Artist's statement
Teaching philosophy

Stained glass works

Children and Youth

Aesthetic experience
Philosophy of art
Art criticism
Child art & artists

Definition of Copying | In art education | In eastern society | In Western society

Art education and the concept of copying

In a letter to Gombrich, Bell describes an experience he had with another 
teacher who saw his students' copy works. "You made them copy from Raphael? 
She said. Her expression was exactly that of some one who had been casually
informed that I had committed a series of indecent assaults upon the brats…"
(Gombrich, 1979, p.174). The irony was that before these students were 
introduced to the works of Raphael, "they were coming to school with traced 
drawings of Mickey Mouse and pictures from the lids of cereal packets…" (p.174). 
In response to Bell, Gombrich wrote, "Art and illusion may partly have sprung from 
my reaction to this prejudice. As a child, I had taken to copying pictures of animals
in a favorite animal book. I was quite proud of my efforts and somewhat mortified
when I discovered from the tone of voice in which these drawings were duly 
'praised' that my parents disapproved of copying. Those were the days of Cizek in
Vienna…" (p.175).

The concept of child art, developed and promoted by Franz Cizek in Vienna, was 
based on the principles and teachings of Rouseau and Froebel. Cizek believed that 
the child's imagination, memory and inner thoughts were enough to motivate a 
child to draw or paint; thus, he rejected imitation and copying from any sources
including even nature. "All copied things are worthless", declared Cizek (Viola, 
1936, p.37). From this child-centered view, Cizek believed self-expression and
creativity are fostered through noninterference of adult influences and his teaching
method with children was said to be 'Not to Teach' (Malvern, 1995). The Progressive
Education Movement of the early 1900s later adopted his theory and opposed the
practice of copying which it believed had no educational value and served only to
inhibit a child's creative potential.

Victor Lowenfeld (1964), whose writings have influenced decades of classroom
teachers to promote copying as anti-educational., wrote:
…imitative procedures as found in coloring and workbooks make the child 
dependent in his thinking…, they make the child inflexible…, they do not provide
emotional relief…, they do not even promote skills and discipline, because the child's
urge for perfection grows out of his own desire for expression; and finally, they
condition the child to adults concepts that he cannot produce alone and that 
therefore frustrate his own creative ambitions (p.25).

Both Lowenfeld and Cizek consider a child's attempt to draw naturalistically to be a
decline in their artistic ability. They believe that as children (around the age of 8 or 9)
become closer to nature getting involved with the environment and what goes on
around them, they lose their innocence in art and their creative talent diminishes. 
Viola (1936) also recognized that "when children do only what they wish there is a
danger that they may copy or imitate or may be influenced by tradition" (p. 18). Even
though children's attempt to either copy from nature or to imitate the works of others
is a natural process and a reality, those educators have discouraged these 
tendencies. For instance, when examining the naturalistic tendencies of children
between the age of 9 to 11, Lowenfeld (1964) wrote, "A question might arise
whether it is desirable from the viewpoint of modern art education to stress the
naturalistic tendencies" (p.184). With respect to the works of adolescents in crisis 
who are interested in realism, he suggests solving this problem by enlarging their
concept of adult art and familiarizing them with the works of old masters such as
Chagall and Klee who have a "very unsophisticated manner" (p.330).

It is clear that for Lowenfeld and Cizek the concept of child art and originality is
interwoven with the modern aesthetic views of their times. In an era where modern
artists rejected realism and academic teaching, and looked to new sources such as
child art and primitive art for inspiration, it is no wonder the unspoiled art of children
was cherished and kept away from adult influences for the sake of modern art. By
having the adolescent look to modern art for inspiration, rather than fostering their
naturalistic tendencies for representation, we have retarded the adolescents' pass
through this natural phase of development. We have also cheated them by leading
them to believe that the imagery artists make are totally original and by accepting 
their product and denying the process, which involves the sources of their ideas and
mastery of skills (Kozlowski & Yakel, 1980).

The misconception surrounding the practice of copying in art education begins because
we do not have a clear idea of its varied meanings such as replicating, reproducing,
imitating, borrowing, modeling, being influence by, and interpreting, says Duncum
(1988). He believes that opponents and proponents of copying are arguing about
different types of copying, within either the concept of expression or learning. Even
though many on both sides of the argument "accept that some direct copying is not
harmful" (p.209); all agree that the most productive form of copying is the 
"interpretive copying, or copying which synthesizes several originals" (p.209).

To the opponents, copying is viewed as an impersonal, line by line, mechanical
representation produced from an original; it neither facilitates learning nor enhances
self-expression. I personally believe no one is in favor of this type of copying -- I have
described an example of such copying in one of my own early personal experiences in
art at the beginning of this paper. However, if copying leads to some type of learning
or enhances self-expression, then even the opponent may find some beneficial value in
copying. Lowenfeld (1964), himself, has agreed that we should not disregard the
importance of imitation as a means of learning. D'amico (1953), another opponent of
copying, approves of some non-mechanical copying as a means of gaining knowledge
of absent subjects.
Studies by Dowell (1990), Duncum (1984,1988,1999), Kozlowski and Yakel (1980),
Pariser (1979, 1980, 1999), Smith (1985) and Wilson and Wilson (1977) all support
copying as an effective tool in the process of learning to draw beginning when children
reach middle childhood through their adolescent years. Dowell (1990) has found that
children who use photographs and reproductions to learn about proportion,
foreshortening, value, texture, line quality, and gesture do as well as those who learn
those aspects from live drawing. She has suggested in learning representational
drawing of the human figure, one can use copying in addition to practicing from 
life models. 

Duncum (1984) claims that from an historical perspective, learning to draw involves
copying. Based on biographies, autobiographies, and collections of youthful drawings
by 35 famous artists, he found that as children, the majority of those artists (30)
learned to draw by copying directly from pictures, particularly from the popular arts of
their day, more than from any other source. Nonetheless, all those children "used
strategies that involved influence from graphic sources" (p.101). Based on the principle
of "the plus one phenomena", which espouses the notion that children learn more
effectively from a model which is just one level above their performance, (Pariser,
1980), Duncum (1999) suggests:

The teacher's role is to organize classes so that children draw with and from each
other. This means both legitimating copying and organizing children so that copying is
inevitable…Teachers must match children of slightly different or complementary
abilities…if teachers make images for children, they should…attempt to make images in
only a slightly more sophisticated way than children (p.35). 

Reynolds, when discussing the education of artists in his book Discourses on Art
(1959), espouses a similar view. He writes:
It is generally found, that a youth more easily receives instruction from the 
companions of his studies, whose minds are nearly on a level with his own, than from
those who are much his superiors; and it is from his equals only that he catches the
fire of emulation (p.16).

Pariser (1979) has suggested that both perceptual and graphical cues are needed 
for the creation of a representational image and should be explored through
observation (such as: blind contour drawing) and imitation (copying from an old
master). He reports that a child who copies learns new graphic codes, new ways of
working with the medium and more competencies to give full vent to his or her ideas.
Pariser denies that copying from adult works has a negative effect on children. On the
contrary, he says, "presenting a model of adult competence to a child has, on occasion,
elicited more competent behavior on the part of children" (p.40). He also suggests that
young children copying from adult imagery still employ a preconventional form and
organization while imitating. In fact, they translate successfully the conventional
images by capturing the expression and essence of the subject with their own
preconventional vocabulary (Pariser, 1999). 

Kozlowski and Yakel (1980) have suggested copying has a direct line to creativity.
According to these authors, a building of confidence, a sense of satisfaction, and the
learning of skills and techniques to enhance expression are all the direct result of
copying. Wilson and Wilson (1977) emphasized the importance of copying as means to
learning graphic conventions of realistic representation. They claim, that for pleasure,
children actively look at popular sources to copy and teachers should nourish this
preferred learning strategy. 
All these researchers agree that children, beginning middle childhood, who are ready
to learn, curious about their environment and interested in popular visual images
should be encouraged to imitate adult imageries. The advantages of learning by
imitation in its variety of meanings cannot be abandoned. 

There are many young adults entering a university arts program with good oral
defense and little hand/eye skills, says Anthony Visco, a professor at the New York
Academy of Art. Students, feeling they did not learn anything they needed to learn in
college, come to the New York Academy of Art to learn what has been ignored and
neglected in their previous education. This school provides remedial instruction for the
unprepared students at the graduate level; those who have learned trends instead of
skills and techniques. The school concentrates solely on figurative training based on
observation and the technique of copying the works of masters. Apparently this
graduate school is one of the largest and the only freestanding in the United States
and has become an important force in American art education (Zorpette & 
Glenn, 1993). 

Gerald King, a contemporary representational artist, also believes the lack of good
training in his own art education has led him to learn by the use of direct copying from
paintings at the museum (Grubman, 1996). Believing he has survived fifty years of
non-representational art, he admits, "In my lifetime, drawing and real-life painting 
have been basically ignored. There was nobody to teach me. Nobody living, that is. 
The old masters have become my teachers" (p.58). Seeing the brushstroke and depth
of color and multiple colorations not seen in reproductions are among the benefits of
copying a master from direct observation, according to him.

I believe copying can be a valuable tool to teach various concepts in art and, when
skills and techniques become more sophisticated through copying, students are more
likely to try original variations of the work. Eventually, mastering of skills and
techniques will give the individual the complete freedom to express him/herself more
genuinely and creatively.


D'amico, V. (1953). Creative Teaching in Art. Pennsylvania, Scranton:
International Textbook Company.

Dowell, M. L. (1990). Effects of visual referents upon representational
drawing of the human figure. Studies in Art Education, 31 (2), 78-85. 

Duncum, P. (1984). How 35 children born between 1724 and 1900 learn to draw.
Studies in Art Education, 26 (2), 93-102.

Duncum, P. (1988). To copy or not to copy: a review. Studies in Art Education,
29 (4), 203-210.

Duncum, P. (1999). What elementary generalist teachers need to know to teach 
art well. Art Education, 52 (November), 33-37.

Gombrich, E. H. (1979). Ideas and idols. New York: Phaidon Press Limited.
Grubman, C. (1996). Studying painting in the National Galery of Art. American Artist, 
60 (May), 56-59. 

Kozlowski, P. J. & Yakel, N. G. (1980). Copying, the direct line to creativity. 
Art Education, 33(8), 24-27.

Lowenfeld, V. (1964). Creative and mental growth. New York: The Macmillan 
Company, 4th edition.

Malvern, S. B. (1995). Inventing 'Child Art': Franz Cizek and modernism. British
Journal of Aesthetics, 35 (July), 262-272.

Pariser, D. (1979). Two method of teaching drawing skills. Studies in Art Education, 
20 (3), 30-42.

Pariser, D. (1980). Copying the "+1" phenomenon: how do children benefit from
copying adult works? The Journal of the Saskatchewan Society for Education 
Through Art, Fall, 3-11.

Pariser, D. (1999). Conventionality. Encyclopedia of Creativity, Vol.1, 373-383. 

Reynolds, J. (1959). Discourses on art. London: Yale University Press. 

Smith, N. (1985). Copying and artistic behaviors: children and comic strips. 
Studies in Art education, 26 (3), 147- 156. 

Viola, W. (1936). Child art and Franz Cizek. Vienna: Austrian Jounior Red Cross. 

Wilson, B. & Wilson, M. (1977). An iconoclastic view of the imagery sources of the
drawing of young people. Art Education, 30 (1), 5- 11.

Zorpette, Glenn. (1993). Anatomy of an art school. Art News, 92 (Feburary), 85-89.