Jean Piaget

Piaget's stage theory of cognitive development in children outlined four major stages: (1) sensorimotor, (2) preoperational, (3) concrete operations, and (4) formal operations. However, for the purposes of this book I will break down the two phases within the Preoperational stage, as these phases are exceedingly important to the growing child's development. All of these stages not only occur in continuous progressions but allow the individual to interact with the environment with increasing levels of competency and skill. With each stage a broader range of thinking develops as the individual forms a larger understanding of the world. This focus on the intellectual growth of the child and the lack of attention to emotional and social influences have brought criticism upon Piaget's theory. However, at the same time, this focus on cognition parallels perfectly our understanding of a growing child's repertoire of artwork. "To accomplish a particular task, a comprehension of the task itself is necessary. Piaget and others have provided evidence that learning is tied to maturation—a physiological, biological functioning that is predetermined in each individual" (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1982, p. 221). Thus, a child will not be able to draw a circle until age 3, a square until age 4, a triangle until age 5, and a diamond until the age of 6 or 7. Lowenfeld and Brittain describe why this is so:

For example, trying to teach a three year old how to draw a cube would be a big waste of time. What would be needed are a lot of pre-cube experiences: a year of scribbling to establish visual-motor control, a year of manipulation of objects to acquaint the youngster with two- and three-dimensionality, a year of two-dimensional drawing to establish drawing abilities, a year of physical expressiveness to perfect the understanding of left and right, up and down, front and back. Now, the youngster is ready to learn how to draw a cube. (p. 221)

In this manner children's drawings develop in predictable and sequential stages, and it is this fact that we will be weaving into Piaget's theory of cognitive development.

Piaget's first phase, the sensorimotor phase, lasts from birth to the age of 2. The infant is said to go through six definitive stages, each indicating a broader range of thinking as accommodation and assimilation form an ever-growing understanding of the larger world. From birth to 1 month the newborn possesses reflexes that lead them to grasp with their hands and suck with their mouths. However, these reflexes are purely spontaneous; the infants are reacting to the environment and their own organic demands. From the age of 1 to 4 months (primary circular reactions) they expand upon and combine what they have previously learned. They now bring their mouths to objects and grasp the objects they are sucking on. However, these actions are poorly integrated and have a large trial-and-error component. At the age of 4 to 8 months (secondary circular reactions) the child possesses coordination between vision and grasping; it is at this point that events can last and the child can act upon them. The term circular in the name for this phase is used to denote a repetitive cycle of events. "Grasping and holding a finger and repeatedly banging an object for noise production are typical infant activities in this period" (Maier, 1978, p. 34). As the child reaches 8 months to 12 months (secondary schemata) we see the "first actually intelligent behavior patterns" (Piaget, 1952, p. 210). The child, now able to experiment with objects, discovers new ways to obtain goals. "Adaptive behavior leads to random experimentation. In adaptation, the child fits new activities and objects of experience to previously acquired ways of conceiving" (Maier, p. 36). Thus, as the child now grasps for crayons, markers, and pens he or she has learned that with application certain effects will follow. In Figure 2.7, which was drawn by a female whom we will call Anna at the age of 12 months, we see a tangle of lines that have produced a colorful and somewhat subtle effect upon a previously blank piece of paper. This application of familiar means (grasping) to new situations (drawing) "permits a real accommodation of the schema to the object and no longer merely a global application as in the third stage" (Piaget, p. 262).

At 12 to 18 months (tertiary circular reactions), the child begins to ex-

Months Child Drawing
2.7 Anna at Age 12 Months
Cat Drawing Scribbling Stage
2.8 Anna at Age 17 Months

periment with and vary actions, mainly to see the effects. It is at this stage that scribbling becomes prominent. Far from being a waste of time, these random scribbles "are based upon the physical and psychological development of the child, not upon some representational intent. Making the haphazard array of lines, however, is extremely enjoyable" (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1982, p. 172). In Figure 2.8, Anna, now 17 months, experiments with light and heavy strokes, dots, lines, and circles. This experimentation with the crayons yields a very different end product from what transpired 5 months earlier (Figure 2.7). The boldness of the lines in Figure 2.8 shows how Anna assimilates and accommodates the crayon, whereas in Figure 2.7 she lacked the motor control to produce an effective image.

The final stage of Piaget's phase one (invention of new means, age 18 to 24 months) is said to "represent a climax of previous acquisitions and constitutes a bridge to the next developmental phase" (Maier, 1978, p. 39). The child is now able to form mental combinations, and with this ability comes an increasing control over his or her scribbles. In Figure 2.9, three drawings completed by a 23-month-old boy illustrates continued pleasure in kinesthetic movement, with a controlled scribble as the end result. Notice how the final drawing is more tentative than the other two, as he has chosen to utilize a ballpoint pen rather than the familiar crayon.

The second phase in Piaget's theory revolves around what he terms the preconceptual phase. In this stage, which corresponds with ages 2 to 4 years old, the child is able to hold mental representations of objects within his or her head. Thus, the creation and use of symbols as a means of communication flourish. "Primarily, these symbols have a personal reference for the child" (Maier, 1978, p. 41). This is also a time when children begin to name their scribbles and attribute them to the surrounding environment. Thus, they have moved from kinesthetic thinking (Figures 2.7 through 2.9) to the first attempts at representation.

In Figure 2.10 we see how Anna, at age 3, begins to experiment and draw simple forms. She combined these forms into designs that she titled, "Dizzy,

Piaget Stages With Children Drawings

2.9 23-Month-OldMale 56

Piaget Stages With Children Drawings
2.10 Dizzy, Mommy, Spinning Very Fast

Mommy, spinning very fast." Thus, we see how Anna's mental image of motion is communicated symbolically even though this drawing shows little difference from scribbles completed in earlier stages.

Figures 2.11 and 2.12 were drawn by a child I will call Molly. Figure 2.11 (age 2.3 years) was titled "Mommy and avocado." Once again, the completed drawing looks nothing like its label, yet in the children's minds these drawings (Figures 2.10 and 2.11) implied a wide range of representations; unfortunately, none are recognizable at this stage.

In Figure 2.12 (see disk to view in color), Molly, now aged 2.5 years, has not offered a title, yet color begins to dominate. At this stage the use of color is purely exploratory and does not factor into the image. The colors are placed boldly on the paper but merely in a random order.

It isn't until age 3.5 to 4 that the titled scribbles begin to take on a shape that is minimally recognizable. This form made up of circles and lines, often referred to as a tadpole figure, frequently represents the important people in the child's life.

Jean Piaget
2.11 Mommy and Avocado
Jean Piaget Cartoon

2.12 Molly at Age Two and a Half 58

Art Therapy Drawings

In Figure 2.13, Anna's incorporation of a circle becomes less of a scribble and more recognizable as a representation of her mother and father, although adults would be hard pressed to title this image accurately if asked to by the child. Piaget explains that the omission of body parts is due to the child's incomplete mental image. However, there is much debate as to why children leave out the body, with no definitive conclusion at this time.

As children develop, "they make less use of the idiosyncratic symbols and more of the conventional signs" (Siegler, 1978, p. 34). Therefore, this period is a time when concepts, language, and mental representations grow. This growth leads children into social awareness and participation, a shifting from egocentricity to more gregarious behavior.

By Piaget's stage of Intuitive Thought children begin to grapple with more complex problems. It is between these ages (4 to 7) that they coordinate their subjective and egocentric versions of the world with the real world (Maier, 1978). However, their drawings continue to be a symbolic representation of objects and things that surround them. They have a tendency to reason from the conclusion when making judgments. Therefore, rules tend to get lost, while the outcome becomes all important.

In Figure 2.14, Anna, who at age 4 years 11 months is just leaving the f.'i £ nict'J^--cf vihere.1 U\ft f.'i £ nict'J^--cf vihere.1 U\ft

2.14 Anna at Age 4 Years 11 Months scribbling stage, has drawn a tricolored house. These colorful stripes, having no relationship to reality, are typical for children at this stage of development. "In drawings and paintings done by children of this age there is often little relationship between the color selected to paint an object and the object represented" (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1982, p. 208).

This phenomenon is continued in other drawings completed between the ages of 4.5 and 5 years old. Figure 2.15 shows three houses drawn by a child I will call LeAnn. These homes (all drawn within a 1-month period) typify the beginning stages of a schema (an approximate figurative representation).

In these drawings LeAnn is just beginning to generalize the image of a house, yet the houses are rendered in very different styles. In one drawing the house has numerous windows and no door, while in another an oversized flower dwarfs the doorway, and still another drawing shows a definitive roof while a series of lines indicates the body of the house. It is not until roughly the age of 7, the end of the Intuitive Thought stage, that children's renderings are drawn in a consistent fashion.

Intuitive Thought Phase Piaget
2.15 LeAnn's Three Houses
Piaget Stages With Children Drawings
2.16 One-Dimensional Drawings

Thus, at age 6 children are beginning to "compare the image of the object with its perception" (Piaget & Inhelder, 1971, p. 15). In addition, Pi-aget and Inhelder identify two stages of imagery: The first is static and one-dimensional, while the second is energetic and dynamic in nature. Figure 2.16 shows examples of one-dimensional images as drawn by Anna (a volcano) and LeAnn (flower people) between the ages of 5 and 6.5.

These images have few if any details and lack grounding lines, which would allow the viewer a sense of realism. It is believed that the amount of details found within a drawing offers insight into the child's awareness of the world around him or her (Goodenough, 1926). Therefore, in the early stages of Intuitive Thought the images tend to be bland. However, by the age of 7 these images are replete with information and energy.

In Figures 2.17 and 2.18 (ages 6.5 to 7) we see a beginning knowledge of

Adjusting Headlight 2019 Kona
2.17 Anna at Age Six and a Half

operations. The children (Anna and LeAnn) are now capable of representing logical and integrated pictures.

In Figure 2.17, Anna has compartmentalized the goings-on in the house within the frames of the windows. Her father is seen driving up with a boisterous "Hi" (note the attention to detail on the headlights), while the family cat is shown descending the stairs.

Joshua Nava Art Work
2.18 LeAnn at Age 6 Years 9 Months

In Figure 2.18, completed by LeAnn at age 6 years and 9 months, we see a growing attention to detail and a fluency of ideas. She has drawn a baseline where one figure stands, while a flying kite pulls "Curious George" away.

Thus, both girls not only have indicated pictorial sequencing through spontaneous drawings but have advanced from intuitive thought to Pi-aget's fourth phase: concrete operations. The concrete operations phase has been achieved when the child can think logically about physical objects and their relations. The child is now becoming aware of others' points of view and can incorporate this thinking through situational behavioral experiences (e.g., good versus bad, social rules and codes).

Figure 2.19 provides a perfect example of Anna's growing understanding. On the left Anna has drawn the preparation stage of a party, while on the right side (which originally was on the back of the paper) she represents the party itself. It is at this age (7) that the child is desirous to be like (imitate) the parental figure. This taking on of roles is important not only for the child's growing autonomy but for the learning of social roles and codes. Thus, what Piaget terms imitation is closely aligned with Freud's defense mechanism of identification.

Classification is what Piaget calls the process of sorting objects into groups. Upon close inspection of Figure 2.19, one can see how Anna at age 7 put this into action. Her drawings of people bustling about show the use of ovals, triangles, circles, and oblong shapes to denote the body, while tables with ready supplies are in abundance even though the space relationship is rather confused. Coupled with classification, Anna also shows

Prozess Der Adaption Piaget

2.19 Anna's Party 63

Piaget's process of reversibility. "Reversibility constitutes a level of thinking by which the individual is capable of relating any one event or thought to a total system of interrelated parts in order to conceive of the event or thought from beginning to end and vice versa" (Maier, 1978, p. 55). Therefore, drawing the party from conception to actualization represents a major advance in concrete operational thinking.

It is within this stage (by age 8) that children begin to place their objects on a baseline, thus ordering the space relationship considerably. "The base line is universal and can be considered as much a part of the natural development of children as learning to run or skip" (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1982, p. 240). In Figure 2.20 Anna has not physically drawn a baseline, yet her arrangements have taken on a more orderly approach. This grouping, a process of classification, has now taken us into a comparison of similarities and differences. Her schema of a cat remains basically the same in drawing style, yet each is adorned with its own qualities through the use of color (the cat on the furthest left has been drawn in white and is therefore difficult to see), while the homes are drawn with substantial differences (window shapes, steps, chimney placements).

This ever-growing sophistication is what Piaget likened to equilibration. Equilibration encompasses both assimilation and accommodation, which blends the child's existing ways of thinking with new experiences.

Ultimately, drawings move from a static formation to one of action. This shift in thinking indicates a higher stage of equilibrium than was seen just 6 months prior. In the case of Anna, her ability to reason has moved from

Deductive Inductive

2.20 Anna Begins Classifying 64

an inductive ability to a deductive one. Thus, by the age of 8, an ability to sequence and comprehend space and time representations will become prominent in her pictorial renderings.

Figure 2.21 provides an example of this growing ability. In storybook fashion Anna relays a tale concerning her cat, Silly. The original drawings were placed one after the other in book form. It must be noted that Piaget stated that until roughly the age of puberty children believe in animism, whereby, for example, the sun is alive and flowers are inhabited by spirits and fairies. Thus, in Figure 2.21 Silly sleeps in a bed (like a child) and begins her morning by getting dressed for the day.

Figure 2.21 begins with a bird singing a melody, while Silly is still in bed. Panel 1 depicts Anna's intellectual advances toward reality (i.e., Silly is

2.21 Anna at Age 8

seen under the covers with his head visible; his feet are also shown, yet they are covered as they would be in reality). In panels 2 and 3, we see Silly leaping out of bed into the air; this concept of spatial distance and perspective is indicated by Anna's clear representation in the drawings. By panel 4, Silly has landed upon the bedsprings; we are therefore given an unimpeded example of sequential actions. After getting dressed (panels 5, 6, and 7), Silly is ready to take on the morning (panel 8).

As time marches forward, a diminished subjectivity that typifies this stage is met with a more realistic appraisal of the environment, and with this growing realism the child moves from his or her egocentric world. It is at age 9 to 10 that the child takes into account color and the object. As rules become ever more important, it is no longer acceptable to paint a blue tree or a purple cat.

In Figure 2.22, drawn by a 9.5-year-old I will call JoAnn, the colors were in direct proportion to the object drawn. The child "has begun to find some logical order in the world and is establishing concrete relationships with things around him" (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1982, p. 253).

2.22 JoAnn at Age Nine and a Half
Carpinteria California Artwork
2.23 Carpinteria, California

Figure 2.23, drawn by a 10-year-old girl, demonstrates this need for logical order as the child's world branches out beyond the borders of home (see disk to view in color).

Lowenfeld and Brittain (1982) describe the folding over as seen in Figure 2.23 as a mixture of plan and elevation. This type of rendering gives very little consideration to realism and instead focuses on the important points that the child is attempting to convey. However, this stage in the art will soon give way to the child's exploration of whole systems and intellectual experimentation.

In Figure 2.24 JoAnn (age 10) has begun to represent her world in a realistic manner. Therefore, the child's budding interests become topics of the artwork. Her cognitive maturation is exemplified by the increased awareness of the environment and a thrust toward realism.

As children near Piaget's stage of formal operations they continue their immersion with their environment, and it is at this juncture that a greater awareness of and concern for detailing emerge. At this stage their drawings take on a variety of details, from clothing that is decorated to facial features and emphasis on body parts (e.g., breasts, muscles).

In Figure 2.25 JoAnn, nearly one year later, has begun to concentrate on the self. Her figure drawings take on a coquettish air, with great attention to facial features, clothing, and attitude. This emphasis of children

Formal Operation Stage Piaget Pictures
2.24 JoAnn at Age 10
Formal Operation Stage Piaget Pictures
2.25 JoAnn at Age 10 Years 11 Months

on themselves within their surroundings is a precursor to the often-contemptuous stage of endless questions in search of the self.

In the final phase of Piaget's stages (formal operations; ages 11 to 15) youths begin the search for the self. This ushers in a new phase of questioning that encompasses everything: "They think about thinking. They enter into the world of ideas; the road has gone from a world of objects (physical world), through a world of social relations (social world), to a world of many perspectives (ideational world)" (Maier, 1978, p. 64).

In Figure 2.26 a 14-year-old female writes the following questions (obscured within the dark clouds):

Who . . . . . . will I be friends with? . . . will I marry?

Formal Operation Stage Piaget Pictures

2.26 A ¡4-Year-Old's Questions 69

Questions such as these, which revolve around social relationships and the problems that adolescents encounter, weigh heavily on their minds. Hence, their drawings show an increased relationship to feelings, ideas, thoughts, and sophisticated problem solving. It is at this point that they show an increased ability to depict three-dimensional space as the acquisition of complex thinking moves toward equilibrium.

Figure 2.27 shows three very different drawings (using acrylic, water-color, and pencils respectively) by teenagers (see disk to view in color). These drawings express their individual needs and desires as they continue their march toward intellectual maturity, and the use of varying art media allows this expression to flow unimpeded by outward constraints.

Piaget Equilibration
2.27 Equilibrium

As we can see, Piaget believed that learning was tied to maturation; thus, comprehension of the task is infinitely important. In the sensorimotor period children learn to operate physically upon the environment while becoming increasingly goal directed. In the preconceptual phase, children begin to function symbolically, incorporating language with representational communication. By the age of 4, the phase of intuitive thought, there is an increase in social participation and a greater understanding of conceptual thinking. In the concrete operations period, logical thinking begins to emerge along with the ability to order experiences as awareness of the realistic connections inherent in relationships surfaces. It is often at this juncture that children cease drawing in favor of expressing their thoughts through writing. Finally, with the approach of formal operations the growing adolescent grapples with ideas and thinks critically. Piaget likened this stage to the ultimate stage of human development.

These stages of cognitive development are also evident through changes in artwork. Thus, at age 12 months (sensorimotor period) the infant's beginning scribbles become apparent, until the age of 2 years, when increased control allows the developing child to apply a greater variety of pressure, line, and stroke. From ages 2 to 4 (preconceptual phase) the child begins to relate his or her drawings to things known in the environment both physically and kinesthetically. The age of 4 to 7 (intuitive thought) takes us into representational attempts to delineate appendages, clothing, hair, and other detailing. Following this period, ages 7 to 11 (concrete operations) find the growing child utilizing repeated schemas, which soon gives way to less exaggeration and a more logical and realistic relationship in the choice of drawing objects. In the final phase, age 11 and onward (formal operations), the adolescent seeks a controlled and purposeful expression as he or she attains mastery of the art media (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1982).

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  • muhammed aman
    What was jean piaget contribution to art therapy?
    8 years ago
  • Anna
    8 years ago
  • Amira Cunningham
    What year did Jean Piaget marry?
    8 years ago
  • Ciro
    What jean piaget say about scribbling stage in art?
    4 years ago
  • Karin
    How is jean piagets theory applies to therapy?
    2 years ago
  • nora genovese
    How art helps cognition Paiget?
    1 year ago
  • fethawi
    What is expressive arts according to piaget?
    12 months ago
  • sisko ruoho
    How lowenfeld say about using experiment in art?
    8 months ago
  • Rudigar Boffin
    What is realism in art according to piaget?
    3 months ago
  • belinda
    What ages and stages does play/art therapy work best?
    3 months ago
  • maria
    Is art related to piageat theory?
    27 days ago
  • settimo
    What does realism mean in art therapy?
    22 days ago
  • drogo whitfoot
    What stage of learning art related to the piaget stage of development?
    10 days ago

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