Children Talking about Their Experiences of Visual Art In and Out of the Classroom: A Systematic Literature Review

International Journal of Student Voice

A peer-reviewed, independent, open-access journal

Pennsylvania State University

Volume 6, Issue 2                         IJSV                           November 2021

Children Talking about Their Experiences of Visual Art In and Out of the Classroom: A Systematic Literature Review

Anna Robb – University of Dundee


Citation: Robb, A. (2021). Children talking about their experiences of visual art in and out of the classroom: a systematic literature review. International Journal of Student Voice, 6(2). 

Abstract: This article consists of a systematic literature review focused on young children’s thoughts and experiences of visual art. The papers are analysed using the lens of cultural capital theory, a theory pervading curricula and practice in the classroom and which encourages a deeper look at the lives of children, their sense of identity and place in the world. The review demonstrates the value of children’s voice for informing teaching practice in primary classrooms. It also provides insight on how children value the curricular subject of visual art, which is in danger of being marginalised from the curriculum.

Keywords: art education, children’s voice

Online Discussion Questions

  • The article encourages practitioners to take notice of the individual pupil voices in their class. What are the challenges to doing this meaningfully?
  • This literature review adopted a systematic approach to searching for and reviewing texts in relation to the topic. What are the strengths and limitations of this approach?
  • The review draws together a range of research, the majority of which consists of small-scale qualitative work. What are the strengths and limitations of this research approach?
  • In terms of drawing on children’s voices in research, what methods could be used if a large-scale quantitative approach was adopted instead?

1.0 Introduction

According to Article 31 of the UNCRC “Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities” (United Nations, 1989). The arts provide avenues to explore who we are and what it means to be human (Barnes, 2002; Eisner, 2002; Hickman, 2010), while also supporting our levels of resilience, problem solving and creativity (Craft, 2015). In recent years however concern is growing that UK governments and therefore schools are moving away from teaching arts subjects and instead focusing on STEM subjects (House of Commons, 2019). Alongside this, social inequalities are increasing and funding for the arts in local communities decreasing, meaning that access to the arts is becoming more difficult for families and people on lower incomes (Arts Council England & University of Durham, 2019). The creative industries however are viewed as growing in economic importance for the future (Ashton, 2015; Bazalgette, 2017; Chung, Yang, & Caldwell-French, 2018; Tether, 2019) and so career and education strategies to encourage young people into these industries are being developed  (Bazalgette, 2017). Attitudes to art as a child and young person are key to their relationship with the subject as an adult and so the role of the arts in education is therefore currently at the fore of debates about the future of education and the curriculum (CVAN England, 2021).

This debate however is dominated by the voices of adults. The purpose of this review is to explore the voices of the people who are impacted by these issues: children.  It consists of a systematic literature review which investigates the research that has been undertaken exploring children’s experiences of, and attitudes to, visual art, and how they respond to this as a subject. The decision to focus on visual art only is based on one of scale, but also one of personal interest, as this is a subject that I enjoyed as a child and have carried this interest through as an adult, both personally and professionally. I am unable to go back in time to ask my 8-year-old self why this was the case, but I can review the literature of researchers who have asked children to share their thoughts on the subject. Additionally, it was a subject I enjoyed teaching as a primary teacher but there was always scope to improve my practice further to ensure the children in my classroom had quality visual arts experiences that opened up new worlds and interests to them.

It is this latter reason which primarily fuels the review: school is one of the few places where children have the opportunity to engage with the arts and where a positive relationship with the subject can be fostered. Alongside concerns of a decline in the teaching of the arts in schools, is a growing focus on cultural capital and teachers increasing the levels of this in their pupils (Kerwin-Nye & Floarck, 2016). Cultural capital was one of three forms of capital identified by Bourdieu (1986): economic, social and cultural. Through the acquisition of capital, primarily through inheritance, the status and class of a person is determined within the fields that they inhabit (Bourdieu, 1977, 1979; Bourdieu, 1986).  Transmission of cultural capital is complex. In its objectified form, the passing of objects such as works of art or books from individual to individual is easily done however in its institutionalised form, such as educational qualifications, these are not transferrable between individuals. Additionally cultural capital in these forms is more valuable when combined with its symbolic form, which is the least tangible to grasp. This symbolic form of cultural capital is linked to knowledge and thoughts and identity and it takes time and investment to acquire (Bourdieu, 1979); Bourdieu (1986)  believed that this happens most easily for children of families who have strong levels of cultural capital as they also have the money and the resources to give their children the time and experiences they need to be free to engage with culture. For a child, it becomes apparent that the economic resources of the family are key in terms of acquiring cultural capital in all its forms. Bourdieu (1986) believed that most cultural capital was acquired when an individual had the time and space to explore and understand it; staying on at school was therefore an important indicator of levels of cultural capital; he found that those who left school as soon as possible had lower levels of cultural capital in comparison to those who completed all their years at school and went on to further education.

Schools therefore play a fascinating role in the acquisition of cultural capital. They sit within a field of education, governed by a set of explicit and implicit rules and indeed Bourdieu (1977) believed that they reproduced and mirrored the practices of the people who attended and sent their children to them. In essence schools legitimise the rules that govern capital, including cultural capital (Ruck, 2020). They can also play a role in supporting a child with the acquisition of cultural capital, particularly that of embodied and institutionalised cultural capital. The role becomes even more pressing for those children who have lower levels of economic capital; for them, school may provide the only opportunities to acquire cultural capital in these forms (Phillips, 2021). The role of cultural capital in schools is proving to fascinate academic researchers around the world. For example Tan (2020) explores a range of international studies focused on this very issue drawing on PISA and ASPIRE studies, highlighting that PISA collects a range of data aligning with definitions of cultural capital.  Additionally we find the phrase cultural capital is being used explicitly across education in England (Mansell, 2019; OFSTED, 2019) where teachers are being told to increase the levels of cultural capital that their pupils have through an increase in the opportunities to access it. This is problematic as it promotes a simplistic narrative concerning cultural capital which ignores the class and structural elements of Bourdieu’s theories (Hall, Allan, Tomlinson, Kelly, & Lindorff, 2021). As Nightingale (2020) asserts, it also creates a deficit model placing the burden and responsibilities on schools to teach the correct knowledge to the children under the belief that anyone can be successful when taught correctly, thereby focusing on equality rather than equity. It also assumes there is a set of essential knowledge that every person needs to know in order to be successful in life. By doing this though it has the potential to ignore the individual and risks promoting a set of values that may clash with the values of the pupils in the fields that they inhabit outside of the classroom (Hall et al., 2021).

When adults start to dictate the types of cultural capital a child should consume through a curriculum, problems can arise (Nightingale, 2020); assumptions are made about what types of capital are most needed to a child, potentially ignoring the forms of cultural capital that are of most value in the fields that they inhabit and implying that there is a deficit in the knowledge that a child has. For example, new forms of cultural capital are emerging in response to the contemporary world (Hewison, 2014; Savage, 2015), reflecting the increase in the importance of technology in our lives and the resulting globalised world that we now live in. It means that the boundaries between Bourdieu’s classifications of culture linked to social class (Bourdieu, 1979) are now more blurred; for example the value of street art in recent years has increased significantly, both economically and in embodied cultural capital forms.

An alternative therefore is to focus on the child, their world and their identity, and the knowledge and interests that they have now, supporting them to convert these funds of knowledge into cultural capital in the future (Rios-Aguilar, Marquez Kiyama, Gravitt, & Moll, 2011). With parents playing a significant role in this, there is also further scope to work with families, rather than the emphasis being placed on individuals in a school environment. To do this however adults need to engage in dialogue with children to find out about their experiences of the world. Teachers can do this in practice now, but adults can also learn from what children have said in other contexts and other time periods.

This paper adopts the tenets of interpretivism, whereby the world is understood through multiple interpretation which provides depth of understanding as a result (Sarantakos, 2005). It assumes that the child has a voice that should be listened to, that everyone has a story to tell about themselves and that adults can learn new insights about the world by listening to children (Prout & James, 1997; Thomson, 2008). It will focus on children’s thoughts and experiences of visual art as this is a subject coming under increasing pressure in schools in the United Kingdom. It will explore how they value the subject and how this informs their identity both in and out of the classroom and by doing so, it will question the notion of building cultural capital in schools and what adults believe they should consume by placing the child at the heart of the matter instead.

2.0 Literature review methodology

The following research question was developed with the adult reader in mind: How do children experience visual art in their everyday lives? The aim was to explore this through the following three sub-questions which were written with the child in mind: What is art?; Who can be an artist?; Where is art?. These questions were also informed by Bourdieu’s forms of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1979; Bourdieu, 1986) : their understanding of visual art (embodied cultural capital); how they identify with and value the subject (embodied cultural capital); and where and how they experience visual art (institutionalised and objectified cultural capital).

 A systematic approach to conducting a literature review was adopted and conducted in phases (Booth, Papioannou, & Sutton, 2012). The benefit of this approach is that the review is planned in detail before the search is conducted in order to ensure that all possible texts are found, included and analysed (Bearman et al., 2012).

2.1 Selection criteria

The first step was to define the scope of the review using a set of inclusion/exclusion criteria (Appendix 1). All texts were written in English and published from 2005 onwards. The review was designed to build on the systematic review conducted by Mason, Gearon, and Valkanova (2006) which examined the timeframe 1980-2004 which explored the relationship between cultural education and art education and the impact on children’s identity.

For the purposes of this review, the term art was used to mean visual art, and the term art education was used to encompass the teaching and learning of practical activities connected to fine art, applied arts and crafts, art and design, and contemporary fine art in addition to art history, art criticism and aesthetics. The categories of music, drama, and dance were excluded.  In terms of practical activities, those commonly experienced in the primary classroom, following traditional, global north notions of fine art and applied arts and crafts were included; for example, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, textiles, paper craft, pottery. Contemporary fine art was also included in the scope of the review. An increasing range of diverse media tends to be embraced by contemporary artists and craftspeople and for this reason were included in the review; examples include time-based art using film, video and computer art, live art, installation art and mixed media.

The review focused on papers which had conducted research with children aged between 4 – 12, examining national and international papers to ensure that the breadth of the scope of the review includes studies and texts from across the globe. The age parameters were determined by global compulsory school ages; the lowest is 4 years in Ireland and by 12 most children will have moved on to secondary school education.

Children can develop their relationship with art through a variety of environments. For the purposes of this phase of the review, places that were considered most likely visual art learning environments were included; school, the home, and community-based venues (i.e. museums, galleries, or other venues where the displaying of art plays a prominent role). Studies which have taken place in educational settings which solely meet the needs of children with ASN (i.e. Special Education schools and Enhanced Provision Units) were excluded as the specialised learning environment may had have undue influence over the child, particularly if art is used in a therapeutic manner.

In this review identity focused primarily on self-identity in relation to personal and social identity (Giddens, 1991). Self-identity was first considered as a research term however an initial search produced a minimal number of papers.  To gain a picture of how identity is discussed in relation to art education and children it was necessary to use the broader term identity instead. In the full-scale text review, the papers were filtered down by excluding any papers which focused on the singular cause-and-effect relationship exerted by art education on cultural or social identity, and included any papers which discussed a reciprocal relationship between art education and identity. A person’s identity is closely bound to the capital they have acquired and the value attached to it within the field by themselves and others (Bourdieu, 1986) and so this notion of value was also explored; the aim was to get a sense of how children valued visual art and the extent to which it formed a part of their self-identity, as well as their social and personal identities.

2.2 Literature search strategy

Keywords were drawn from the definitions outlined in the previous section (Appendix 2): art, environment and identity. Seven databases were searched using 26 different key term searches (Appendices 3 and 4): ASSIA, BEI, ERIC, SCOPUS and World of Science were selected as key social science databases which cover education, ABM and AFT were also searched as these databases focus on historical and contemporary art and design topics.  A log sheet was compiled for each search undertaken and filed according to the search term code. A bibliographic database was set up using Endnote with details of each text identified given a separate record; notes were made as the search progressed including details of reasons for exclusion and dates.

Figure 1: Stages of Literature Search

2.3 In-depth review and rating procedure

Applying the exclusion/inclusion criteria, the initial title search highlighted 492 texts from 2005 to 2018. Two further review stages were then completed (See Figure 1). Endnote was used to compile reference information. It has the capability to rate texts according to a five-star rating system; this was applied to the texts with five stars being deemed ‘Very Useful – return to for more detailed analysis’ to one star as ‘Not relevant’.  A total of 80 papers were highlighted for in-depth analysis.  Once completed, 31 papers were identified as including the voices of children (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Map of Literature

2.4 Synthetic analysis procedure

Narrative synthesis in the form of thematic summaries were created (Snilstveit, Oliver, & Vojtkova, 2012). These aligned with the three sub-questions and a deductive approach was therefore adopted. An Excel spreadsheet was used to summarise the content and structure of each paper as well as identify key characteristics, which are summarised in the final section of the methodology. The spreadsheet recorded the methodological detail of each paper including the details of the participants and whether it included the voices of pupils, teachers and or parents. Additionally it recorded whether the paper focused on the voices of the children, the type of language used in relation to this (including direct references to children’s rights), and whether it ascertained directly their thoughts and opinions on art. Finally, it recorded the country of origin, the location(s) of where the study took place (at home, at school, in the community) and whether this was reflected directly in the findings. The key arguments of each paper were then analysed (Hart, 1998) and used to determine which theme they would best fit however it was possible to include the majority of the papers to an extent in every theme, demonstrating the overlapping nature of the themes when addressing the main research question through the lens of cultural capital. References are made to the various papers in each chapter as a result

2.5 Characteristics of the studies

The 31 texts (Appendix 5) were selected because an attempt was made to speak to children about art in their lives and present their words in the research. While it can be assumed from this that the researchers valued their input and their words it was noticeable that during the last ten years the rhetoric surrounding children’s rights and voices has become more prominent, with no clear acknowledgement of this at the start of the search period, but a full range of relevant terms being used towards the end of the search period. This does not mean that the researchers conducting research at the start of the search period were not aware of these issues however the conscious use of language associated with children’s rights and participation in the later years would indicate that this has become a more visible issue from 2011 onwards (Barrett, Everett, & Smigiel, 2012; Ferm Almqvist & Christophersen, 2017; Greenwood, 2011; Hallam, Hewitt, & Buxton, 2014; Lemon, 2013; Tan & Gibson, 2017). Interestingly though, despite a concern by these researchers to capture children’s voices, only one paper identified stated that an attempt was made to involve children in the research process (Barrett et al., 2012: 187).

The majority of papers originated from countries with Western, global north, traditions and culture, particularly the USA and Australia (Appendix 6). The visual art experiences, and voices, of children from other countries are therefore not represented in the literature thereby highlighting a significant gap. Of these papers, only three originate from the UK and neither Scotland or Wales are represented: the last paper to be issued from the UK was in 2014. It highlights that this is a research area with scope for further investigation across the world.

The location of where the studies were conducted was deemed as a factor that could influence the thoughts and words of the participants (Appendix 7). The majority of the papers were conducted in schools with only four focused on home and school. In terms of visual art experiences in the local community four were conducted in an art museum, and one from a summer arts programme. The influence of a school context needs to be highlighted as it may have had an influence on the content of the answers that the children provided particularly in relation to questions pertaining directly to the experiences that children had in school (Thomson, 2008). It could also influence children in terms of how they value art in their lives. Although some children did acknowledge negative experiences in the classroom  (Pavlou, 2006), overall they indicated that experiences were positive, particularly in relation to the support and feedback received from teachers (Greenwood, 2011; Hallam et al., 2014). Schools provide a relatively easy way for researchers to reach children and invite them to participate and so this may be the reason for such a significant number of studies originating from this location. The concentration of school studies does provide evidence for the need to increase the number of studies in home and local community locations or in locations that could be considered neutral.

3.0 Findings

The Findings have been presented according to the three sub-questions. The first two – What is art? Who can be an artist? – explore children’s thoughts and opinions on the subject and thereby focus on understanding the symbolic cultural capital aspect of the issue. Through this, we can also get a sense of how children have valued the subject and the role that it has played in their lives. For the final sub-question – Where is art? – we can get a sense in the literature of the environments that the children inhabit and how the experiences within them have informed who they are. Key to this also is the role of other people, particularly adults, in supporting children to develop a relationship with visual art. This final sub-question therefore explores the institutional and objective forms of cultural capital that inform the relationship. Examining these three questions together through the literature will therefore give a sense of how children have identified with visual art in the past, how it informs their own identity and therefore highlight how practice in primary art education classroom can develop in the future.

3.1 What is art?

3.1.1 A definition of visual art

Three papers from the review focus directly on how children value and define visual art.  The first is undertaken by Watts (2005) who conducted a study with over 300 participants focused on the attitudes to making art in school, exploring the value of the subject to the children. The study focused on Key Stage 2 (aged 7-11) pupils and one of the questions they were asked was ‘How is art important?’ A wide range of answers was provided however the older participants focused more on communication while younger participants felt personal development was key. Watts (2005) draws the conclusion from the range of responses that essentially the value of making art in the lives of children is that it is an enjoyable activity.

Similarly, three years later in Australia, Gibson (2008) focused directly on gathering the thoughts and opinions on art and how it was valued by children asking specific questions including ‘What is art?’; the question was directed to 103 participants from Early Stage 1 (5 years old) to Stage 3 (12 years old). The most common response across all stages was ‘painting and/or drawing’ however like Watts (2005), the responses became more diverse as the age of the child increased with older children focusing more on the intrinsic value of art such as art as a vehicle of communication and emotion. Gibson (2008) concludes that children apply a set of wide-ranging definitions which are narrow in the earlier years of schooling but become more diverse and thoughtful as children age.

Also in Australia, Barrett et al. (2012) explored children’s perceptions, aged between 5 and 8 years, of the meaning and value of the broader area of expressive arts, including art, music, drama and dance, and the role that they played in their lives. This was done through group interviews and through a drawing activity where children were asked to draw a picture of how they participated in the arts. They discovered that while children’s definitions of the term the arts varied widely, terms relating to the visual arts dominated descriptions; they acknowledge that this is perhaps an indicator of the emphasis placed on the visual arts in schools at the time in comparison with the other expressive arts. The children also emphasised the active nature of the arts process rather than the seemingly passive side of the expressive arts such as viewing art.

The three papers emphasised that when asked about the visual arts directly and how these manifest in their lives children draw on traditional notions of art making such as painting and drawing. As they grow older, their awareness of the world broadens and their levels of cultural capital increase, and it could be said that this begins to emerge in the greater range of responses to what art is and its value. The responses appeared to be traditional and to be expected and came from the children directly. The next two sections explore the sense of the familiar further and the extent to which children keep an open mind to the new and the novel.

3.1.2 The contrast of the traditional versus the contemporary

Linked to enjoyment is appeal and in the papers this appeared to be connected to familiarity for children across a range of art experiences, making or viewing. The role of the familiar appears to be important as it provides grounding for the children, something concrete upon which to base understanding. Both Savva and Trimis (2005) and Szechter and Liben (2007) found that when discussing preferences for works of art children had a tendency to be drawn towards subject matters that were familiar to them. It was this rather than artistic concepts such as mood or style that appealed suggesting a need to make sense of what is in front of them by making links to their own world. Never-the-less scale, texture and colour were all also reasons for selection preferences of works of art, though one could argue that these are again more tangible, aesthetic reasons which are easily made sense of when compared to thinking about mood or style, which both require an ability to empathise with other people, or at least be able to imagine what other people are trying to express.

Artists explore scale, texture and colour in their work with the aim of creating a response from a viewer. When children were presented with examples of visual art to view, as opposed to talking about art without a visual stimulus, the research found that children having a tendency to be drawn towards large-scale, 3D works rather than works considered to be traditional or classical in convention such as 2D paintings (Debenedetti, Caro, & Krebs, 2009; Savva & Trimis, 2005). The familiarity of these works derives from the level of interactivity which children draw on from their relationship with technology, where animation, sound and colour figure predominantly (Debenedetti et al., 2009). In terms of making, Pavlou (2006) also highlighted the attraction of art activities that were novel, unusual, complex and challenging for children; it seemed that the more playful and interactive the work of art the better. Children therefore seem comfortable with tradition and familiarity in visual art, as well as the novel.  What is not evident in these papers is the extent to which the levels of cultural capital linked to the range of visual art experiences that they have had, influences their reactions and responses. For example, does the level of cultural capital that a child possesses restrict or encourage an open mind to the novel and the complex when engaging in art activities?

Savva and Trimis (2005) begin to explore and acknowledge this as they researched children’s responses to a contemporary art exhibition. They considered the viewing experience for the young child, 32 participants aged between 5-6, in an art museum from beginning to end by conducting their work in three phases and on site: Phase 1 involved gathering children’s first impressions during their tour or the museum; Phase 2 gathered responses and preferences during the visit; Phase 3 took place in the classroom after the visit and involved responding to what they had seen by making art. 28 of the 32 participants had never visited an art museum before so the experience was new to the majority of the participants.  Savva and Trimis (2005) acknowledge this by focusing their second research question on how previous art making or viewing experiences influences the views of the children. They conclude that on the whole children with prior experiences of viewing original works of art responded no differently to those who did not have this experience and highlight that two of the children with previous experience did not want to talk at all about what they were viewing. Although not explored in the paper, it would be useful to consider what the nature of the previous experience had consisted of, the role that school and family played and the value of art for the children within those fields; indeed the authors highlight that further research concerning the role of families in artistic understanding would be beneficial.

3.1.3 The influence of ‘new’ forms of cultural capital

Another aspect of appeal and enjoyment of art emerged in research which focused on the influence of popular culture (Antoniou & Hickman, 2012; Eckhoff & Guberman, 2006). Eckhoff and Guberman (2006) interviewed 23 children though only three children aged 7-8 years were selected for the paper. The participants were drawn from a summer enrichment camp in America. The influence of popular culture on the children when discussing art image reproductions became apparent with children referring to cartoons and books that were derived from the same images. The children made connections to the works of art through their knowledge and preferences for culture in the contemporary world, drawing on comics and cartoons for example. This also emerged in the work of Antoniou and Hickman (2012) where case studies were presented of three children aged eleven years. Both studies highlight the role of popular culture as a means of making a connection to visual art but what is not evident is how children encounter popular culture in the first place. New forms of cultural capital are emerging in response to the contemporary world through technology (Hewison, 2014; Savage, 2015) and so it could be that greater access to technology is influencing how children interact with the world and the types of cultural capital they consume. There also needs to be consideration as to whether technology, popular media and culture can be considered simply an influence on the fields we inhabit or whether it creates its own virtual fields that people, including children, inhabit and network within, and form an identity. This topic is wider than the scope of this paper but the influence of technology on the types of cultural capital that are consumed by children is worth noting. It also leads to questions about how children identify with visual art and whether they view the term artist as something that can be applied to them or is applicable to others.

3.2 Who can be an artist?

Acquiring high levels of the type of capital which is valued within a field ensures that certain people belong to that field and others are excluded. For those that belong, the practices and habitus of the field influence a person’s sense of identity (Bourdieu, 1977). Within a school the identities of teacher and pupil are clearly defined, as are the power relations that are reproduced within the field. For pupils their learning is delivered with the aim of them being able to demonstrate their competence however we need to think about whether we want children to embody/perform the role of pupil, or whether we want them to be readers, mathematicians, scientists or artists?  Environment plays a key role here (Hickman, 2010); is the classroom telling the children they are pupils or artists? This will be explored in further detail in the next section. The adults that a child comes into contact with however also play a role as they transmit and model the messages about who can be an artist. The purpose of this section is therefore to explore how children view themselves in relation to art and as artists.

Two distinct art identities begin to emerge from the thoughts and opinions of children in the papers drawn from the literature review and from the researchers who conducted the studies; one that applies to children and is focused on their immediate, present circumstances and the other that applies to adults and is set in the future. What is not clear however is whether the children think in terms of two identities or whether the emergence of the two identities is due to the researchers’ influence on the direction of the research that has emerged in the literature. For example both Gibson (2008) and Watts (2005) addressed the issue of an artist identity in their research but approached this in different ways. Gibson (2008) kept the questions asked of the children broad, with no indication of difference between adult and child. When asked ‘Who makes art?’ Gibson (2008) believes that the responses reveal a great deal about the child’s world in comparison to adults; they indicated that they believed that anyone had the capacity to make art but that it was up to them to do so. In each of the four age groups, the children identified the category of Artists. The 7-10 year olds also stated themselves, while the 11-12 year olds said that everyone makes art. Gibson believes that this contrasts with the adult world view which is focused on art as a profession, inhabited by professional artists. (Tan & Gibson, 2017) develop this in a piece of research which focuses on four children in an Australia aged between 5 and 6. She states that “the children often thought about themselves as artists in their art-making” and that they believed that “artistic skill and aptitude improves with age” (Tan & Gibson, 2017).

In contrast Watts (2005) framed the question in two ways: ‘Why do children make art?’ and ‘Why do adults make art?’ thereby making a distinction between children and adults, encouraging children to think in terms of this distinction also. In response, the children felt that while making art was fun for children, adults engaged in art activities for different reasons, predominantly related to money and economics; this opinion was particularly expressed among the older children. They also felt that they were unlikely to engage in art activities when they were adults because they were not interested enough or felt that they were not talented enough. Comments were made about adult artists linked to fame and wealth rather than economically struggling artists. The children also commented on the degree of freedom they felt they had as an artist in comparison to being an adult artist where issues such as money become prevalent. Finally they believed that if you wanted to continue to engage in art activities as adults, you need to take a serious approach and you must be talented; the idea of art as a hobby or an interest for adults in their leisure time was not acknowledged. The sense of two artist identities emerges and while this is linked to the format of the questions asked, the responses indicate that as children increase in age they are becoming more conscious of the types of capital they perceive an adult needs to succeed in particular fields, particularly economic. The responses also demonstrate a broadening awareness of other types of cultural capital linked to popular culture, particularly social through the idea of becoming famous. Children are observers of the world and as Bourdieu (1977:87) states “The child imitates not “models” but other people’s actions”, they see what makes “an accomplished adult” in the fields they inhabit and they embody this, essentially developing mastery of a problem which is “the art of living”, or perhaps survival.

These ideas are reflected in the work of Oguz (2016) who asked 60 children in Turkey to imagine an artist and then draw them. The majority of students linked the term artist to painting however some also drew musicians. In terms of gender, 35 representations were male and 25 were female however there is no indication of how this was influenced by the gender of the participant as in whether a female participant drew a female artist. The researcher also asked the children to provide examples of their favourite artists and examples of people who could qualify as artists around them.  The majority of children said that their friends were artists (33 responses) followed by art teachers (5) and then a range of adults such as parents or family members. Only three stated that they were artists themselves. The responses indicate that perhaps the children have a stronger sense of personal and social identities, than they do of their own self-identity meaning that it is perhaps inconceivable to think of themselves as artists but they can recognise this identity in others (Haslam, Jetten, Haslam, Pugliese, & Tonks, 2011). Their responses also indicate that in their world, children are artists but there are few examples of artists among the adults that they know. When they identified favourite artists, the children drew on professional adults drawn from popular culture such as pop singers or actors. Only two famous artists were mentioned on four occasions and they were Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso. The researchers conclude that more needs to be done in terms of delivering an effective arts education in schools to redress the balance and influence of popular culture on children which aligns with the idea that adults know the types of cultural capital children need, expressed in English curriculum documents for example (Mansell, 2019). Another aspect of the research which is not acknowledged in the paper, is that for children in their immediate world there seem to be few examples of adults as artists. Drawing on Bourdieu (1977) if children are making sense of the world by observing the adults in that world, then this piece of research would indicate that for the participants there were few examples of adults as artists in their contemporary world. In terms of the formation of their identity it is also possible to draw on structuration theory (Giddens, 1991) in that children have an awareness of existing adult social structures meaning that it is inconceivable to think of themselves, children, as the equivalent of adult artists, as to do so could disrupt the security of the structures that they live within.

There is a sense in the children’s responses that they believe that anyone can make art but with age they begin to make the distinction between art as a profession and art as a hobby. In Barrett et al. (2012) the children identified that engaging in the arts required commitment and practice. For some however this can discourage children from making art as they grow older with this issue being linked most clearly to confidence and self-efficacy (Rose, Jolley, & Burkitt, 2006). This was explicitly explored by Pavlou (2006) with a group of 11-12 year olds from Cyprus, specifically choosing this age group as the researcher felt that it was at this stage that children began to express doubts about their own capabilities in art due to a growing awareness of shortcomings in their ability. She found that children with low confidence would not be as engaged with art activities as those that had high confidence levels in the subject; these pupils talked about boredom and also a fear of failure. Activities which did cause enthusiasm tended to be ones which were not perceived to focus on specific skills such as drawing; it seems that the focus on skills and knowledge can put in place barriers to a child’s engagement with art, particularly if that child has low confidence levels. This puts in place challenges for the teacher because the way to improve the quality of what one produces is often by receiving instruction in specific skills. Overcoming the low confidence in a pupil is therefore a challenge for both pupil and teacher and could ultimately mean that the child’s future relationship with art will not be a positive one. Considering experiences in the past and their influence on the child is also relevant here however this is not explored by Pavlou (2006).

An approach based on autonomy, play and experimentation may help overcome a lack of confidence but it requires the adult to acknowledge the individual and the knowledge they bring with them. Pavlou (2006) identifies a range of approaches for the classroom which includes breadth and depth of curriculum, opportunities for exploration and challenge, and opportunities for autonomy on the part of the pupil. Bhroin (2007) focused a study on 21 children aged 4-5 years old who were in their first year of formal schooling, examining the links between art, play and real-life. The result was that the three were closely intertwined, with one influencing the other, however the approaches taken by each child were very different and individualistic, allowing for greater creativity and self-expression. As the child participants in Greenwood (2011) and Haanstra (2010) identify though, opportunities for the individual to pursue and explore their own interests in an art lesson are sometimes limited. For some, this can be redressed at home or in the local community but as Mansour et al. (2016) discovered socio-demographic factors particularly linked to economics mean that this may not be possible for all, which makes the art experiences at school all the more vital.

3.3 Where is art?

Children inhabit a number of different fields, observing the adults within them, and learning how to navigate them as a result. They inherit capital from their parents and therefore learn the value of this capital and how it can be used within the field (Bourdieu, 1977; Bourdieu, 1986). There are also opportunities to acquire further capital in the form of qualifications and knowledge and this can be done in particular environments such as a school or in the local community. This final section examines the literature in relation to these environments, exploring where children encounter art and what these experiences consist of: in the home, in the classroom and in the local community.

3.3.1 Art and the Home

Home is the central point of a child’s everyday life (Kyronlampi-Kylmnanen & Maatta, 2012); in fact, it could be considered the central point of any individual’s life regardless of age. This environment will be examined by first discussing child art practice in the home compared to school. The role of the parent and the caregiver will then be discussed followed by the influence that this has on the selection of participants for research projects focused on children and art.

Four papers identified home as an important setting for child art with the key reason given that art in the home tends to be self-initiated by the child (Crum, 2007; Haanstra, 2010; Rose et al., 2006; Tan & Gibson, 2017). When asked to depict themselves engaging in an arts activity Barrett et al. (2012) found the majority of children provided drawings of themselves within the home environment with other members of the family involved. In comparison to the small-scale studies previously discussed, this finding is significant because the research was conducted with 140 children aged between 5 and 8, selected from 16 primary schools across Australia, focused on their perceptions of the arts, which included visual art, music and drama. The finding could indicate that the arts in the home are valued more highly than at school. It is posited that children value participation in arts activities because they provide a way to build relationships with others, particularly family through the creation of “family ritual” (Barrett et al., 2012:199).

(Tan & Gibson, 2017) used the Mosaic approach (Clark & Moss, 2011) with four children aged 5-6 years, living in Australia, to explore their voices and attitudes towards art drawing on experiences at home and in school. Purposeful sampling was used and focused on cultural backgrounds, academic abilities, and interest in the arts. It emerged that art-making was an important social experience for these children, linked to both their friends and their family, drawing attention to the mixed experiences that the children had at home. The small-scale, qualitative nature of this study provided an insight into the lives of pupils, creating a fuller picture of the individual as a result.


For the child participants in Haanstra’s paper (2010) children valued the fact that at home they could make the art that they wanted as opposed to art in school which they believed was produced primarily for assessment purposes; a clear distinction is made between home art and school art. Working with 28 pupils from a primary schools and 24 from secondary school, Haanstra (2010) identified four categories of art made in the home: applied art, popular culture, personal experience and traditional art, which was linked to established traditions and genres in art. Of these categories the most popular was that of applied art which focused on making things which had a practical use with the children drawn more to craft activities and the creation of art work inspired by popular culture such as cartoons and comics, than they were towards traditional genres such as landscape and portraits. This is perhaps an indication of an ease of access to popular culture, and different forms of cultural capital (Savage, 2015) which is not necessarily present in other environments. Some children felt however that there were more resources available to them in school and that they would like to make home art in school but expressed doubt that this would be possible. The children however did not believe that self-initiated art was possible in the classroom. The children make a distinction here based on economic capital, tied to the objectified form of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986) in terms of the resources that are available to them in different fields. This reinforces the point that cultural capital in schools could be considered if we start with the individual supporting them with the knowledge of making through access to a range of media and resources (Phillips, 2021).

Some children enjoyed the distinction between the two types of art and felt that it should remain that way; it would seem that the children have created two identities for art, home art and school art, and are comfortable for this distinction to be maintained. This paper throws into question the value of art activities that take place within the school environment and the future impact these experiences have on a child’s relationship with the visual arts. It reveals that home art has more relevance and engagement for the child but the concern here, as highlighted by the participants, is that children do not necessarily have access to the breadth of resources that potentially are available in school. The children are therefore limited by the ability to financially resource an interest at home, and also by the quality of the experience that they receive in school, with adults playing a key role in this; it is through this dilemma that the power of capital, both cultural and economic, can be seen to exert force on the individual who is powerless to overcome it (Bourdieu, 1986). The scope of the paper is not to explore the longitudinal impact of this on child engagement with the visual arts but it highlights an avenue for further research.

The relationship between the adult, or caregiver, and the child is crucial to understanding the relationship and emphasis that children place on particular aspects of life, such as art. Linked in with this is Bourdieu’s (Bourdieu, 1986) notion of inherited capital. Two roles for the parent emerge: that of expert and that of support and are most clearly demonstrated in the work of Crum (2007). The study was conducted in two parts with the first phase consisting of asking 250 students, aged between 7 and 11, to write five statements each about the art that they made at home, followed by a second phase of in-depth interviews with five families selected from the original sample where art experiences actively occur in the home environment. To enable comparisons to be made between families, each is categorised according to a distinct familial characteristic associated to the location where the children made art. This means that one family is categorised as the “Garage” family while another is referred to as the “Kitchen” family and another as the “Everywhere” family. Within each family the type of art activity and the attitude towards art was different however the adult played a crucial role in determining this within the home setting; for example one mother took on the passive role as provider of the means to do art activity but not as instigator of art activity, whereas the mother in the “Everywhere” family actively encouraged art-making, art-viewing and art-buying, indicating a personal investment in art herself.

The role of parent as supporter was evident in all the families, reinforcing the notion of inherited cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1977; Bourdieu, 1986), and this was explored in three other papers. Rose et al. (2006) found that although drawing at home was a child-led activity, adults supported the child by providing encouragement and positive praise. Access to resources and opportunities for art experiences are highlighted by Mansour et al. (2016) who also emphasised the role of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1979) by demonstrating that a parent’s education and occupation status was significantly linked to a child’s level of participation and their willingness to participate in arts activities, though this is not specifically associated to the visual arts, but the arts in general. Likewise Melnick, Witmer, and Strickland (2011) identified a connection between socio- economic status and arts participation, believing that the influence of parents on a child’s engagement with the arts is strong and that more effort should be made to involve children in arts activities in schools to ensure that all children, regardless of socio-economic background, have a reasonable chance of learning and engaging through the arts. This research is drawn from analysis of a secondary source however and a quantitative approach has been taken; speaking directly to participants may have presented a different, more complex, picture of engagement with the arts out-of-school.

The influence of parents on their child’s aesthetic understanding, the acquisition of symbolic capital, was investigated by Szechter and Liben (2007) drawing attention to the role of parent as expert. They worked with forty individual parent-child dyads, with the children ranging in age from 7-13: they were given three picture tasks, using photograph artworks, and then asked to complete a survey on art attitudes and participation. The selection of the images is interesting because the researchers say that they had chosen them because “they seemed likely to cause a viewer to pause and consider not only what is depicted, but how it is depicted”(Szechter & Liben, 2007: 883). During the activities it was noted that adults with a greater interest in art tended to sit more closely to their children. Despite the adults making repeated attempts to direct the conversation the children were unable to clearly articulate the reasons for aesthetic preferences. In addition to this, those children with parents who demonstrated some expertise in the subject, displayed signs of boredom. It would therefore appear that the influence of parents in directing interest of their children may not always be a positive one. The conclusion of the authors however was that further research was required into the role of parents on a child’s aesthetic understanding.

In contrast Toren (2007) found that the parents of children aged 5 and 6 years old had attitudes towards art that strongly reflected the approaches taken in the schools that their children attended in Israel: a comparison of two schools was undertaken with one adopting an authoritative approach to art instruction, the other a creative approach. Unfortunately there is little context provided for the study and so it is not evident why this would be the case; for example were the parents influenced by the approach in the kindergarten or was the approach influenced by the parents’ own opinions on the subject? The children however demonstrated a broader range of approaches to art, than those identified by the adults in the paper, which hints at the unintended subversiveness that can occur within children, particularly of younger years, despite the best intentions of the adult (Debenedetti et al., 2009). It also reinforces the findings of Gibson (2008) and Watts (2005) that younger children had a more playful approach to art.

The interesting aspect of the papers drawn for this review is that art has an importance in the lives of the children and their families that feature in them. They do not consider families for whom art is not a feature in everyday life and so there is no indication of what would be meaningful and relevant to them within the visual art context. From the perspective of a teacher they have a responsibility to meet the needs of every children in their class and from a child’s perspective, they need the opportunities to discover for themselves what is of value to them within the fields that they inhabit. A range of quality visual art experiences in school therefore becomes ever more important as this may be one of the few places where they get to explore the subject and determine the extent to which these experiences will inform their identity in the future.

3.3.2 Art in the Primary Classroom

In this section children’s perceptions of art experiences in the primary classroom will be outlined. It should be noted however that only one paper, Hallam et al. (2014), focused specifically on ascertaining children’s perceptions of art experiences in the classroom in England. The current focus on cultural capital is driven by adults at a policy level (Nightingale, 2020) and dependent on teachers putting this into practice, there is scope of policies to be interpreted differently, and to be received differently by children. One paper focusing attention on children’s perceptions therefore indicates a need for further research which responds to the constantly changing political landscape in different countries.  It does however provide a starting point and so this paper will be discussed first and then used to explore issues identified in other papers that focus on the art activities that occur within the space, the relationship with the class teacher and the role of the physical environment in terms of a space that is conducive for art experiences in school.

Hallam et al. (2014) explore the visual art experience in the classroom considering both making and viewing. In this study 24 children in total across three schools (two primary and 1 secondary) participated, with six children selected for each Key Stage (1-4). Each child was interviewed separately with the interviews lasting between 15-30 minutes and consisting of two parts: first they were provided with a set of art images and asked to rank them in order of preference leading to a discussion concerning their preferences and their values; following this each child presented a piece of their own artwork and this was used as a prompt to talk about their art experiences in the classroom. Three themes are identified in the article: the art experience; support during art experiences; suggestions on how art experiences in schools could be enhanced.

There are two drawbacks to the research however. Firstly, the discussion is primarily supported with evidence from Key Stage 3 and 4 children with the voices of Key Stage 1 and 2 not being given the same prevalence. The reason given for this is that the extracts selected best exemplified the theme however there seems to be scope to provide further breadth of responses. Secondly, the article highlights the positive reaction towards school art experiences giving the key reasons that art was enjoyable because it did not follow the same format as other lessons, it was collaborative and they valued the immediate feedback from the teacher. While it appears in Hallam et al. (2014) that the art experiences that children have are positive a limitation occurs in the selection of participants; teachers of the participating classes were asked to select six participants each from those that volunteered in their class and that this was not necessarily a random selection and could have an implication on the results.

In relation to art experience, Hallam et al. (2014) highlight feelings, the key one being enjoyment. Linked to this were beliefs in pupils’ own ability in the subject as well as art experiences providing spaces for relaxation and freedom. Enjoyment as an emotion also emerged in Ferm Almqvist and Christophersen (2017), with children proud to take their work home with them for display. These emotions could arguably be connected to high levels of self-esteem and confidence, which are highlighted by Barrett et al. (2012), Pavlou (2006) and Rose et al. (2006) as evidence of positive engagement with the arts. Age is an important factor also. Watts (2005) stated that the younger pupils cited fun as the reason for making art but expressed frustration at the lack of depth to this explanation.  As children age, their ability to articulate answers becomes stronger however Pavlou (2006) also discovered that their confidence in their own art abilities lessens as their awareness of their ability increases. This would also correspond with the increased acquisition of cultural capital and its value; as children have a greater understanding of what is valued, they perhaps become more aware of a mismatch between this and their own abilities as an artist, which in some cases impacts negatively on confidence.

In terms of what children like and dislike regarding their experiences in classrooms, one of the significant factors influencing the children’s positive responses towards art experiences is that the art lesson format tends to provide a contrast from the usual format of other lessons (Hallam et al., 2014; Watts, 2005). For some children this means that art lessons create opportunities for collaboration and autonomy, with activities which are deemed unusual or challenging (Ferm Almqvist & Christophersen, 2017; Hallam et al., 2014; Pavlou, 2006). The result is that children would like to spend more time on art in school (Hallam et al., 2014; Richards, 2014). Others however felt that while art may not follow a typical lesson format, it could still be formulaic and prescribed (Greenwood, 2011). The child participants in the Haanstra (2010) study felt that art in school was made with a purpose, usually that of assessment, and that it contrasted significantly to the freedom of the art that they made at home. The school environment did however have the benefit of being able to provide a broader range of resources than the home environment (Haanstra, 2010). Children also valued visits from working artists and felt that the demonstration of techniques and skills by teachers was important (Hallam et al., 2014).

The role of the teacher is particularly interesting as it would seem that the quality of the feedback that teachers provide is linked to the feelings of confidence, self-esteem and regard for their own work in children (Greenwood, 2011; Pavlou, 2006). In Hallam et al. (2014) the children felt that they received positive support and this confirmed findings in Rose et al. (2006) however in this report they identified that the feedback focused more on encouragement rather than on the development of skills. Teacher confidence is not the concern of this review however it could well be a reason why teachers tend to be positive but are unable to be specific in terms of providing specific feedback to progress a child’s ability in the development of a particular art skill. It could also indicate that a teacher’s own levels of knowledge and understanding of the subject need to be increased, which leads to a question about their own levels of cultural capital and how this has an impact on their teaching in the classroom. In particular the utilisation of cultural capital depends upon the level of understanding which feeds into symbolic cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986). Teachers will have varying levels of cultural capital across a range of interests and how this is utilised in the classroom could have an impact on the pupils and their own acquisition of cultural capital. This becomes ever more important when policies are determined at national level as there is an assumption that teachers will be able to deliver the policy successfully (Nightingale, 2020). It does not acknowledge that teachers will bring with them their own interest and expertise which may not accord with the policy, but which could be used in the classroom. The delivery of a cultural capital policy in the classroom is therefore problematic (Nightingale, 2020; Phillips, 2021; Ruck, 2020)

The opportunity to draw on the cultural capital acquired elsewhere into the classroom is addressed by Binder and Kotsopoulos (2011) who feel that there is little opportunity for children to draw on their lives outside of school into the classroom.  Both Haanstra (2010) and Crum (2007) acknowledge that teachers do not necessarily have an understanding of the lives of their pupils outside of the classroom and that there are mixed feelings from teachers as to whether this is necessary or not in order to teach effectively in the classroom. As highlighted in this review though researchers are beginning to take an interest in the breadth of visual art experiences that children encounter, both in and out of school, and there is scope to build on this research. We need to be open-minded to the possibility that the richness of a visual art experience, which makes it an experience and not just something that is experienced, will be as likely to occur, if not more so, out of the classroom environment. Exploring the range of experiences that a child has outside of school is therefore necessary.

3.3.3 Art Experiences in the Everyday

In the study conducted by Gibson (2008) participants were asked ‘Where do you find art?’. A range of responses was provided which included predictable answers such as art galleries and shows, as well as public spaces such as parks and libraries; the breadth in the responses increased with age which could be an indicator of a broader awareness of the world in general. The conclusion drawn is that children believed that art could be found anywhere and that it was an integral part of their lives. The current approach to increasing levels of cultural capital in pupils in England seems to be one based on adults determining the form of that capital (Nightingale, 2020) however access to, and the acquisition of, cultural capital will also depend on where a child is located and the resources that are available (Phillips, 2021) within the community. For that reason this section focuses on children’s art experiences outside of home and school. First a discussion regarding children’s responses to where they find art will be presented. This will be followed by a focus on children’s reactions and behaviours within the most commonly identified setting for art, museums and galleries. Key points regarding relationships between schools and local organisations will be outlined followed by a focus on the role of the adult in these settings. Finally a discussion concerning the role that these organisations play in providing links for children with the outside world will be presented.

Both Gibson (2008) and Barrett et al. (2012) highlight the awareness that children have of art surrounding them in their everyday lives, rather than something which is solely site-specific to school, homes or museums and galleries. The children were able however to identify these traditional spaces, museums and galleries (Gibson, 2008) and attempts have been made across the time period to examine how they interacedt with art in these spaces as a result (Debenedetti et al., 2009; Kisida, Greene, & Bowen, 2014; Kuster, 2006; Savva & Trimis, 2005). Savva and Trimis (2005) used an exhibit in a museum in Cyprus as the setting for an exploration of children’s responses towards contemporary art both from the viewing and making perspective. They gathered the responses of 32 5-6 year olds through open-ended interviews that were conducted with the children and observations. The children were asked to choose a specific artwork in the museum and then consider five related questions, two of which focused on explaining their choice. Teachers and parents also provided data in the form of questionnaires which provided background information concerning the children’s previous art experiences. The findings indicated that the majority of the children preferred 3D works of art over 2D and that they had a tendency to be attracted to familiar subject matter. In addition to this material and colour were considered main reasons for selection.

The interesting aspect of the research from the perspective of this study, was the emphasis placed on prior experience of museums and galleries.  It was concluded that the children responded to the artworks in the same manner regardless of whether or not a person in their family had an interest in the visual arts, or whether they had made a previous visit to the museum with an adult.  An assumption is made that the visits had therefore not been positive experiences though this is not expanded upon (Savva & Trimis, 2005). The researchers also highlighted the observed behaviours as children moved through the space. In particular one 6-year-old girl is highlighted for being serious, showing no urge to touch the works in front of her and being reluctant to discuss her thoughts and feelings with regards to what she was seeing. Apparently she had prior experiences of these spaces, though the researchers observed similar behaviours in other children who had not had prior experience. Savva and Trimis (2005) believe that further research into the role of families on children’s developing artistic understanding is required, particularly from a longitudinal perspective. They also highlight however that visits to art museums are an important factor of art education as they allow children to look and experience original works and draw on this in their own work. Unfortunately there is no discussion or evidence in the papers in this review, regarding children’s understanding of gallery etiquette and where they obtain this knowledge from. It would have been useful to know whether this was learned behaviour from a significant adult, or whether there was a belief that there was a particular code of behaviour which applied in settings such as these (Bourdieu, 1979). For example, gallery etiquette is referred to by Lemon (2013) in a study of a pilot project in Australia where children were given a digital camera and encouraged to explore the National Gallery for themselves recording their experience through photographs. It is acknowledged that the children were constrained both by time and by gallery boundaries with one child saying that she found the security guards quite scary.

An alternative perspective of children’s behaviour in art galleries is presented by Debenedetti et al. (2009) however here the focus is on child and parent, rather than on pupil and teacher. Children aged between 5 and 12 years were randomly selected from visitors to an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris which was created specifically for an audience of children aged 5-12 years. The exhibition combined works of art and interactive devices and the purpose of the research was to determine the impact of the art and the devices on the child and the role that the adults played during the visit. The results found that the children were drawn more to the interactive devices than the art works themselves, with children also spending more time at these areas. Artworks that contained animation, sound or colour were more of a draw than traditional examples of sculpture and painting. The influence here of media and technology can perhaps be felt in these preferences. It also connects with the findings of Pavlou (2006) where children stated that there was appeal in art activities where they were introduced to other art forms such as abstract art. In Debenedetti et al. (2009) a key aspect of the visits was the dialogue that took place between adult and child; in front of artworks this had a tendency toward the adult explaining and informing rather than questioning or inquiring, whereas on the interactive devices, both adult and child participated actively and together. The paper provides an insight into the role that the adult or parent has in supporting a child on a visit to an art museum and indicates that actually many adults do not know themselves how one should interact with artworks. By drawing this conclusion, the paper indicates that there are considered to be particular ways of interacting with artworks which would link with the acquisition of symbolic forms of cultural capital; essentially this becomes a code that needs cracked which could be difficult to master from a child’s perspective if the adult also does not have the tools or knowledge to do this. In terms of behaviour however this contrasted with that of the children in the study by Savva and Trimis (2005) in that the children effectively subverted convention dictated by the designated route round the exhibition, instead moving freely around the space, being drawn to objects that attracted them. It would seem in this study, that the conventions of art gallery viewing did not apply to the children. The key difference between the two papers is that the children in Savva and Trimis (2005) have direct access to gallery staff, whereas this is not the case in Debenedetti et al. (2009) where children are instead reliant on their parents. In the former, they have access to experts in the field of the art gallery, who are expected to have high levels of knowledge and therefore cultural capital in relation to this and who can encourage and support the children to access the field in different ways. In the latter, the children are reliant on their parents, whose experiences and knowledge in relation to the field of the art gallery, may vary significantly, and who may feel most comfortable conforming to traditional forms of gallery etiquette.

The socio-cultural background of children in relation to their interactions within a typical art space need to be considered. Kisida et al. (2014)  examined this point in relation to an art museum in Arkansas, America. Participants were drawn from elementary and middle schools who had applied for free tours of the art museum; prior to the visit selected classes were provided with an orientation pack and following the visit, researchers visited the pupils in their schools and completed a survey. In total 123 schools and 10,912 pupils completed the surveys so this was a large-scale project in comparison to many of the empirical papers identified. Only a third of these participants had visited the art museum that was the focus of this project, prior to going on the art tour and only ten percent had ever previously visited any other art museum. The researchers found that even a small intervention, such as participating in a tour of a museum, did increase a pupil’s desire to participate in further cultural activities and acquire further cultural capital, with the strongest effect being found in students who were considered to be disadvantaged in terms of socio-economic status. Those with higher levels of pre-existing cultural capital were more likely to engage with institutions such as the art gallery. The limitation of this paper is that it demonstrates a short-term positive and immediate impact without a full understanding of the long-term effect on the child. The researchers were also unable to draw confident conclusions in relation to actual repeat visits though. The paper does indicate that children do have some level of agency in building their own cultural capital however they are still reliant on adult intervention in order to put this into practice. It also puts forward the discussion point of how a child, who has expressed an interest in increasing their cultural activity does this if the resources are not available in the local community and what does this mean for their level of cultural capital in the long-run. Will it decrease over time for example? Also, what does this mean in relation to arts participation?

The connection between art institution and school is explored further in a number of other papers that emerged through the review (Ivashkevich, 2012; Jarvis, 2014; Jovana & Olivera, 2010). The projects identified in these papers concentrated on children producing artworks, with the adults taking time to begin with the children’s interests. All of the papers identified positive impacts on the children and the adults involved with Jovana and Olivera (2010) and Jarvis (2014) both noting the significant support to teachers that working with partnership organisations and art specialists created. The classroom being turned into an artist’s studio also seems to play a role in the success of the projects for both children and adults (Jarvis, 2014). Ivashkevich (2012) notes however that the children who were observed on a Saturday morning art programme, despite being given freedom to express their thoughts and ideas within a setting that had been created with democracy at its centre, actually created their own hierarchies of status and peer dynamics. The result was the emergence of leaders within the studio and an ethos which went against the grain of the democratic environment that the adults had intended existed. Here it seems therefore that the children are so used to living within particular structures, created by adults, that they recreated them for themselves anyway (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977).

None of these papers address the issue of participation in the arts, including visual art, but this is explored in a study by Mansour et al. (2016). Using a large-scale survey, 1172 pupils (both elementary and secondary) on the east coast of Australia, took part. Focused on the arts as a collective group the results demonstrated that higher achieving students were more likely to engage in the arts in a variety of environments. In relation to participation in community arts, factors such as parent education and occupation were found to increase participation; this is attributed to the economic fact that those with a greater income have greater access to extracurricular opportunities and are therefore more likely to participate. What this study does not explore is the relationship between the location of extracurricular opportunities and the location of the homes of the pupils; as (Savage, 2015) highlights, people on lower incomes tend to participate in cultural activities within their local community rather than engage with cultural activities further afield, in city centres for example where art galleries and museums are more likely to be located.

This section of the review aimed to provide a picture of the range of ways that art organisations within the local environment interact with children and use art to explore issues such as identity and cultural background. It has aimed to demonstrate the importance of partnerships with schools and the impact that this can have on the children and on participating adults. It does not necessarily provide a complete or full picture. In addition to activities encouraged by established organisations there exists a number of small, local art initiatives that are in place designed to engage children, families and schools with the visual arts. Often these initiatives are the result of an enthusiastic individual, a local artist or a teacher with an interest in the arts. However the impact of these initiatives on children may go unrecorded.

4.0 Conclusion

According to UNESCO (2006) access to education and cultural participation is an international human right, with access to art education emerging from this. This is justified with the statement that ‘Culture and the arts are essential components of a comprehensive education leading to the full development of the individual’ (UNESCO, 2006: 3); the arts and culture should be considered a fundamental part of humanity.  During the search for papers for this literature review there was an overwhelming sense of the need to remind people of this and highlight the value of the arts in spite of the clear statements issued by UNESCO; in fact, all the papers extracted during the course of the systematic review process pointed to the positive impact that the arts can have on people’s lives.

Key to this from a child’s perspective is the relationship they have with the key adults in their lives (Bourdieu, 1977). Children draw from their experiences and observations of the adults in their lives and use this to inform their own sense of identity. They also acquire cultural capital primarily through inheritance, but also in schools through the delivery of a curriculum by a teacher. While some papers such as Crum (2007) drew attention to the unwavering support from parents towards developing their child’s interests in art,  Pavlou (2006) highlighted that some children felt that parental support in art activities was limited. According to Melnick et al. (2011) parent influence has a significant impact on engagement with the arts which would mean that the children in the study by Pavlou (2006) who felt that their parents did not show an interest in art activities, were at a disadvantage to those children who belonged to the families used in the study by Crum (2007).

According to Bourdieu (1979; Bourdieu, 1986) children inherit capital, including cultural capital, from their parents. Kisida et al. (2014) confirm this in their study where they found that those children with higher levels of pre-existing cultural capital were more likely to show higher levels of cultural consumption. However, those children with lower levels of cultural capital actually made greater gains in terms of their attitude towards acquiring further cultural capital, following a visit to an art museum. This shows perhaps that breadth of experiences, including art experiences, are necessary for all children to engage with culture and to acquire cultural capital. What is not clear though is the extent to which children with lower levels of capital can overcome these barriers, particularly in attitude, if interventions by a school, such as a visit to an art museum, are not made. Also, it is not clear whether this has a direct impact on acquisition of cultural capital by children through increased engagement in art activities that are classed as high cultural activities or whether this influences the acquisition of other emergent forms of cultural capital (Savage, 2015). The concept of cultural capital has evolved and rather than a hierarchy of high and low cultural activities as identified by Bourdieu (1979), Savage (2015) believes that new forms of cultural capital have emerged and that they are defined not by activity but by the way that a person talks about them and enjoys them; this means that something which may have been defined by Bourdieu as a low cultural activity such as graffiti painting has now become something which people consider to be an important cultural act which requires knowledge, expertise and taste in order to appreciate it fully. Without the guaranteed influence of parents however, the conclusion drawn by Kisida et al. (2014) is that the role of the art teacher and educator is ever more important, providing breadth and depth in art experiences for children.

5.0 Implications and recommendations

The literature presents a picture of children’s thoughts regarding art, how they define it and what it looks like in their lives. The value of the subject in a variety of physical environments is also presented with children demonstrating a variety of opinions. For some, the belief that they are an artist is strong, for others, not so much. The influence of adults, teachers and caregivers is also presented, linked with a discussion regarding economics and external influences such as the media and technology. If we accept that access to visual art is a human right (UNESCO, 2006; United Nations, 1989), and the literature can provide the evidence that it has the potential to play an important part in children’s lives,  then it is incumbent on adults to acknowledge this and to act.

For practitioners, developing a critical understanding of the concept of cultural capital, particularly in relation to the curriculum, is important (Hunter, Baker, & Nailon, 2014; Mansell, 2019; Nightingale, 2020; Phillips, 2021; Ruck, 2020). However ultimately, the research points to the importance of knowing the child, having an awareness of their interests and knowledge and providing them with a breadth of visual art experiences which supports them to develop those interests and knowledge further, if they so wish. As the literature demonstrates, children do not necessarily respond to visual art experiences the way they are intended by the adult and we need to acknowledge that what may be deemed as valuable cultural capital within an education context, may not be considered to have the same value in other fields that the children live in. Children observe and navigate these fields by observing the adults around them (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) and in this way they make sense of the world and their place within it. As they do this, they create a sense of identity, one which changes over time (Giddens, 1991) and is informed by the capital they acquire. They will ultimately make the decisions, consciously and unconsciously, as to what is of most value to them, regardless of a curriculum which seeks to direct this. It is incumbent then that the teacher acknowledges this and seeks ways to support the child while also navigating the policies imposed upon them in their practice.

From a research perspective, although research is beginning to emerge which is focused on children’s visual art experiences in a range of environments (Mansour et al., 2016; Richards, 2014; Tan & Gibson, 2017) the small-scale nature of the research conducted means that there is scope for further case studies to be added to the existing body. For example, in geographical terms, the voices of children in some countries are not currently represented. It would also mean that a broader range of children’s voices are presented in the research allowing for the opportunity to move away from conducting research with children, and families, who are positively biased towards the visual arts. The case for conducting further qualitative research is also strengthened by the findings of this review as there was scope in the majority of the papers, adopting either a quantitative or qualitative approach, to explore further the depth and reasoning behind the children’s responses. This lack of depth is linked to a surface-level examination of the experiences that the children had; further exploration of the essence of visual art experiences for individual children and the reasons that they are significant in terms of their identity and autobiographical memory is required. An attempt to unpick these complex ideas would create a fuller picture of what is meaningful and relevant to the individual allowing teachers to begin to accommodate this in their lessons, making them meaningful and relevant also (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). The limited evidence of longitudinal studies in the research is also problematic; the research illuminates moments in time but this does not allow for changing thoughts and attitudes towards art experiences or identity. There is therefore scope for the development of further longitudinal research. Finally, further examination is required of the levels of cultural capital that adults have acquired and the impact that this has on the lives of the children that are in their care. It may not be as simple a case as higher levels of cultural capital equalling higher levels of engagement and value on the child’s part; higher levels of cultural capital could have a restrictive influence over the child also. Linked in with this is the need to explore the levels of trust that people place on established systems and structures and how this replicate in children and their attitudes to curricular subject. Within this, the place of technology and media also needs to be considered.

This review provides insight into a curricular subject, presenting a nuanced picture of children’s thoughts in relation to a particular topic. By doing this it demonstrates the complexity of children’s thoughts and opinions, and provides insight into their world. There is therefore much in this review to learn from, both from a researcher’s perspective and from a practitioner’s perspective, both in terms of insight into the topic, but also in terms of the value of engaging with children in dialogue, seeking their thoughts and opinions and using this to inform future practice and research.


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Appendix 1: Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

Research Themes Art education – past and present Learning Environments

(school, home, local community)

Key sources (e.g., policy, research, theoretical) Both discursive and empirical texts have been considered. This includes research reports, books, articles, conference papers, dissertations and theses.

In addition policy documents and curricula pertaining to primary/elementary school were included.


Reviews of books, magazines, research or journals; instructional materials, bibliographies and visual resources for teaching, incomplete research studies were not included.

Both discursive and empirical texts have been considered. This includes research reports, books, articles, conference papers, dissertations and theses.

In addition policy documents and curricula pertaining to primary/elementary school were included.


Reviews of books, magazines, research or journals; instructional materials, bibliographies and visual resources for teaching, incomplete research studies were not included.

Both discursive and empirical texts were considered. This included research reports, books, articles, conference papers, dissertations and theses.


Reviews of books, magazines, research or journals; instructional materials, bibliographies and visual resources for teaching, incomplete research studies were not included.




The term ‘art’ is understood to be activities and practice which fall under the auspices of visual art. Particular attention was given to the art curriculum applied at primary school age, and the activities most commonly associated with the teaching of art at this level.


This included the categories of fine art, applied arts and crafts, and art and design in addition to art history, art criticism and aesthetics. Contemporary fine art was also included.


The expressive arts categories of drama, dance, and music were not included. Other curriculum areas were not included.

The review focused on learners aged 4 to 11. International texts were included in this review.

The learning environments examined were primarily be associated with the Microsystem level of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological theory. These included school, the home and community-based venues (i.e. museums, galleries or other venues where the displaying of art plays a prominent role).


Studies which focused solely on learners in the early year (0-3 years) or on learners aged 12 -16 were not included.


Studies which have taken place in educational settings which solely meet the needs of children with ASN (i.e. Special Education schools and Enhanced Provision Units) were excluded.


Studies which focus on art therapy were excluded.

Papers which focus on the role of art education as a facilitator of identity creation and papers which examine identity in relation to the pedagogy of art education were examined.


Papers which focus on children’s voices on art education were included. Papers which used art to express children’s voices were excluded.

Search methodology Electronic databases were searched using a combination of terms

Grey literature and unpublished literature were then searched.

Bibliographic and reference lists of texts were also checked.


Empirical texts are in English and published from 2005 onwards.

Discursive/theoretical texts are in English and published from 2005 onwards.

Appendix 2: Key Search Terms

Art (What is art?)  Environment (Where is art?) Identity (Who can be an artist?)
Art education

Visual art*

Art and design



Primary School

Junior School

First School

Infant School


Local community





Appendix 3: List of Searches

Code Search Terms
KS1 “art education” and “primary”
KS2 “art education” and “primary school”
KS3 “art education” and “elementary school”
KS4 “art education” and “junior school”
KS5 “art education” and “first school”
KS6 “art education” and “infant school”
KS7 “art education” and “home” and “child*” and “identity”
KS8 “art education” and “local community” and “child*” and “identity”
KS9 “visual art*” and “primary school” and ” and “child*” and “identity”
KS10 “visual art*” and “primary school” and “identity”
KS11 “visual art*” and “elementary school” and “identity”
KS12 “visual art*” and “junior school” and “identity”
KS13 “visual art*” and “first school” and “identity”
KS14 “visual art*” and “infant school” and “identity”
KS15 “visual art*” and “home” and “child*” and “identity”
KS16 “visual art*” and “local community” and “child*” and “identity”
KS17 “art and design” and “primary school” and “identity”
KS18 “art and design” and “elementary school” and “identity”
KS19 “art and design” and “junior school” and “identity”
KS20 “art and design” and “first school” and “identity”
KS21 “art and design” and “infant school” and “identity”
KS22 “art and design” and “home” and “child*” and “identity”
KS23 “art and design” and “local community” and “child*” and “identity”
KS24 “art*” and “child*” and “voice*”
KS25 “art education” and ‘child*” and “voice*”
KS26 “visual art*” and “child*” and “voice*”

Appendix 4: List of Databases

Databases Searched
     Art Bibliographies Modern (ABM)

Art Full Text (AFT)


British Education Index (BEI)



World of Science


Appendix 5: Summary of papers including voices of children

Year Author Country Focus of VA experiences Participants Age

of children

2005 Savva & Trimis Cyprus Art Museum 32 children


5-6 QLT
2005 Watts England School 316 children


7-11 QLT
2006 Eckhoff & Guberman USA Summer Programme 3 children


7-8 QLT
2006 Kuster USA School Children

(3 5th Grade classes)


10-11 QLT
2006 Pavlou Cyprus School 16 children


11-12 QLT
2006 Rose, Jolley & Burkitt England School


270 children

246 parents

44 teachers

 5-14 QNT
2007 Bhroin Ireland School 21 children 4-5 QLT
2007 Crum USA School


Stage 1 – 250 children

Stage 2 – 8 children/5 families

7-11 MM
2007 Szechter & Liben USA School
40 children and parents


7-13 MM
2007 Toren Israel School Undefined:




5-6 QLT
2008 Gibson Australia School 130 children


5-12 QNT
2009 Debenedetti et al France Pompidou Centre Undefined:



5-11 MM
2010 Haanstra Netherlands Home 52 children

8 teachers


10-14 QLT
2011 Binder & Kotsopoulos Canada School 12 children 5-6 QLT
2011 Greenwood New Zealand School 16 children 10-12 QLT
2011 Melnick et al USA School Undefined:




Undefined QNT
2011 Rusanen et al Europe School Undefined:




3-5 Summary of projects
2012 Antoniou & Hickman Cyprus School 7 children 11 QLT
2012 Barrett, Everett and Smigiel Australia School 140 children 5-8 QLT
2013 Lemon Australia Art Museum 29 children 8-12 QLT
2013 Shaban & Al-Awidi UAE School 25 children


4-5 QLT
2014 Hallam, Hewitt and Buxton England School 24 children


5-16 QLT
2014 Kisida et al USA Art Museum 10,912 children from 123 schools Not stated QNT
2014 Richards Australia School


4 children 4-5 QLT
2015 Lekue France School 397 children

(156 aged 10-12)

10-17 QNT
2015 Oguz Turkey School 60 children 10-11 QLT
2016 Mansour et al Australia School


Local Community

1172 children


Not stated (Primary and Secondary age) QNT
2017 Ferm Almqvist and Christophersen Norway


School 9 children

5 teachers

2 principals

10-11 QLT
2017 Roth USA School Undefined:


9-10 QLT
2017 Tan and Gibson Australia School


Local Community

4 children 5-6 QLT
2018 Kim USA School 1 child 5 QLT

Appendix 6: Papers by Country of Origin

Country No. of Papers References
Australia 6 Gibson, 2008; Barret, 2012; Lemon, 2013; Richards, 2013; Mansour, 2016; Tan and Gibson, 2017
Canada 1 Binder and Kostopoulous, 2011
Cyprus 3 Savva and Trimis, 2005; Pavlou, 2006; Antoniou and Hickman, 2012;
England 3 Watts, 2005; Rose et al, 2006; Hallam et al, 2014
Finland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden 1 Rusanen et al, 2011
France 2 Debenedetti, 2009; Lekue, 2015
Ireland 1 Bhroin, 2007
Israel 1 Toren, 2007
Netherlands 1 Haanstra, 2010
New Zealand 1 Greenwood, 2011
Norway/Sweden 1 Almqvist and Chistophersen, 2017
Turkey 1 Oguz, 2015
UAE 1 Shaban & Al-Awidi, 2013
USA 8 Eckhoff & Guberman, 2006; Kuster, 2006, Crum, 2007; Szechter & Liben, 2007; Melnick et al, 2011; Kisida et al, 2014; Roth, 2017, Kim, 2018

Appendix 7

Location of Study No. of Papers References
Art Museum 4 Savva & Trimis, 2005; Debenedetti et al, 2009; Lemon, 2013; Kisida et al, 2014
School 22 Watts, 2005; Kuster, 2006; Pavlou, 2006; Bhroin, 2007; Toren, 2007; Gibson, 2008; Haanstra, 2010; Binder and Kostopoulos, 2011; Greenwood, 2011; Melnick et al, 2011; Rusanen et al, 2011; Antoniou & Hickman, 2012; Barrett et al, 2012; Shaban et al, 2013; Hallam et al, 2014; Lekue, 2015; Oguz, 2015; Mansour et al, 2016; Almqvist et al, 2017; Roth, 2017; Tan and Gibson, 2017; Kim, 2018
Home 0
Home/School 4 Rose et al, 2006; Crum, 2007; Szechter and Liben, 2007; Richards, 2014
Summer Arts Programme 1 Eckhoff and Guberman, 2006


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