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Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Volume 1, Number 3, 2000


Making Art with Children

much more than doing it properly:
a response to Felicity McArdle

University of South Australia, Magill, Australia

ABSTRACT In this colloquium, the author responds to Felicity McArdles

discussion paper, Art and Young Children (Contemporary Issues in Early
Childhood, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 101104). The colloquium paraphrases Felicity
McArdles article, examining the hidden curricula of her discourse and
suggesting alternate views that refocus attention on the child rather than the

An exhibition of paintings by very young children in China resulted, for

McArdle, in an uneasy reading (McArdle, 1999, p. 101) Was this because the
technical skill and artistry apparently so exceeded that which McArdle was
able to equate with the artistry and technical expertise of 4 year-old children
viewed in an Australian context, that all beliefs about what was proper in art
teaching with young children was severely challenged. Well, good!
What exactly the beliefs were is not clear. Tension between directive and
non-directive teaching in early childhood arts is contentious, certainly (Hiller,
1993; Edwards, 1997). However, the idea of teaching skills in drawing,
painting and modelling to young children becomes confused when identified
with McArdles account of her own student response to life drawing classes
with a bullying and aggressive tutor. She seems uncertain whether this is the
model of teaching she interprets as proper, and yet appears drawn to consider
it so. Is she missing the point? The genius of young children is their
imagination they are the original, original thinkers (Cue, 1998).
In my experiences of working as a practising artist with children from 2
to 14 years of age, specific skills in each medium have been both directly and


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Angela Anderson

indirectly modelled to children, resulting in a myriad of individual, creative

and skilled outcomes. Research over the past decade (Stockrocki, 1986; Speck,
1989; Stewart, 1990; Anderson 1993; Anderson & Yates, 1999) into this very
subject has identified significant outcomes in technique and creativity for
children who experience interactive teaching. Here the term is drawn from the
field of contemporary psychology, where interactive teaching is based upon
cognitive social learning principles (Bandura, 1986).
McArdle is correct in suggesting that there is no single discourse here
nor should there be. Context is the key and it is simplistic to suggest that
childhood, at any time, may be perceived as either universal or unproblematic
Montessori pioneered an ideology originated to address a significant social
problem, i.e. destitute street children in an Italian province. It is important
here to emphasise her belief that In order to educate, it is essential to know
those who are to be educated (Maria Montessori a Pedagogical Anthropology
cited in Hainstock, 1978) This seems particularly relevant when considering
McArdles description of her current research. It is oriented to adult
perceptions obtained through comparison of two ideologically different
methodologies. What has this to do with teaching art to children? McArdle
searches for the regime of truth but it is the childs truth that matters here.
She muses that a good art teacher does not touch the childs work! Hands off!
(McArdle, 1999, p. 102) but gives no validation for this view. The pedagogy of
art teaching to children does not negate the teaching/learning of specific skills
such as colour theory, observational drawing or design principles, for example.
The problem lies with the fact that very few who are skilled in this field are
also skilled teachers.
Hiller (1993, p. 34) hints at this when he suggests that many teachers
hold the view that a little knowledge might hinder creativity. This is a ruse
for an education system that denies value to the arts as skilled, learnable areas
of human endeavour. Children thrive when drawing, painting or modelling
with teachers who share the experience with them. It is the knowledge of
technique and media, which can be shared with the child, that increases the
potential for creative outcomes. This may alter in intensity and direction
according to the individual needs of the particular child and the context of the
learning environment.
What a teacher says to a young child who is making art can be oriented
to discussion of the basic art elements, specific techniques, engagement levels
and personal responses Schirrmacher (1998) has written much that provides
positive guidance in how to speak with children engaged in art practices. The
visual arts do have a language that can be taught and learnt by young
children. Not to share this language with young children is to deny them
another skill involved in genuine art-making experiences. McArdles discussion
of the Classical Academy and artistic temperament again confuses and
obscures the child as artist, so that the ideas of coercion, cultural dominance
and restricted competence merge in her quest for the proper in art teaching.
These ideas relate back to the dichotomy between process and product, which


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can best be addressed through the concept of valuing (Edwards, 1997). The
values attached to the creative arts by individuals and societies are not fixed.
In reporting what is happening now, McArdle reports only one contextual
view apparently aligned to the valuing responses of her adult subjects. How
this might inform teachers about what to do differently or more effectively is,
as yet, unclear.
Development in children is a maturational process occurring over time.
However, to confuse this fact with a model of deficit is to deny the reality of
childhood. Skills in art technique and media usage can and should be taught to
children from their very earliest introduction to art practices. The concept of
artistic development is recognised by many developmental researchers
(Gardner, 1982; Eisner, 1990) as being much affected by the childs interaction
with the environment. Making art with children is not about judging either
yourself or an inexperienced child against others who may be more
experienced. It is about inviting children both to explore and develop the
technical skills that make possible and encourage individual creative
expression. It is equally important to acknowledge that development in the
affective domain is an ongoing and gradual process a continuous process of
internalisation; not a static quality (Edwards, 1997, p. 159).
It is at the point where a young childs interest in the medium itself
grows to an interest in ideas which stem from that medium that a teacher
needs to be able to extend the childs possibilities with the medium. In order
for that expression to be as meaningful as possible, children need opportunities
to question, reflect and observe with regard to both skills and techniques. The
capacity for development in art is linked to two key affective domains: the
childs predisposition to particular modes of self-expression and the childs
potential for growth, maturation and learning.
Children can, and do, think for themselves. They can be challenged to
achieve expressive outcomes which are based on technical knowledge and
understanding of media and materials. As Mcardle suggests: there is no
proper in art education; rather, there are a myriad ways of knowing and
doing. In the field of early learning, the focus is the child and the complexity
and diversity of cultural values, family experiences, environmental factors and
multiple perspectives that inform our knowledge of the child in context. It is
this eclectic focus, coupled with a sound knowledge of art practice, that
provides the foundation for effective art programmes in the early years of

Angela Anderson, de Lissa Institute of Early Childhood, University of South
Australia, Magill Campus, St Bernards Road, Magill, South Australia 5072,
Australia (


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Angela Anderson

Anderson, A.E. (1993) Childrens Three-dimensional Art Practice in Early Childhood,
unpublished Masters thesis, University of South Australia, Adelaide.
Anderson, A.E. & Yates, G.C.R. (1999) Clay Modelling and Social Modelling: effects of
interactive teaching on young childrens creative art making, Educational
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Bandura, A. (1986) Social Foundations of Thought and Action: a social cognitive theory.
Englewood Cliffs: PrenticeHall.
Cue, K. (1998) Magic. Handle with Special Care. The Advertiser, 23 November, p. 18.
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Eisner, E.W. (1990) The Role of Art and Play, in E. Eklugman & S. Smilansky
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Gardner, H. (1982) The Golden Age of Drawing, in H. Gardner Art, Mind and Brain: a
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Education, 16, pp. 2937.
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Australian Art Education, 14, pp. 3646.
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Development, Art & Design in Education, 5, pp. 225237.


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