Development of a concept of art in children

In collaboration with the developmental psychologists Ellen Winner and Nathaniel Rabb (Boston College), we study the development of children’s concept of art. Rabb and Winner had found in an earlier study that when presented with visual art objects (e.g. paintings or sculptures), children as young as three years of age already assume that these objects serve no other purposes than being presented and looked at, and that this is in contrast to other non-art everyday objects (e.g. toothbrush or spoon), even when those are hand-made. Thus, from a young age, children seem to have a concept of art that resembles that of adults (results were published in Winner’s book “How art works”).

In the current project, we try to first replicate Rabb and Winner’s findings, by asking children aged 3–10 to describe abstract visual art and non-art artifacts, and speculate about functions of these objects. Next, we determine how specific this concept of art is to visual art: We will compare the children’s concept of visual arts to their concepts of literature and music (which will be assessed in a similar way, by asking the children about nature and function of these artifacts). The results of this study will help us determine whether a) children have a domain-general concept of art (or artistic artifacts and behaviors) that they apply broadly to different domains of artistic behaviors; or whether b) they form more specific conceptualizations of different arts/artifacts which can thus differ between literature, music, and visual arts, and develop at a different pace.