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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.4 (2003) 107-114

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A Comparative Study of Artistic Play and Zoukei-Asobi


"Artistic Play" and "Zoukei-Asobi"

Recently, I found an article in Art Education which led me to believe that "artistic play" is not as popular among North America art educators as it is in Japan. 1 For Japanese art educators, especially at the elementary level, this word is well-known as a key term. In Japanese we say "zoukei-asobi." "Zoukei" means "plastic arts activities" and "Asobi" means "playing." I recognized that the basic concept of "artistic play" has something in common with that of "zoukei-asobi." In this article I will identify this as "J-artistic play." The aim of this essay is to compare the meaning of "J-artistic play" by studying its use in Japan and the United States.

The Curriculum Guidelines for Art Education in Japan

Before considering J-artistic play, I should explain the national guideline for art education in Japan, since the objectives and contents of J-artistic play are prescribed by this guideline. We have had a national guideline since 1872 though this has changed drastically to resemble the American model after World War II. The subject corresponding to "Visual Art" in the elementary school is "Art and Handicraft (Zuga-Kousaku)." "Zuga" means drawing and painting, "Kousaku" means design and craft. The current guideline is divided into three parts (I-III) as shown in Table 1.

The first shows a general goal of art education in the elementary school. The second describes the objectives and contents of each grade. The third indicates some key points of teaching for teachers. In the elementary school the curriculum sequence falls into three steps. The content is divided into the two areas ("Hyougen" and appreciation), and Hyougen is divided further into "artistic play" and "art-making." [End Page 107] [Begin Page 110]

I should make some comments on Hyougen. In this guideline, Hyougen is used both as expression and representation. In traditional Japanese aesthetic consciousness, "expression, representation, and decoration" constitute a kind of trinity. The concept of J-artistic play was introduced into the national guidelines for art education in1977. 2 At first, this was available only for grades 1 and 2 in the elementary school, but since 1998 the concept has been extended to grades 1 and 6, as shown in Table 1.

About the Property of J-artistic Play

The activities in J-artistic play do not refer to any traditional art forms, such as painting, sculpture, or handicraft, nor are they derived from any specific art forms. In fact, the purpose for the introduction of this concept into the national guideline is to protect children from falling into conventional ways of representation as found in the traditional art forms. The promoters of J-artistic play thought that the preconceived ideas found in such existing art forms, such as painting might depress children's spontaneous and free expression. Some concepts from contemporary art, such as performance art, have also influenced J-artistic play.

As Eliza Pitri said, "Play is spontaneous and voluntary. It is not obligatory but is freely chosen by the player." Though schooling is compulsory and a student cannot choose it independently, advocates of J-artistic insist that the character of "play" in the school curriculum should be an original and undifferentiated form of learning. One of the advocates of J-artistic play explains the significance of artistic play as an operation of integrated intelligence. 3

Artistic play is different in function from ordinary expressing activities. Ordinary expressing activity works with a blank drawing paper as sterile space, conditioned, virtual...laboratory. Contrarily artistic play works with raw materials, living places, and real environments, and is composed of organized and integrated formative activity by working on the subjects that make conditions for human, objective, and phenomenal interaction. Reorganization of intelligence and the opportunity for acquiring new intelligence are embedded in the activities that work interactively.

Here we note that children will learn a reality from the interaction between the person and his...


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