New Pictures of the Art Room: Peer Interactions and Artistic Development

Julia Matuga

Indiana University School of Education

Department of Art Education

"The act of representation is more of a dialogue than a monologue, more of a conversation than a lecture" - Elliot Eisner (1983)

The research concerning artistic ability has, traditionally, centered upon the processes and products of individual students and "there is little evidenc to indicate that social mediation as a component in the construction of meaning in art has received specific attention" (Houser, 1991, p. 33).

Students do not rely solely on internal resources when they create art in the classroom, they also draw from a multitude of means including individuals in their environment, the most influential of these being teachers and peers.

There is a fair amount of "collaboration" that takes place during the process of making art in the artroom (as well as other environments) that is not "traditional" in the sense that a single product (i.e. artwork) is created by several individuals. There are social collaborations that take place when students talk, question, and share meanings with each other, which then become components incorporated in their artwork. When posed with a problem which is artistically difficult how do students interact with each other? Do students who are at various levels of artistic ability interact with each other differently?

First of all, there needs to be an examination of the role that talking and peer interactions have in artistic development. Looking and talking about art is one of the major pedagogical components of the popular curriculum model (based on Piagetian principles) used for art education, Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) (Clark, Day & Greer, 1987). Looking and talking about art enables students to investigate and perceive the affective, artistic, and cognitive components of art through art. Although a great deal of the research has been conducted concerning looking and talking about art, this research has centered upon how students look and talk about art made by established "artists" (Clark, 1973; Day, 1976; Gardner & Gardner, 1970; Hysell, 1973; Moore, 1973; Taunton, 1980; Wilson, 1966), not about students looking and talking about their own art with peers. Students are in contact with each other and talk about the artwork of their peers far more frequently and spontaneously in the artroom than they do the artwork of an established artist. It is then reasonable to conclude that students learn by looking and talking about each others artwork.

There is a relationship between this kind of looking and talking with peers and artistic abilities. The theory regarding the origins and development of artistic ability have revolved around the age-old argument of nature versus nurture, the biological and the social. Regarding Norman C. Meier, an influencical art educator and pioneer of testing for artistic abilities, Elliot Eisner (1972) states :

To do this, we must look at authentic processes and environments, not artificial ones in which the student is isolated, unable to receive feedback, encouragement, questions or guidance from peers. This paper attempts to define those students who do profit from environmental conditions which result in the development of artistic ability. Perhaps the best, and most compatible, theoretical perspective from which to address these issues is that of Social Learning Theory. Social Learning Theory raises culturally media-oriented questions and contends that "children solve practical tasks with the help of their speech, as well as their eyes and hands" (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 26).

Lev Vygotsky (1978), who initiated Social Learning Theory, explained the role of the biological and social psychological development by a principle referred to as the general law of genetic development. This law states that cultural development occurs first on the social level and then on the internal level. Because "the two processes that make up development are mutually dependent and interactive" there is a need for a methodology to observe these processes (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 81).

One means through which social theorists examine developmental processes is by looking at an individuals Zone of Proximal Development. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) are levels of development that with the aid of adults or more "competent peers" (i.e. social interactions) students can solve a problem that is beyond their capabilities (Vygotsky, 1978). These interactions and activities that occur within (or slightly beyond) the ZPD are what, Vygotsky (1978) claims, fosters development. An examination of what kind of interactions reinforce the development of artistic abilities and which students are susceptible to the benefits of such interactions called for an examination of ZPD's in the artroom.

Jonathan Tudge (1990) examined peer collaboration and ZPD's using a Piagetian framework. He asked individual students (and later in pairs) to predict the solution to a problem concerning weights and a balance beam. Tudge (1990) found that "the results indicate a surprising amount of regression for all children except lower partners" when unequal peers collaborate and sites the results of a complimentary Soviet experiment as being similar (p. 162). Tudge (1990) concludes that confidence and motivational factors are important components in peer collaboration but that "the effects of peer collaboration on cognitive development has to be more multifaceted than is implied" (p. 167).

There are several factors unique (and sometimes problematic) to the problems and questions posed in this paper with regards to peer collaboration and art. The first of which is that there is no objective or "correct" answer (as in Tudge's experiment) when creating art, and each artwork is uniquely different resulting from a multitude of components. Each individual responds to art differently, therefore, it is almost impossible to predict educational outcomes of an activity where there is a great amount of individual interpretation and variation (Efland, 1990). On the other hand, "art presents a paradigmatic case of the problem of invisibility in cognitive skills" (Perkins, 1983, p. 41).

Looking at peer interactions as students perform an activity beyond their ZPD, or what they could accomplish on their own, should show us how students talk to each other in ways that foster artistic development. This examination should also demonstrate which students benefit the most from peer interactions by looking at shifts in the internalization of artistic concepts through their artwork.

The subjects were 47 third-grade students (24 male and 23 female) from two classrooms. Both classes had a 50 minute art period with the same art teacher weekly. Students were predominantly middle-class and Caucasian (94%) attending a K-6 public school. There is also a population of students with special physical needs (2%) and cognitive and/or emotional handicaps (11%). Seating arrangement was social, students were allowed to sit wherever they wanted under the condition that they did not create classroom disturbances, most students had remained in the same seating arrangement since the school year started (8 months).

Method and Procedure
The students were given a pre-test measuring artistic abilities, an abbreviated version of Clark's Drawing Abilities Test (CADT) asking students to draw an interesting house as if you are looking at it from across the street. Students were given a 15 minute time limit and had to use pencil. Students were not allowed to talk while taking the test and means were employed so the students could not look at each others work. A month later, students were videotaped in the artroom participating in an art-making session slightly beyond their abilities (i.e. ZPD), drawing a house using perspective. The videotaped sessions recorded the physical and verbal interactions between all students and four hours of video was collected. A month after the art- making session, the students were post-tested using the same abbreviated version of Clark's Drawing Abilities Test (CADT) under the same conditions.

The pre-test and post-test were sorted into five groups using criteria designed by Clark (Appendix A). This sorting resulted in the formation of five groups or ability levels: advanced (5), above average (4), average (3), below average (2) and low (1). The videotape was coded for statements, which pertained to art-making, and sorted by the following categories: questions (Q), responses (R), and praise (P) (Meloth and Deering, 1994). These were further broken down into subcategories (See Appendix B). After the initial coding session a second pass was made assigning ability group status (from the pre-test) to the coded interactions.

The results of the pre-test (which is supported by Clark's (1989) research on testing for artistic ability) show that artistic abilities, like intelligence, is normally distributed (See Appendix C).

The availability of the teacher and other peers as a resource during the art-making session allowed most students to perform the activity of creating a house in perspective using a cube. There were two students who did not have the physical capabilities to perform the task in collaboration with others and required help from the teacher.

The interactions recorded during the art-making sessions provide some unexpected but interesting results (Appendix D). Students with advanced artistic abilities (Group 5) did not initiate interactions with peers, were questioned infrequently (3%) and spent more time than any other group engaged in the activity. They were asked by their peers for praise (5%) and did not request assistance from less competent peers (Groups 4-1). When this group of students asked for assistance, their questions about techniques and skills were addressed to the teacher. Students with low artistic abilities (Group 1) were not involved in many interactions with peers (3%) and did not ask for the instructors aid. Students from Groups 2, 3, and 4 engaged in a majority of the interactions recorded (90%). The above average group (Group 4) participated in 29% of the interactions recorded and provided feedback to peers more than any other group(18%). The group with average abilities (Group 3) interacted with other peers the most (33%) and asked the most questions of their peers (18%). The average ability group (Group 3) and lower ability group (Group 2) asked for the most praise.

Some interesting changes were evident in the distribution of artistic abilities from the post-test (Appendix E). Students who scored high (Group 5) and low (Group 1) on the pre-test did not increase or decrease in artistic abilities on the post-test. While there were minor increases in the abilities of the students in Group 2 from the pre-test to the post-test, the most notable change occurred with the linear increase of artistic abilities among Group 4 and 3 students (See Appendix F).

Are these peer interactions and the consequent development of artistic abilities interdependent and interactive? A comparative analysis of the data collected demonstrates that there is a connection between peer interactions and development of artistic abilities. The shift in post- test scores indicates that there was an amount of development in artistic abilities that resulted when students were engaged in a classroom activity beyond their ZPD (Wertsch, 1985).

Students with advanced artistic abilities and low artistic abilities, according to pre-test scores, had minimal interactions with peers and showed little increase in artistic development. However, the videotaped sessions did show that students who interacted with peers more frequently, by asking and answering more questions, showed a greater increase in artistic abilities on the post-test than those who did not.

There was an interesting and unexpected finding regarding the post- est that should be noted. There were an greater number of students (38%) who attempted to draw the house in perspective on the post-test compared to the pre-test (4%). These attempts to use perspective indicate that students were unable to use perspective successfully without aid from their peers or instructor was illustrated by the erased lines of the drawings. This is indicative of the minute developmental change that can be recorded when testing a subjective subject matter, such as art.

The implications of this study on art education curriculum and teaching practices are varied. The art curriculum needs to address student engagement in "collaborative" processes where they can perform beyond their individual capabilities. Because it is possible to foster artistic growth through peer interactions, we can begin by introducing more challenging and advanced curriculum guidelines that promote peer collaboration. If performing an activity in "collaboration" with their peers and beyond their ZPD can foster artistic development then there needs to be a re-examination of curriculum models which depend upon Piagetian theories of development. Art educators need to examine Vygotskian models, which have been shown to be effective in fostering artistic development, and how they can be applied to the art education curriculum.

Art educators also need to be aware of the types of interactions students need in the artroom environment that encourages artistic development. The days of the "silent" artroom are over and unfortunately, for those teachers who like silence, the activity that tends to encourage artistic development in the artroom is talking with peers, lots and lots of talking.


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Hysell, D.M. (1973). Testing an Advance Organizer Model in the Development of Aesthetic Perception. Studies in Art Education, 14(3), 9-17.

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Wilson, B.G. (1966) "An Experimental Study Designed to Alter 5th and 6th Grade Students' Perceptions of Paintings." Studies in Art Education, 8(1), 33-34.

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Appendix A          Clark's Drawing Abilities Test

I.   Sensory Properties

     A.   Line: non-variation/variation
     Group 1        Lines are mostly similar, minimal variation
     Group 2        Half lines are similar, half varied
     Group 3        Lines are mostly varied
     Group 4        Appropriate line variation, effectively used
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of lines

     B.   Shape:  non-variation/variation
     Group 1        Shapes are mostly similar, minimal variation
     Group 2        Half shapes are similar, half varied
     Group 3        Shapes are mostly varied
     Group 4        Appropriate shape variation, effectively used
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of shapes

     C.   Texture:  amount and variety
     Group 1        Minimal amount and variety of texture
     Group 2        Moderate amount and variety of texture
     Group 3        Shapes are mostly varied
     Group 4        Appropriate shape variation, effectively used
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of textures

     D.   Values:  lightness and darkness
     Group 1        Minimal amount of shading or values
     Group 2        Moderate amount of shading or values
     Group 3        Sufficient amount of shading or values
     Group 4        Appropriate amount and use of shading or values
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of shading or values

II.  Formal Properties

     A.   Rhythm:  repetition and variation
     Group 1        Minimal amount of rhythm
     Group 2        Moderate amount of rhythm
     Group 3        Sufficient amount of rhythm
     Group 4        Appropriate amount and use of rhythm
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of rhythm

     B.   Balance:  appropriate amount
     Group 1        Minimal amount of balance
     Group 2        Moderate amount of balance
     Group 3        Sufficient amount of balance
     Group 4        Appropriate amount and use of balance
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of balance

     C.   Unity:  harmony and variety
     Group 1        Minimal amount of unity
     Group 2        Moderate amount of unity
     Group 3        Sufficient amount of unity
     Group 4        Appropriate amount and use of unity
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of unity

     D.   Composition:  effectiveness
     Group 1        Incomplete composition
     Group 2        Composition is effective in only part of the image
     Group 3        Sufficient composition
     Group 4        Appropriate and effective overall composition
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative sense of composition

III. Expressive Properties

     A.   Mood:  dynamic states
     Group 1        Inappropriate or incomplete mood or expression
     Group 2        Some mood or expression but only in part of the image
     Group 3        Sufficient but incomplete mood or expression
     Group 4        Appropriate, effective, complete mood or expression
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative depiction of mood

     B.   Originality:  non-imitativeness
     Group 1        Imitative in all parts of image
     Group 2        Minimal originality in most parts
     Group 3        Moderate originality, but with imitative parts
     Group 4        Sufficient originality with few imitative parts
     Group 5        Originality used throughout

IV.  Technical Properties

     A.   Technique and Craft
     Group 1        Minimal or inappropriate amount of technique
     Group 2        Moderate amount of technique
     Group 3        Sufficient amount of technique
     Group 4        Appropriate amount and use of technique
     Group 5        Unique, original innovative use of technique

     B.   Correctness and Solution to the Problem
     Group 1        Inappropriate to the problem assigned
     Group 2        Appropriate to the problem, but drawn incorrectly
     Group 3        Appropriate to the problem, but drawn correctly
     Group 4        Correct to the problem assigned and drawn incorrectly
     Group 5        Unique, original, individualized solution to the
                    problem and drawn inventively

Appendix B          Interaction Types

Interaction Types   Codes     Interaction Subcategories

Questions (Q)       (Q1)      Requesting the help of others to draw.
                    (Q2)      Requesting the help of others regarding ideas or
                    (Q3)      Direct attention ("What should I put here?").
                    (Q4)      Requests for explanations ("Why did you do

Responses (R)       (R1)      Explaining actions or concepts.
                    (R2)      Providing examples or giving directions.
                    (R3)      Corrective or argumentive responses.

Praise (P)          (P1)      Prompting others for praise.
                    (P2)      Giving praise with no prompting.

Appendix C          Pre-Test Distribution

Number of students
20 |
   |                            *
18 |
16 |
14 |
12 |                                         *
10 |                 *
8  |
6  |
4  |
   |                                                   *
2  |    *

     Group 1     Group 2       Group 3   Group 4    Group 5

Appendix D           Coded Peer Interactions

Interaction Types    Group 1 Group 2  Group 3   Group 4  Group5    Total

Questions   (Q)     1%        14%     18%    4%        1%      28%

               (Q1)           3%    3%      8%         2%        0
               (Q2)           0     23%     5%         5%        0
               (Q3)           0     6%      11%        2%        0
               (Q4)           2%    17%     5%         3%        5%

Responses   (R)     1%    1%      12%        18%       3%      36%

               (R1)           1%    2%      17%       24%       2%
               (R2)           0     0       15%       23%       5%
               (R3)           2%    1%      2%         2%        11%

Praise         (P)            1%    13%     13%        3%        2%    36%

               (P1)           2%    17%     22%       11%       1%
               (P2)           0     18%     13%       10%       5%

Total                3%       28%     33%    29%       7%

Appendix E     Post-Test Distribution

Number of students
20 |
18 |
16 |
   |                                         +
14 |                            +
12 |
10 |
8  |                +
   |                                             +
6  |
4  |
   |     +
2  |
     Group 1   Group 2   Group 3    Group 4    Group 5

Appendix F     Pre-Test and Post-Test Comparison

Number of students
20 |
   |                            *
18 |
   |                                         +
16 |
14 |                            +
12 |                                         *
10 |                *
8  |                +                        
   |                                                  +
6  |
4  |
   |     +                                            *
2  |    *
     Group 1     Group 2     Group 3      Group 4    Group 5