On Our Mind: Thoughts from Mark & Michelle Dean

Art as a Universal Experience: A Dichotomy in Art Expression

by Michelle Dean 01-10-2015 | 9:21PDT | Comments (0)


iStock_000005937140MediumArt is a universal process among children in cultures around the world and is something that all adults possess the capacity for into old age. All people may call themselves artists if they create artwork, reserving the term professional artist for those who receive money for their work. Developmentally, there is a universally accepted progression of art-making skills and schema that coincide with physical, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones; these include such typical shapes as a circle, cross, square, and rectangle (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1987). The content of a child’s drawing often times focuses on certain motifs (e.g., trees, houses, or people) and is significantly correlated with gender. But equally as important as the content is the manner in which it is created.

It is accepted that exceptions or deviations from typical artistic milestones in children may be attributed to personal factors, such as the two psychological types: visual (ideoplastic) and haptic (physioplastic) types of creative expression (Read, 1966). Although one type does not create superior artists, it is important to note the type because it produces a significant difference in presentation and aesthetic.

Therefore, there is a natural dichotomy in art expression in children based on these two types. The visual type represents items in artwork close to the way they appear in space with attention to nuance and realism, much like a spectator, while the haptic type tends to display expressiveness, including exaggerations, related to internal somatic sensations and emotionality (Lowenfeld, 1965; Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1987; Read, 1962, 1966). According to Read (1966) these types were first recorded by Vernworn in 1914, who noted correlations for the visual type with concerns about conceptualization, and for the haptic type with sensations of the body; this idea is similar to Kühn’s imaginative and sensorial types described in 1923.

So for parents, teachers, and those who work with children in helping professions it is important to understand that there are innate differences in children’s works of art and one type should not be valued over another type but instead appreciated for their unique attributes and qualities that they hold.


Lowenfeld, V. (1965).The nature of creative activity. London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Lowenfeld, V., & Brittain, W. L. (1987). Creative and mental growth (8th ed.). New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co.

Read, H. (1962). The meaning of art. London: Faber & Faber Limited.

Read, H. (1966). Psychology of art. Encyclopedia of world art (Vol. XI). London, England: McGraw-Hill Publishing.

Vernworn, M. (1914). Ideoplastische Kunst. Mill Valley CA: Enthnographic Arts Publications.


© 2015; All rights reserved, The Center for Psyche & the Arts, LLC; written by Michelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CGP, DVATA HLMScreen Shot 2015-09-13 at 6.02.36 PM and is an excerpt from Using Art Media in Psychotherapy: Bringing the Power of Creativity to Practice.


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