evoking such an understanding or an attempt at such an understanding in the audience;
  3. was created with no other purpose or function other than to be itself (a radical, “pure art” definition);
  4. is elusive, in that the work may communicate on many different levels of appreciation;
  5. may offer itself to many different interpretations, or, though it superficially depicts a mundane event or object, invites reflection upon elevated themes;
  6. demonstrates a high level of ability or fluency within a medium; this characteristic might be considered a point of contention, since many modern artists (most notably, conceptual artists) do not themselves create the works they conceive, or do not even create the work in a conventional, demonstrative sense (one might think of Tracey Emin‘s controversial My Bed);
  7. confers particularly appealing or aesthetically satisfying structures or forms upon an original set of unrelated, passive constituents.

Art Educational Program

But if you ask what is the good of education in general, the answer is easy; that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly.


            Many schools are now learning how to deal with the diversity among the student and teacher population. Greenman (2007) suggests that art, music, and language are a good way to embrace cultural diversity. Art teachers, need to incorporate the art of other cultures throughout the schools curricula. Just as the scientists that wanted to change the world with their theories on human development artists, art teachers, art historians and other enthusiasts appreciate and value the art of other countries, so perhaps we may facilitate the education of others. Since according to Greenman (2007), “We’re all aware that when you know and understand something, you come to appreciate and value its uniqueness.”

Design, Implementation, and Teaching

A child’s education should begin at least one hundred years before he is born.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Infants. Infants are children classified from birth to 2 years of age. Through the use of many practices, specialized schools, and educational program for parents, caregivers can start educating their child from infancy using art. Art exposes the child to a world of imagination while it introduces him/ her to the riches of our world (plants, animals, places, etc.). Since infants can’t speak exposing them to bright colors, pictures, cartoons, and other forms of art is the best tool to use. During these delicate years of infancy, the child is developing their sensorimotor skills (uses of all the five senses). Color are the best way to help develop hand and eye coordination by obtaining toys, tools, education material that is bright and contains the main primary colors: red, blue, yellow, green, white, and black. The exposure to more colors helps the students learn to define and identify not only the colors but the objects containing the colors, using their appropriate names if taught by the caregivers.


Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

Oscar Wilde

Toddlers. Toddlers in the other hand are children from the age of 2 to 5 years old. These children are active and have been able to identify colors, shapes, object, and their functions. As the child’s caregiver this is time to expose the children to watercolors, colored pencils, crayons, long white walls, mud, clay, and so on. The student will learn to make lines and circles, which are the basic principals for writing. The use of watercolors, brushes, and color pencils will refine the motor skills they will need in the future. The crayons would teach them to stay in between the lines while making their own masterpieces to share their feelings and their view of the environment.


Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well.


Once a child enters the school system it is the teachers task to become the second parent, the guide need to enhance the lives of the children. At this stage of development, the children are able to identify and recognize variations in their environment. They are able to create art, enhance it, mimic it, copy it, and interpret the art, the culture, and the origin of it. The students learn how to express their feeling, emotions, sentiments, problems, solutions, and soul through their colors. At this ages they also try to experiment by creating their own colors, mixing and matching to create their own identity.


Education is not received. It is achieved.


Adolescence. Teenagers are a strange bread of individuals not quite adults, yet not quite children. These students are full of energy, passion, rage, anger, emotions, problems, and should be taught to use art as a means to release, fix, or neutralize these emotions. The students can at this age create a art festival in which they show the techniques and skills they have learned in previous years. Since art teachers are natural leaders according to Greenman (2007),  high school students can create an “International Festival” in which they can exhibit various works of art from diverse countries, make creative bulletin board of different languages, have a dance contest in which P.E. class are incorporated, use diverse cloth from different cultures, after-school activities, special meals, among other things. As a high school teacher, “students could wear special costumes from their country of origin at the event. The colors, designs, and patterns would add much to the festive occasion. Wearing art from around the world … a feast for the eyes” (Greenman, 2007).

The Classroom experience is changed when you’re close to the age of the professor and bring similar life experiences into the leaning process.

Gay Clyburn

Young Adults. As a young adult, there are many ways that you can enhance art education among the students population. Personally, the students are looking to enhance their knowledge of the world and environments around them. As the instructor a creation of a diverse art curriculum that includes making colors from scratch, how to make paper, in depth study on how colors where used in Egypt, Greece, Paris, US, Latin America, China, Japan. In these courses, go into depth on how to interpret, appreciate, and create art piece that could teach the students how to blend in to a diverse settings. Teach how to tell a story through time using only colors and art.

Education makes people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.

Henry Peter Brougham

Senior Citizens. As an educator, while teaching an art to senior citizens incorporating acrylic painting, watercolors, and other techniques to help them express what they have seen, lived, and experience through life. Learning how to leave a legacy of love for their loved ones, long discussions on the topic will lead to philosophy, acquisition of others knowledge and the teacher would become the students and the students would become the teachers since their experiences would be much greater than the educators. A deep discussion on the Mona Lisa, could lead us to solve the Dan Vinci code, while trying to create their own mysteries, while realizing that “If you educate a man you educate a person, but if you educate a woman you educate a family” (Manikan).

In conclusion, art education has many benefits for the students and world that we live in, but what has the educational systems have been doing to ensure the survival of these programs since they seem to be the first eliminated when the budgets are cut in schools. According to Holcomb (2007), “as a growing consensus of policymakers, educators, and parents agree that the arts are integral to learning, some districts are seeing a policy shift on the local and state level. In California, education and arts organizations have worked to secure a windfall arts budget that, in theory, would guarantee arts education in every public school in the state. The monies – $105 million in ongoing funds, and a one-time, $500 million line item for classroom equipment – are a legacy of the California Teacher Association’s successful lawsuit on education funding.”


Clyburn, G. (2006, November / December). Listening to Students: Dusting Off a Life of the Mind. Change.

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Hakvoort, I. (2002, January). Theories of Learning and Development: Implications for Peace Education. Social Alternatives, 21(1): 18 – 22.

Holcomb, S. (2007, January). States of Arts. Art Education. Retrieved February 1st, 2007 from Neatoday.

Greenman, G. (2007, January). Tried & True tips for Art Teachers. Retrieved January 31, 2007 from

Lindqvist, G. (2003). Vygostsky’s Theory of Creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 15 (2-3): 245 – 251.

Lourenco, O., and Machado, A. (1996). In Defense of Piaget’s Theory: A Reply to 10 Common Criticisms. Psychological Review, 103 (1): 143 – 144.

Malerstein, A.J., Ahern, M.M., Pulos, S., and Arasteh, J.D. (1995, Spring). Prediction and Constancy of Cognitive-Motivational Structures in mothers and their adolescents. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 25(3): 197 – 208.

Murray, M.E. (2007). Moral Development and Moral Education: An Overview. Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago. Retrieved on January 25, 2007 from

Nagarjuna, G. (2006) Tracing the Biological Roots of Knowledge, in Rangaswamy, N.S., Eds. Life and Organicism. Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture (PHISPC).

Piaget, J. (1976). La formation du symbole chez l’enfant. [Play, dreams, and imitation]. Neuchantel, Switzerland: Delachaux et Niestle. (Original work published 1946).

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Source by Maritza M. Conde

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