Museum of Science, Boston

What is Art

What do children believe counts as art?

Past research suggests that people appreciate an image less if there is no apparent creative intent behind it (for example, if they learn that it was made by accident). Do children make the same types of judgments?

Research has also shown that children tend to focus more on the subject matter depicted in an image, rather than how it was made, when judging a picture as good or bad. If this is true, then what do children believe counts as art?

To investigate these questions, this study asks children, ages 4-14, to participate in a sorting game. We show children a series of three images, including a piece of professional artwork, a case of amateur artwork, and a utilitarian object. Children tell us which of the images go in a box marked “art” and which images go in a box marked “non-art.”

We predict that younger children, ages 4-6 years, will believe that anything can be art as long as they like it. Children around ages 7-11 years may begin to focus more on content and medium, placing only professional images and images with morally good and beautiful content in the “art” box. Older children (ages 12 years and above) may adopt a more open approach in evaluating art, and may consider all objects, with any type of subject matter, for the “art” box.

This research may help us better understand how creative and artistic concepts change with age.

Learn about other research related to Conceptualizing Music and Art.

This research is conducted by the Art & Mind Laboratory at Boston College

Try it at the Museum

Art at the Experiment Station

Frequently at the Experiment Station, the day's experiment involves creating objects out of paper, paint, markers, paperclips, or other supplies.

Compare one person’s creation with another. Are they same or different? What makes them different?

Do you think your objects are works of art? How would you know?

What would make a creation more or less artistic?

Try it at Home

Can anything be art?

Try pointing out different things in your home that may be considered artistic: paintings, drawings, pictures, furniture, wallpaper, toys - anything goes! Ask your child: “Is that art?”

What sorts of things does your child classify as “art”? Do these objects have anything in common (e.g., color, material, subject matter, etc)?

What reasons does your child give for their answer? What differentiates the “art” from the “non-art”?