Studio learning: Motivation, competence, and the development of young art students’ talent and creativity

Rostan, S.M. (2010). Studio learning: Motivation, competence, and the development of young art students’ talent and creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 22(3), 261-271.


In this study, the researcher investigates the behaviors related to the development of artistic creativity and talent in 51 middleclass, suburban students who voluntarily attend a private afterschool drawing program in New York. To measure artistic talent and components of creativity the researcher administered video recorded one-on-one drawing tasks in which students produced a drawing from imagination and from life using objects made available to them. Additionally, expert judges provided assessments of the students’ technical skill and creativity evidenced in the drawings. In order to measure motivation, in this case the extent to which cognitive activities are important and desirable to the student, the researcher administered a Need for Cognition Scale (NCS) at the end of each drawing session, and collected data on how long each student had participated in the arts program. Correlational analyses suggest that technical skills permit more sophisticated thinking about visual artwork production. This sophisticated thinking ultimately facilitates the expression of creativity and talent in both young and older, more experienced art students.

Key Findings:

Students who participated in the art program longer and had more years of artistic training were more efficient in their problem finding, or their ability to identify problems and adapt to new solutions as they present themselves. This efficiency is evidenced in increases in life-drawing technical skill, amount of time spent generating ideas, and creativity.

The art students’ technical skills in life-drawing proved to be an effective predictor of their information processing abilities and creative skills for both life-drawing and drawing from imagination.

The research revealed a positive correlation between the number of years a student attended the art program and their likelihood to continue to attend, suggesting that motivation for arts participation is a loop. First, students are motivated to achieve artistic competence and achievement of competence encourages more motivation for higher levels of competence.

Students’ need for cognition emerged and evolved through the practice of increasingly seeking and attaining competence in art skills. Need for cognition is a habit of mind and motivating factor that represents students’ need and enjoyment of thinking.

Significance of the Findings:

The significance of the research lies in its investigation of necessary conditions for the expression of creativity and motivation in art students. Students are better able to express their creativity when they are armed with technical skill, suggesting that art skills may be a requisite for developing creativity in students. Additionally, the study illuminates a cycle of motivation that can be supported and encouraged in order to build cognitive skill and student enjoyment in thinking and learning.


Participants in the correlational study included 51 children ranging in age from nine to 15 who voluntarily participate in an after-school drawing program. All of the students were from suburban New York public schools and had been participating in the art program for at least one and half years at the start of the study. In order to compare skill level and motivation to participate, the researcher divided the sample of students into two groups based on age, with 25 younger students (nine to ten and a half year olds) in one group and 26 older students (10.8 to 15 year olds) in the other group. Students received one and a half hour art lessons each week in small groups of mixed age and ability. The art program included a long-term project for each student, employing techniques and skills they learned in acrylic painting.

The researcher collected data from the students in the form of video recorded imaginative and from-life drawing exercises that were then scored for technical skill and creativity by a panel of expert judges. The videotapes of the drawing exercises were scored for problem finding by dividing the amount of time between understanding the task and completing the first two forms that remained in the final drawing and the total amount of time spent drawing. The total amount of time drawing was also used to measure the students’ persistence in representing ideas graphically. The researcher measured motivation by administering the Need for Cognition Scale and by collecting information on how long each student had participated in the program. The researcher used statistical methods to analyze various combinations of data.

Limitations of the Research:

The sampling of students for this study was limited in that it only represents a suburban, middle-class community and a private art program. Students also self-selected into the after-school art program, further limiting the generalizability of the study findings. The research design lacks a comparison group to establish stronger correlations. An additional limitation to the research includes the need to expand the description of the Need for Cognition Scale as a measure of motivation and better link it to study results.

Questions to Guide New Research:

In relation to this study, future research can address the need for additional measures of challenge and motivation and expand to a wider range of student demographics and program offerings. Further research might also explore the elements of creativity and specifically how they are developed, encouraged, and strengthened through arts learning, not just in visual arts but in dance, theater, and music as well. Future research could also benefit from investigating the transfer effects of the motivation and competence cycle revealed in the current study, to see if participation in arts courses impacts motivation and the need for cognition in other subjects.