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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Two-year-old children’s artistic expression in a group setting : interaction and the construction of meaning Tarr, Patricia R.


This field study of two-year-old children using art materials in a preschool setting was concerned with how children constructed meaning about the art-making process through their interactions with others. The study was theoretically grounded in the work of George Herbert Mead, Herbert Blumer and Lev Vygotsky, who share a common view that meaning is socially constructed through interpersonal interactions. The study focused on children’s early use of art media and their social interaction as a significant factor in their artistic expression. Monthly videotaped and written observations documented four 2-year-aids’ participation with art media during their attendance at weekly parent-2-year old program. Over two subsequent years, the data were expanded to include observations of additional 2- year-aids, and parent and teacher interviews. Observations in a 3 and 4-year-old classroom coupled with extensive teacher interviews provided insights into teachers’ assumptions and values which guided their interactions. Observations of the 2-year-olds were coded into art episodes, and analyzed in terms of behaviours, interactions, and values. Based on Vygotsky’s idea that children’s shift from biological development to higher cognitive functioning occurs through interpersonal interaction, children’s exploratory use of materials was described. Analysis of their explorations revealed that intentionality and visual interest were crucial components in their art experiences. Analysis suggested that children as young as 2 years possess aesthetic sensitivity. There did not appear to be any single factor that could account for children’s selection or placement of colors or marks on a piece of paper. Social interactions around art-making occurred within spatial-temporal frames which contributed to the way the art-making context was defined by the participants. Through interpretations derived from interactions with peers and adults, children constructed understanding about cultural values for work, production, ownership, and neatness. They learned little about art skills or the relationship of their art-making experiences to art in the adult world. The study concludes with presentation of an interactionist model of children’s artistic expression which describes the dialectical relationship between biological development and social interaction. The model eliminates the need to debate issues around innate or cultural origins of children’s visual expression, through its inclusion of biological and social components. Using the interactionist model and Vygotsky’s notion of scaffolding can help teachers address conflicts surrounding the definition of developmentally appropriate art education for young children.

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