As others have pointed out one this list, it depends much on the age of the
child. I think it also depends greatly on the approach used to introduce
children to a work or works of art. If one takes into account the age of
the children first, and then subsequently their developmental stage, then
one can plan the art experience accordingly. The responses one gets from
pre-school children differ greatly from those of Jr. high or high school
students, as does the sort of artwork they respond to, or "like."
I think that in introducing children to artwork in the museum, my primary
goal is to make the experience with the piece meaningful for the child.
This is so often driven by what the children bring to the experience
themselves. I am always amazed at the different perceptions children have
about artwork as opposed to the perceptions of adults, or worse yet, the
perception of "scholars." I do not mean this in an anti-intellectual way.
But really, while one can go on an on about Monet's palette, and his study
of the effects of light and color, a child will look at a work by Monet and
respond to the "colors of spring," "the way the sky looks just before it
gets dark," "flowers like in my backyard..." etc. And it is those
connections that children naturally make that make the experience
meaningful for them.
I believe my most important job is to facilitate those kinds of
connections. Again, this will be determined by the age of the children. I
object to the fact that, as Masseil Arregui pointed out, "...there is a
tendency to look for "childish" themes instead of discovering what
children's real interests are." I maintain that adults too often
underestimate what children are capable of understanding. Likewise, adults
too often think naive or primitive themes are more appropriate and hence
the images children would choose. When given the choice, children do
"choose" and respond to very sophisticated images. Furthermore, they don't
miss the subtleties in more sophisticated works of art either.
Case in point, in a visit to a gallery in which Neoclassical and Romantic
works are displayed, students were asked to choose a favorite painting.
Many chose the "Oath of the Horatii" by David. Not exactly a naive choice.
Moreover, when asked what they thought the painting was about, the
children were quite perceptive in their responses. The class said in
summary that the painting was about going to war for one's country and that
the men were pledging to fight for the country and the women were sad
because it meant that the men might die for their country.
I do quite alot with art criticism with elementary age children. There are
a number of teachers I know who do not think that elementary aged children
are able to participate in art criticism. I have found that this is also
not true. In fact, they not only can do it, they love do it. One thing I
have done with great success is the Siskel and Ebert "thumbs up or thumbs
down" approach. The children are to look at selected works of art and
determine if they like it (thumbs up) or don't like it (thumbs down).
Then, I tell them they cannot decide they like it or don't without reasons,
in other words there are no wrong or right answers to the question of
whether or not a work of art is good or bad, as long as they state their
reasons for making the judgement.
When I first introduced art criticism to my students, I thought I would
have to talk at length about aesthetics and analyzing the elements and
principles of the work to determine one's reasons for liking or disliking a
work, or determining whether a work was successful. Much to my delight and
suprise, however, the children did this naturally. In other words, when
giving reasons for liking or disliking a work, they automatically gave
reasons such as "I like the bright colors the artist used," "I like the
picture because it is a picture of a little girl with a cat and it reminds
me of my cat," "I like it because it shows the ocean and the beach and the
sun is going down," "I like it because it looks like you could touch the
fruit and they would be real," etc.
All I did was to reinforce the students' statements and observations,
saying things in response to their comments like, "Some people like a work
of art because of the colors, or shapes or kinds of lines the artist used.
Some people think a work of art has to look very realistic...or some people
think that a work of art should tell a story or remind you of a place
you've been, etc"
Children not only can think critically about art, they can understand and
appreciate a wide variety of styles and themes in art. Another thing I
have done with children is to ask them to choose their favorite work of art
in the galleries. Here is what I have observed (I do not know if this is
supported by research or not, if anyone else on this list knows of
published articles, I would love it if they would share titles and authors
Young children do prefer narrative art to abstract or non-representational
They prefer bright colors to drab ones.
They very often choose images which include children, animals and families.
They also choose images of children and/or adults doing things and are
especially fond of images of people playing games.
Most choose realistic images over more stylized ones.
They love images of make-believe creatures like unicorns, dragons, etc.
They choose images with alot of movement and/or action as opposed to static
I have always found children's responses to artwork to be interesting.
Thank you for beginning this discussion. I look forward to reading the
responses from others on this list.
Director of Early Childhood Education
and the Family Center
The Toledo Museum of Art
"It is art that makes life. makes interest, makes importance...and I know
of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process." (Henry
James, Letter to H.G. Wells, 1915).