drawing assessment and artistic skill

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  • The Arts in Psychotherapy, Vol. 18, pp. 347-352. Q Pergamon Press plc, 1991. Printed in the U.S.A. 0197-4556191 $3.00 + .OO



    The impact of art training on drawing assessment techniques has received scant consideration by art therapists. Some justification for this neglect can be made by pointing out that many of the expressive features of drawings- such as color use, quality of line, symbolic imagery, placement-are compara- tively independent of drawing skill. The formal ele- ments of a drawing, however, are also subject to interpretation. For example, the degree of differen- tiation or sophistication of a drawing is viewed as a reflection of psychological maturity in a number of rating schemes (Witkin, Dyk, Faterson, Goodenough, & Karp, 1962). It is in this last instance, logic tells us, that skill is most likely to influence interpretive results.

    A review of the literature of drawing assessment reveals how others have dealt with-or failed to deal with-this concern. Among the psychologists who have developed and promoted projective drawing techniques, Machover (1949) has emphasized that lack of skill is no handicap whereas Hammer (1958) has provided assurances that art training does not mask the expression of valuable personal material. Harris (1963), on the other hand, has looked more closely at possible effects. He reports an experiment by Goodenough (1926) indicating that training in drawing the human figure can influence her Draw- A-Person (DAP) Test score. Nevertheless, he ap- pears to have accepted Goodenoughs dismissive statement that such training is not commonly given in school. Taking an opposing view, some psychol- ogists have conducted studies that have led them to

    cite artistic skill as a serious threat to the validity of drawing tests. Whitmyre (1953), for example, has concluded that ratings of personal adjustment based on figure drawings really measure artistic ability. In addition, Sherman (1958) and Cressen (1975) have made similar judgments concerning other ratings us- ing the DAP.

    Turning to the writings of art therapists does lit- tle to resolve these conflicting claims. Whether ex- plicating the art assessment process (Oster & Gould, 1987) or presenting research related to a particular procedure (Cohen, Hammer, & Singer, 1988), these otherwise thoughtful accounts tend to sidestep this particular problem.

    Although the need to control for artistic ability has been emphasized by a few (Handler, 1984; Sims, Dana, & Bolton, 1983), the overall impres- sion conveyed by the literature is that drawing skill has an all or nothing effect on drawing analysis. The possibility that skill has a definite but limited influence is not sufficiently entertained. The purpose of this paper is to further investigate the effects of this variable. More specifically, it is to present a study that evaluates the impact of drawing training on the type of drawing rating likely to be sensitive to its influence: a rating of drawing differentia- tion designed to reflect level of psychological development.

    The Study

    The purpose of this study was to lay the ground- work for a nonverbal measure of ego development.

    *This paper is based on a research project undertaken in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Arts in the School of Education, Health, Nursing, and Arts Professions of New York University. TFrances Kaplan, Book Review Editor for The Arts in Psychotherapy, is Coordinator of the Creative Arts Therapy Program at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY.



    As mentioned above, others had constructed rating schemes based on formal drawing elements. These schemes were intended to measure certain develop- mental variables such as sexual differentiation (Swen- son, 1955; Swenson & Newton, 1955), intellectual maturity (Harris, 1963), and differentiation of body concept (Witkin et al., 1962). A similar approach might provide the key to assessing overall psycho- logical development. I was not particularly con- cerned about the effects of drawing skill but included an art training questionnaire in my procedure-just in case. I was indeed surprised when the impact of training turned out to be my most compelling result. Although I did obtain some modest correlations be- tween my rating scheme and a verbal measure of ego development (see below), the apparent strong interaction with previous art training indicated to me that some means to control for drawing skill would be needed to make this a fully valid scale.

    Table 1. Demographic and diagnostic variables for sample groups


    Research Participants

    The sample consisted of 59 adult male and fe- male psychiatric patients and 37 adult male and fe- male nonpatients. The patient portion of the sample was drawn from the population of a short-term pri- vate psychiatric hospital. Only patients from un- locked units were involved. (Patients on locked units were not included as it was important for partici- pants to be sufficiently oriented to follow the neces- sary directions and to give their informed consent.) The nonpatient portion consisted of two subgroups: 20 residents of a nonpsychiatric alcohol rehabilita- tion program attached to the hospital (designated re- hab residents) and 17 employees of an industrial research institution (designated AB employees). At the time of the study, average length of stay for pa- tients and rehab residents was about 4 weeks. The participants as a whole were predominantly white, middle-class suburbanites. The age range was 15- 76, with a mean age of 38.7. Demographic and di- agnostic variables for the sample groups are summarized in Table 1.


    Rehab AR Patients residents Employees

    Variable (?I = 59) (n = 20) (It= 17)

    Age Range 15-76 26-63 21-60 Mean 37.3 46.5 34.7

    Sex Females 25 (42%) 6 (30%) 9 (53%) Males 34 (58%) 14 (70%) 8 (47%)

    Education High school or 28 (47%) 12 (60%) 3 (18%)

    less College or more 30 (51%) 8 (40%) 12 (71%) Unknown 1 - 2

    Diagnosis Alcohol 24 (41%) 20 (100%) -

    dependence Drug abuse/ 5 (8%) - -

    dependence Mood disorders 18 (31%) - -

    Psychotic disorders 5 (8%) - -

    Other 7 (12%) - -

    pletion Test of Ego Development (WUSCTED). De- veloped by Loevinger and co-workers (Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; Loevinger,Wessler, & Redmore, 1970), this measure is informed by theory that de- fines ego development as passage through a hierar- chy of invariant stages-resulting in changes in im- pulse control, moral style, interpersonal relations, conscious preoccupations, and cognitive complexity. Symbols and names for ego-development stages are as follows: I-l, autistic-symbiotic; I-2, impulsive; delta, self-protective; delta/3, ritualistic-traditional; I-3, conformist; I-3/4, self-aware; I-4, conscientious; I-4/5, individualistic; I-5, autonomous; I-6, inte- grated. These stages describe increasing levels of maturity with the I-6 stage representing an ideal state that few obtain. It is of note that the I-3/4 level has been found to be the modal level for adults (Holt, 1980).


    The measure of psychological development em- ployed was the Washington University Sentence Com-

    The first ego-level, I-l, is essentially preverbal and cannot be assessed by a written measure. The other nine levels can be scored by the WUSCTED. The WUSCTED consists of 36 sentence stems, scored by assigning an ego-level rating to each item re-

    Robert R. Holt (undated) coined this name as Loevinger did not provide one for this stage.


    sponse. A total protocol rating (TPR) is then derived from a distribution of these scores. The male and female versions of Form 11-68 of the WUSCTED were used. The resultant protocols were scored us- ing the published scoring instructions and item man- uals (Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; Loevinger et al., 1970) and some unpublished item manuals (Holt, undated). The TPRs were obtained by using the au- tomatic scoring rules. For the purposes of this study, a final score was then obtained by dividing the TPRs into three categories. A category rating of 1 was as- signed for TPRs of I-3 and below; a rating of 2, for I-314; and a rating of 3 for I-4 and above.

    Research has indicated that construct validity for the WUSCTED is good (Loevinger, 1979). Further, interscorer reliability has been shown to be high. The median interscorer correlation for TPRs has been reported as .86 (Loevinger & Wessler, 1970). In this study, the TPR category ratings of the prin- cipal scorer (myself) produced an acceptable corre- lation of .90 when compared with those of another scorer.

    The drawing measure consisted of the task for the Kinetic Family Drawing Technique (K-F-D) (Bums & Kaufman, 1972) along with a drawing rating scheme designed for this study. The K-F-D task was used because it offers sufficient complexity to give indications of drawing differentiation and integra- tion. The interpretative manual for the K-F-D was not used because it provides a largely impressionis- tic approach. A more objective scheme, based on formal rather than symbolic drawing elements, was developed. It involves assigning a rating for degree of drawing sophistication for each of two pictorial elements--form and space. A total rating, the draw- ing category rating, is obtained by combining the separate form and space ratings. Proceeding from least to most sophisticated, category ratings of 1, 2, or 3 are possible. (The process by which the rating scheme was developed has been detailed elsewhere- Kaplan, 1985.)

    The drawing rating scheme was applied to the research sample by two raters w


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