Curating Curiosity
: an exploration of visual art experiences and self-identity formation through the voices of young children

  • Anna Robb

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    As human beings our identities are formed from birth as we draw on our connections to people, places and the experiences we encounter in life. For young children, adults are crucial in directing these experiences, whether this is at home, school or further afield and therefore they play a key role in identity formation. In the world of education this means that decisions are made by adults based on what is considered best for young children in order to succeed in the future. This has the potential however to have both an enabling and a limiting effect on children’s lives. In a climate where arts education funding is being cut and awareness of children’s voice and rights is growing in strength, this PhD seeks to explore experiences of visual arts and perceptions of self-identity from a child’s perspective with the aim of informing adult perspectives of arts education policy and practice in primary schools.

    The main argument focuses on children as autonomous identity curators continuously drawing on their curiosity of the world. By engaging them in dialogue about their experiences and lives, adults will be presented with an alternative perspective of the world that can be used to genuinely meet individual needs in young children. The research question 'How do visual art experiences interact with children’s self-identity?’ is addressed drawing on the principles of bricolage to discuss and analyse the issues through multiple lenses, including the work of Dewey, Bourdieu, and Giddens. A small-scale, multiple case-study, interpretivist approach has therefore been adopted focused on nine participants drawn from four classes from two schools in a Scottish city. Data were gathered during the academic session of 2016-2017 employing narrative inquiry and arts-informed, participatory methods and analysis. Each participant presented a uniquely different relationship with visual art, with some indicating that it was an integral part of their identity and others not so much. Adults, both at school and home, were key in informing this and in one sense the children lacked autonomy and agency in their visual art experiences. However they were autonomous when it came to determining the value of these experiences in their lives and in their identity, with each drawing on their curiosity of the world in different ways to determine this. Rather than create identity, they curated it. They presented a reasoned perspective of their experiences, and highlighted an awareness of aspects of visual art that in some cases came more from their experiences outside of school than from within. Thus at times the perspective was at odds with the intentions of the adult world, particularly from education and creative industries viewpoints; the children created their own meaning and learning from their experiences which were in contrast to the intended learning of the adult world. They also demonstrated a curiosity and open-mindedness in relation to visual art which was not necessarily developed fully by the adults in their lives.

    This PhD is therefore important because it demonstrates that children do have a degree of agency and autonomy in the formation of their identity and that they develop interests and knowledge that is independent of adult intentions regarding teaching and learning. It is a key piece of research which also presents the voices of children who are not currently represented in academic research in this depth. Finally it raises questions regarding the effectiveness and relevance of current art education practice in education and cultural institutions for children in the contemporary world.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDivya Jindal-Snape (Supervisor) & Susan Levy (Supervisor)


    • art education
    • children's voice
    • identity
    • primary education

    Cite this