What Is the Meaning of Aesthetic Development?

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Aesthetic development is the theory that artistic appreciation is linked to human development. Some theorists in this field describe specific stages of aesthetic development. Others try to accurately describe the role of aesthetics in development or delineate strategies for encouraging development both in aesthetic appreciation and art production.


James Mark Baldwin

James Mark Baldwin was an early developmental psychologist most famous for his theory of the Baldwin effect; the idea that social and cultural changes can affect evolutionary biology. Baldwin was concerned not with describing specific steps of aesthetic developmental progress but in describing the aesthetic experience and its role in human development. Baldwin describes four qualities of aesthetic experience: immediacy, semblance, personalization and idealization.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons, an art professor at Ohio State in Columbus, studied Baldwin's work and delineated five stages of aesthetic development. The first stage, favoritism, is an intuitive enjoyment of art without any inquiry. His second stage, beauty and realism, describes the appreciation of art for its resemblance to actual beautiful things. Parson's third stage, expressiveness, involves an interest in the theme or interpretation of art. The fourth phase, style and form, involves the viewer placing the work of art in its historical and cultural context. Viewers in the final phase, autonomy, are able to make independent judgments about art.


Feeney and Moravcik

The work of Stephanie Feeney, professor of education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Eva Moravcik, a teacher trainer at Honolulu Community College, centers on the role of aesthetic development in the classroom. Their article "A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever: Aesthetic Development in Young Children," published in "Young Children" in 1987, looks at issues such as how children talk about art, teachers' effect on student's aesthetics and the effect of an aesthetic environment on children's development.


Abigail Housen

Abigail Housen's theory of aesthetic development has five levels. Housen is co-founder of Visual Understanding in Education. Viewers in level one, the constructive, do not use emotion to evaluate art, instead they decide if the work corresponds to the world around them, according to the Visual Thinking Strategies website. Viewers in the second classifying stage of aesthetic development begin to apply the structures of art history and classification to art. The third phase, the interpretive, involves a move from rational classification to personal encounters with the symbols and subtleties of art. The final re-creative aesthetic response calls on years of memories of artistic interactions to combine personal experience with a deeper knowledge of the history and process of art.


Masami Toku

In his article, "Children's Artistic and Aesthetic Development: The Influence of Pop-Culture in Children's Drawings," presented at the International Society for Education through Art convention in New York in 2002, MasamiToku, Ed.D., of California State University, Chico, describes a theory of aesthetic development that is based not in art appreciation, but art production. He looks at the ways that children in Japan and other countries draw to determine if there are universal patterns in the development of aesthetic skills.