These stages are as dependent on a child’s exposure to art and art media as they are on a child’s innate artistic ability or fine motor skills . It should be noted that because a child does not seem to go beyond a specific developmental stage, it does not mean that the child has a cognitive or developmental problem. This apparent arrest of development may be due to limited exposure to art, lack of interest, or fine-motor differences. Cultural values can also affect artistic expression and development, influencing content, art media, style, and symbolic meaning as represented in the child’s view of the world.
The following stages are generalized from Lowenfeld’s work and that of Betty Edwards. Both theories show children moving from scribbling through several stages to realistic art. Children may overlap stages, making drawings with elements of one stage while progressing or regressing to another. Generally, boys and girls will develop similarly in the initial stages. Whether any child progresses to the latter stages usually requires instruction of some kind.
The scribbling stage usually begins around two years old and lasts until the child is about four years of age. In some cases, it can begin as soon as a child can hold a fat crayon and make marks on paper, which is sometimes around 18 months old. At first, the child is interested only in watching the color flow on the paper. Some children are more interested in the marking itself and may even look away while scribbling. What results on the paper is accidental and often delights the child, even though it is indistinguishable to adults.
With about six months of practice, the child will be more deliberate and may start drawing circles. Later, the child will name the drawing, saying, “This is a dog.” The child may even look at the drawing of the dog the next day and say, “This is Daddy.” The child will also start drawing people that resemble a tadpole or amoeba (a circle with arms and legs, and sometimes eyes).
The pre-schematic, or pre-symbolic, stage begins around age four; however, it may start earlier or later, depending on the child’s cultural and artistic experience. In this stage, the amoeba or tadpole people may have faces, hands, and even toes, but no bodies. These figures face front and often have big smiles. Omission of body details is not a sign that something is developmentally wrong. It just means that other things in the drawing of the person are more important. For example, heads are the first objects drawn and may continue to be bigger than other parts of the body. This is usually done because the child sees the head as being very important. The child eats, speaks, sees, and hears with parts of the head.
Colors are selected on whim and usually have no relationship with what is being drawn. Figures may be scattered all over the page, or the page turned in every direction as the figures fill the paper. Objects and figures may appear to float all over the page because children do not yet know how to express three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface.
The child’s self-portrait appears as an amoeba person, but it will usually be the biggest figure, appearing in the center of the page. The child may test different ways to draw a self-portrait before settling on one for a period of time. In this instance, art helps define a child’s self image.
The schematic stage usually begins around seven years old and extends through age nine. At this time, the child has developed specific schema, or symbols for people and objects in his or her environment, and will draw them consistently over and over. Human figures have all necessary body parts. Arms and legs also fill out, instead of being stick-like. This is usually due to more body awareness and recognition of what body parts do; e.g. parts of the body help the child run, catch a ball, jump, etc. Adults usually have very long legs because that is how children see them.
Houses and people no longer float on the page. They are grounded by a baseline that acts as a horizon line. As the child continues to draw, there may be two or more baselines to show distance or topography. Children may also draw a series of pictures, like cartoon squares, to show action sequences over time. This seems to reflect a child’s desire to tell stories with the drawings. By eight or nine years of age, children will often draw their favorite cartoon characters or superheroes.
REALISTIC OR GANG STAGE
The realistic or gang stage begins around nine years old. Here, the child begins to develop more detail in drawing people and in determining perspective (depth or distance) in drawings. Shapes now have form with shadows and shading. The people they draw show varying expressions. Colors are used to accurately depict the environment, and more complex art materials may be introduced.
Children at this stage are eager to conform and are very sensitive to teasing or criticism from classmates. They also are very critical of their work, individually or when it is compared to the work of others. Children at this stage can be easily discouraged about creating art if they are overly criticized, teased by their peers, or become frustrated with art media or problems expressing what they see in their minds. This is the time to begin quality art instruction, where children receive the technical training in mastery of art media, perspective, figure drawing, and rendering (shading).
Somewhere between ages 12 and 16 years, children face a crisis in artistic development. They will either already have enough skill and encouragement to continue a desire to create art, or they will not. If it is only a matter of training, finding appropriate art classes will help the child through this crisis. If the child has been discouraged by criticism or lack of enough art experience or exposure, the child may not continue to draw or participate in visual art activities. Some discouraged children may change to a different art medium. For example, a child may not draw or paint again, but may enjoy making clay pots or welding metal sculptures. Other children will find alternate ways to express their creativity. For example, a child may become involved with auto detailing, fly-tying, sewing, or needlework. Still others will never participate in any other kind of artistic activity and may ridicule or disdain those who do.