Artistic self concept in school age children

What is artistic self concept in school age children?

July 28th, 2013

Artistic Self Concept in school age children by Karen Elzinga

The cup is half full or the cup is half empty, it's a saying that most will have heard, but it's a very individual choice as to which a person chooses to say.

 Self concept is a level of self actualization that tells individuals who they are as people, and what they are capable of achieving. To have a good self concept, a person must have obtained the correct nurturing as a child, so the brain has congruence in its thinking of what one believes to be true, and what is actual truth. 

Children require artistic instruction at home or in lower level schooling, if they are to have a high self concept in high school art. Students are inherently good, however when self concept is constantly lowered, children find it difficult to fit in and resort to exclusion and adverse tactics to rebel. Self concept is inescapable, we live with it every day, it will never go away.

 The more we are able to understand what self concept is, and what it means for us as individuals, the more teachers and parents alike can aid children with learning and life skills.

Self concept allows individuals to be the judge and jury over how they envisage their lives; it allows a personal embodiment of who people are as individuals, and who they believe themselves to be.

 This thought process ultimately effects how people believe they fit into the bigger picture. It incorporates personal attributes that will allow people to feel needed, wanted, admired or desired by others (Baumeister, 1999).

Carl Rogers (1902-1987), a Humanistic Psychologist believed that self concept has three major components:
• How one views themselves
• The value one places on themselves
• Wishful thinking – how one believes they should have been created.

Rogers believed that for individuals to prosper and for fill their potential as human beings, they require the correct levels of nourishment including a genuine acceptance, truth, honesty, unconditional love, empathy and a sense that they are heard and understood.

 This thought process that people must obtain a number of growth factors during childhood before self actualization could take place, was on the whole Roger's most fundamental contribution to the world of psychology. He attested that if self actualization did not take place in childhood, and the child did not get sufficient unconditional love and nurturing, then the adult self may become destructive to itself and others due to an unsatisfactory self concept (Rogers, 1959). 

Rogers believed that the mind requires a state of congruence; that people had to achieve this ideal existence between what a person believes their ideal self to be, and what their actual real life experience dictates.

 Whilst no person would ultimately have the perfect levels of congruence, he believed that there was an interwoven relationship that exists between ego-ideal, self- image and self- esteem that could be measured.

 If a person was not congruent with them self, then self actualization could not occur, and thus a person would be more likely to go through life in a state where their full potential was not attained (McLeod, 2008).

Achieving a good sense of self concept through self actualization in child hood is productive for numerous reasons; these include giving a child an understanding of cause and effect ("kid's ask me all the time to come and play, that must mean they like playing with me"). It allows children to act in ways where rewards are beneficial ("If I'm really nice to Sally playing today, she might let me play with her again tomorrow).

 It inevitably influences how children react to situations or events ("I'm sad because l didn't get to borrow a library book today") and allows children to envisage who they will be in the future by thinking about or drawing pictures of how they see themselves (fire fighter, doctor, business owner). This effectively helps children in their decision making processes and life choices ("I need to take biology because l want to be a scientist") ( Guay, F., Boivin, M., Hodges, E. 1999).

Having a good sense of self allows an individual to understand where it is that they fit comfortably in life, how they should be respected, cared for, and nurtured by others.

 Numerous psychologists have faith in the belief that all humans have a basic need to belong, to be liked, and to feel they are competent, worthy and appreciated among their peers (Park, Crocker, Kiefer, 2007).

Children as young as primary levels through to university students; will display behaviors that are in line with their self concept. Rather than a student perform to their highest potential regardless, if a student believes they are not smart and cannot do something, they will act in line with that thought going against how they may actually have fared if they tried their hardest regardless. 

They may also misbehave in class, disrupt other students, and mismanage school and home work tasks. If a child believes they are likable, they will seek out friendships in an open, conscientious and confident manner, however if a child does not think they are likable, they will veer away from people, become reclusive or aggressive towards others, often alienating others by their encumbered social skills (Assor & Connell, 1992).

There are numerous factors that impact on individuals achieving self actualization through a congruent state of mind. Such factors include how children internalize comments from outside forces such as family, friends, teachers, or employers in teenage years. 

The more positive experiences given by these life educators allows children to believe they are worthy of receiving love, support and attention, it allows children to interpret and analyze these comments which are then fostered to produce a positive self concept (Bretherton, 1991).

In the arts we often hear actors talk about being only as good as their last performance. In a sense this is the same for a child's congruent state of mind. 

If a child achieves well in their past year, they will go forth into the next year with the expectation that they will achieve just as well as last year, because they inevitably base their understanding of their environment on previous learning, and past performances (Damon, 1991). 

The same is said for student artistic performance and social skills, it can be other children who contribute greatly to how an individual sees their own skills level, as they are who the child must compete against utilizing the same skill set.

 If the child always completes high standard art work, they may think to themselves ("l must be good at art because everyone always comments on how good my work looks"). 

They may then obtain a good self concept when it comes to completing artistic tasks, because they know they can achieve based on past performance. 

A child who had a good self concept before attending primary school because a parent consistently glorified their art, may lose that view once attending school, realizing they may not produce as high a quality of art work when compared to others of the same age (Guay, Boivin, Hodges, 1999; Marsh, Hau, 2003).

 A research paper by the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur, in 1999, looked at creative art and self concept and the influence of family background. They suggest that there is a definitive link in those children who had parents with a substantial interest in art, and whom exposed their children to artistic and creative activities at home. 

These children would ultimately have a higher artistic self concept then those children who were limited in their artistic exposure (Damon, 1991), (Russell-Bowie, Yeung, McInerney, 1999). 

 The 1999 study also looked at the epidemic of teachers that cannot teach art related subjects during lower level schooling, thus leaving students ill equipped and fundamentally uneducated in artistic creation.

 Teachers themselves may have a low level of artistic self concept when it comes to teaching something they know nothing about, or have no confidence or skills in teaching, so often it is deleted from their teaching. 

This unfortunate loss of artistic nurturing comes into fruition as some students arrive at high school simply unable to do the simplest of art tasks. Students who have had no or limited previous art instruction, or parental exposure to art at home, will struggle with a good artistic self concept, because they have no previous knowledge to draw from of whether they will be good at it (Damon, 1991), (Russell-Bowie, Yeung, McInerney, 1999).

A study conducted on 515 students from 18 schools by Hay, Ashman and Vankraayenoord (1998) found that self concept when related to creative arts was area specific, meaning that different areas such as Maths, English and even other art subjects such as Music, Dance and Drama were individualized and separate, and if a child's self concept was high in creative arts that it would not automatically cross over to music or dance (Russell-Bowie, Yeung, McInerney, 1999). 

This begs the question, does artistic self concept come from practice and familiarity of using creative materials, or is it inbuilt and genetic, or can it be taught?When working with children in an art room setting it is important that each child sees their art work as individual, that even though they may be required to do a set project, that their own creativity should be encouraged to make that artwork their own. 

Art is a very individual entity and as such it should be expected that art to one child, may not be art to another. This is a topic that should be addressed early so that children do not hinder, put down or judge adversely another students work thus damaging any child's self concept.

 An art teacher should explain to students that even though the methodology and principals of a set project may be the same, that their work is allowed to take on personal characteristics, weird, humorous, scary or otherwise traits, and that the art room is a place they are allowed to be different.

 This approach should help to stimulate creativity and originality and thus helping with self concept (Art and the adolescent, n.d).

Logic says that if you enjoy doing something you will do it well, for example as a primary art teacher l told my year 7 class they would be doing foil sculptures, we did the basic wire underneath as a group the same, but when they had finished the kids were told to create whatever they wanted to shaping their sculpture with foil, it could be ballerina's, football identities or whatever they could come up with.

 One girl did Dracula, she did it so well, that her work was put on display, she was told the following week her sculpture was on display and she said quite concerned "l hope no one judges me on it".

 What was meant to prop her up and provide a good level of self concept did in fact do the opposite, the next week her art work was not good, and l wondered if she had in fact deliberately not done a good job on purpose, so it did not go on display for her peers to judge. 

In her eyes, I believe she may have felt kid's would all judge her work in a bad light because she chose to do Dracula.

This provided me with a much clearer understanding of how self concept is defined in an art room setting, that how a child feels about their ability to create something unique and different, could also have others judging them as weird or strange.

 If a child hears other kids say they are weird, then the child may think they must be weird and thus creates a new cycle of artistic self concept where confidence is lost in creating those unique and out there works, because they risk exposing themselves to ridicule from their peers (Guay, Boivin, Hodges, 1999; Marsh, Hau, 2003).

In conclusion an art teacher must try to break down barriers remembering that students may have come with no previous art instruction at all, thus with constant reminders to the class as a whole, that the weirder the art work the better, will allow students to utilize full imaginative powers to create fresh and interesting work. This helps to break down any anxiety kids have about creating something different. 

Continuation to support individuality in art, whilst encouraging children in a positive light as they create, is instrumental to fostering a good self concept. It is important to note that a child's individual artistic self concept is developed over time and through a process of positive experiences, thus it is a job of a teacher to help foster a healthy artistic appreciation, both in a practical and theoretical sense.


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