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Rebecca McIntire
Art 130 Ward.A
October 4, 2016
Artistic Analysis
A Deeper Understanding: The Parallels Between Cognitive and Artistic Development
Observing a child creating a drawing can be a powerful insight into their thought process. Often,
a drawing expresses how a child understands their environment, themselves, their family and/or
culture. In the early years of childhood, before writing skills have fully developed, drawing is one of the
main forms of symbolic communication. Jean Piaget, a former psychologist, studied children to
understand the process of mental maturation which he developed into stages based on age and
cognitive characteristics, a theory he called Cognitive Development. Similarly, Viktor Lowenfeld, a
former professor of art at Pennsylvania State University, studied the drawings of children ranging in age
and categorized levels of artistic development based on the factors of age and drawing technique, a
concept known as the Stages of Artistic Development. When the Cognitive Development and Artistic
Development theories are paralleled to analyze a child's drawing, a deeper understanding of the child's
thoughts and development can be reached by the observer. Comparing the drawings of two children at
different ages can illustrate both developmental patterns theorized above to show how age plays a
factor in ability and knowledge. To maintain confidentiality, I will refer to the children I have observed as
'Child A' and 'Child B'. Based on the symbolism, composition and details represented in Child A and
Child B's drawings, it is evident that they are in separate stages of both artistic and cognitive
Cognitive Development. Jean Piaget was a psychologist born in Switzerland in 1896. He is still
today a strong influence in the realm of child development with his Cognitive Development Theory.
Piaget was interested in how knowledge developed. He believed that in order for children to learn they
must construct their own knowledge of the environment through experiences, also known as
constructivism. According to Piaget, in order for children to make sense of the world they create
schema, he defined this as, Mental structures in the mind in which the individual stores all the
information gathered from the world around them (Aubrey & Riley, 2016, p. 37). Essentially, the more
experiences an individual encounters the more schemas are formed, however, some experiences
require a child to adapt a schema instead. This is where Piaget's terms accommodation and

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assimilation come into play. Assimilation takes place when a schema can explain more than one thing.
Take a panther and a jaguar for instance, they are different colors but similar in shape and appearance,
therefore they can both be categorized as 'cat'. Accommodation happens when a child learns
something completely new that has no place in any existing schemas they've formed, so a new schema
will be created to make sense of it. Piaget believed that while children are making sense of the world
with schemas, they are learning the rules of the world and developing in stages; there are four stages in
his Cognitive Development Theory. In the text, Understanding and Using Educational Theories, Aubrey
and Riley sum up Piaget's stages and characteristics:
1. Sensorimotor (age 0-2): Children focus on their senses, movement and what they can do.
2. Preoperational (age 2-7): Children focus on what they cannot do, stimulation is
necessary to develop new schemas. Language has developed enough for symbolic
representation of thoughts. Children cannot grasp logical operations such as volume and mass.
Children are egocentric.
3. Concrete operational (age 7-12): Child can perform more complex mental processes, and
problem solving skills are increased in concrete, real world problems.
4. Formal operational (age 12-19): Children are able to grasp hypothetical and abstract
thought processes, however, Piaget believed that not everyone would be able to fully achieve
formal operations due to the amount of stimulation needed to reach the stage.
Piaget believed that a child could not move onto the next stage without first mastering the previous
one, Each stage serves as a foundation for the next and no stage could be missed or rendered
incomplete (Aubrey & Riley, 2016, p. 37). There are some who criticize that idea. It is believed that the
process of learning is more interchangeable than abrupt, and that children could overlap within the
stages. Mastery of one stage was not seen as necessary to begin to understand another. Having strict
barriers can pose contradictions to the theory, as not all children are the same; some may be more
advanced or behind than others and age may vary. Nonetheless, this is a good guide to keep in mind
when observing a child. Viktor Lowenfeld's Stages of Artistic Development were also measured in ages
and stages. The observed characteristics of drawings noted within each stage often coincide with
Piaget's observed learning processes. Perhaps drawings can be a way to visually understand a child's
cognitive mental processes.
Artistic Development. Viktor Lowenfeld was born in Austria in 1903 and became a professor of
art education at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. Lowenfeld observed children drawing and

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connected a child's age range with their artistic abilities, like Piaget did with a child's age range and
their mental capacities. In his book, Creative and Mental Growth, Lowenfeld described six stages of a
child's artistic development and the characteristics of each:
1. Scribbling (age 2-4): Drawing is purely kinesthethic, the child explores movement in
drawing and marks may go off the page. By age four, the scribbles may become representational
2. Preschematic (age 4-7): Drawings are symbolic, shapes are geometric, art becomes
communicative and children often tell stories about symbols. The basic human figure
appears and later develops details such as hair and clothes. The size of objects aren't
3. Schematic (age 7-9): Drawing represents known schema and knowledge of the environment
and is repeated. A baseline and sky appears. Objects rarely overlap.
4. Gang age (age 9-12): Realism and peers become important. Children are self-critical. A
horizon line appears while the baseline disappears. Work becomes more detailed and objects
overlap to show depth, but the perspective is not accurate.
5. Pseudo-naturalistic (age 12-14): Realism is increasingly important amd children are critical of
perspective accuracy. The human figure becomes more accurate. There is a greater awareness
of the environment, cartooning is popular, and sexual characteristics are exaggerated.
6. Adolescent art (age 14-17): Drawing tends to curb at pseudo-naturalistic without
intervention. Realism is still emphasized. Light and shade and imaginative/abstract use of
figure appear. The concept of perspective can now be understood.
Drawings are a visual insight into a child's constructed knowledge, however, it's important to realize
that drawings do not always follow this formula. Lowenfeld criticized his own work, It should be
emphasized that there is no one way that pictures will be at any age. The stages melt into one another
and progress at different paces' depending upon numerous factors (Lowenfeld & Brittian, 1987, p.
473). So although the stages appear in order, children aren't necessarily going to follow it exactly. The
formula isn't as simple as it appears; factors of stimulation, culture, interest, opportunity and
encouragement come into play when considering the maturation of artistic development. It is evident
though, that as the child changes so do the drawings. Lowenfeld said it best, The changes that take
place in the art product are a direct reflection of the changing child; all of the variables that cause them
to be different individuals with different personalities and different interests are also influencing their

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art products (Lowenfeld & Brittian, 1987, p. 471). Both Lowenfeld and Piaget used an age range as a
means to document the changing child. Due to the similarities, using the artistic development and
cognitive development theories simultaneously could help an observer come to a more well-rounded
analysis of a child's drawing.
Parallel Theories. When comparing cognitive maturation and artistic development, the
characteristics of both run parallel in terms of the child's behavior. Lowenfeld's and Piaget's theories
work together. The sensorimotor stage of cognitive development coincides with the scribble stage of
artistic development, both are focused on the concept of physical movement. The use of the word
schematic in Lowenfeld's second and third stages directly relate to Piaget's use of the word schema,
both explain a child's active knowledge of a subject/object. Piaget said that around the age of 2-7
children develop enough language skills to begin using symbolic forms of communication; it is around
this time that children enter into the preschematic stage of artistic development and represent
constructed schema in the form of symbols. As the child grasps a more logical set of problems solving
skills in the concrete operational stage of cognitive development, greater details and more realistic
proportions begin to appear in drawings. The mental capacity of the child seems to be reflected in their
drawings. As the child ages and gains greater understanding of the world, their drawings also become
more developed and detailed reflecting this change of self. With a conscious effort using both theories,
an observer could learn something about a child and speculate where they are in regards to their
cognitive and creative development.
Artistic Analysis
Child A. Child A is four years and ten
months old. According to age, this child is
categorized cognitively as preoperational
and artistically as preschematic. Child A
sat at a table with me, on it were markers,
crayons, colored pencils and paper. I did
not give directions, only invited children to
draw if they'd like. Child A authoritatively
picked up the red crayon and began
Child A: 4 yr; 10 mo

drawing. First Child A drew three sets of

circles and ovals, one on top of the other

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and I quickly realized they were human figures. What are you drawing? I asked. This is my family.
This is my mom, me and my dad. I don't have any brothers or sisters yet, Child A replied. Child A used
symbols and language to communicate with me and in a way introduced me to their family. Child A
began to draw facial features, limbs and hair, then hearts at the bottom of the page. By the smiles, arm
gestures and hearts I might assume they are a happy family. I also noticed how mom was much bigger
than dad. Perhaps this was a subconscious communication that mom played a bigger role in their life
than dad, or maybe it meant that mom was literally a bigger person, or maybe it meant nothing at all.
It's not always obvious what a drawing means. Child A showed a confidence and knowledge of how to
hold a writing utensil, as well as the ability to control their physical movements. Child A also showed
little to no concern about what the other children were drawing, making art seemed to be an individual
expression. Based on Child A's age and their artistic and mental capacities observed, I would agree that
they could be categorized as artistically preschematic and mentally preoperational. The use of symbols,
the emergence of the human figure with segmented body parts, facial features and hair, the
disproportionate geometric depictions and the full use of the space available are documented
characteristics of the preschematic stage. The drawing contains some detail, but not enough to be
categorized as schematic. This coincides with the preoperational cognitive stage because Piaget
suggested that between this age of 2-7 children develop a functional use of language and start using
symbolic communication, like Child A did when creating this drawing. Together both theories explain
how Child A's mental and artistic expression are interrelated.
Child B. Child B is nine years and 2 month old.
According to age, this child is categorized cognitively as
concrete operational and artistically in the gang age. The
gang stage of drawing is a milestone of artistic
development. This is when children become observant of
realism, it becomes important that they are able to depict
objects in a more realistic fashion and continues to be
important from here on out. Children are more selfcritical and begin to care what their peers think. This
drawing is a perfect example. Child B, among other
children, were involved in a self facilitated drawing
Child B: 9 yr; 2 mo

competition. I observed them all drawing girls separately,

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then after about ten minutes the drawings were placed on a table. There were two judges (who did not
draw), they looked at each drawing and named the first, second and third place contestants. It seemed
like the point of the activity was primarily associated with peer acceptance. Child B won first place
according to their standards. I glanced over the drawings of the participants and noticed that this
drawing appeared to be the most realistic of the bunch, perhaps this is why Child B won. According to
Piaget, during the concrete operational stage of cognitive development, children are able to mentally
understand more complex problems as long as they exist concretely. Children begin to visualize things
more easily around the age of 7-12, which could explain why drawings become more detailed. The
difference between Child A and Child B's drawings are immediately apparent. Child B has much greater
detail, a more intricate use of color and the use of words in conjunction with picture symbols. Child B
depicts hair as a more fluid shape than Child A, it seems to fit onto the person's head in a more natural
way. The arms and body are more proportionate and the body begins to hold a form. In the
preschematic stage, the human figures are usually looking at the viewer; notice here how the girl is
looking away. Without knowing the ages of the two children and if only comparing their drawings, most
people would agree that Child A is younger than Child B. Based on symbolism, details and composition,
there is an obvious developmental gap between the two that can be visually observed.
To the careful observer, drawings are an informative tool. When children draw, they illustrate
what is important to them, who they are, what they know and how they see the world. Artistic
development changes as the child's mind expands. For a teacher and researcher, knowing what to look
for is important for an informative analysis of a drawing or series of drawings. Looking to developmental
theorists like Piaget and Lowenfeld can guide a teacher, showing them that drawing and creativity is
quite meaningful and represents a breadth of schema and knowledge that the child is constantly
constructing. Having the opportunity to regularly observe children and compare their drawings would
be especially useful. A collection of drawings to compare would reveal much about the interrelationship
between the progression of a child's cognitive growth and their artistic development, as well as the
differences between individual children. Art is a way for children to communicate feelings and thoughts
symbolically. Quietly observing and taking notes on a child's art process can provide a deeper
understanding of who that child is and what they know.

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Reference List
Aubrey, K., & Riley A. (2016). Understanding & Using Educational Theories. London, UK: SAGE
Publications Ltd.
Lowenfeld, V., & Brittian, W. L. (1987). Creative and Mental Growth. Upper Saddle River, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, Inc.