Supporting Your Young Artist

Adolescent Artists: Searching for Self

Encouraging the arts for 13-17 year-olds


Young artists at this age spend a lot of time asking one critical question, “Who am I?” As they wrestle with inquiries of independence and identity, the arts play an important role in their explorations.

Features of these ages:

Adolescence is accompanied by major physical changes until 16 or 17 years, when many teens reach physical adult maturity. Understanding who they are is one of the significant developmental tasks for teenagers. Their arts learning should reflect this by being personally relevant to the young artist. Interdependence is another important change for adolescents. Peers are central in a teen’s life. Building successful relationships with other teens and adults is essential. Abstract thinking emerges and the ability to think critically about artistic work.

The arts at this stage:


  • Teens who have studied dance for many years may be ready for a professional approach to training, particularly if they have professional career ambitions.
  • Adolescence is not too late to start. Newcomers to dance are physically maturing and are able to understand the art form’s techniques and aesthetics more quickly than in childhood.
  • Dance is good for teens. The physical activity of dance may have benefits for the adolescent brain and muscular systems beyond the enjoyment and artistry of dance.


  • Participation in formal music ensembles is very beneficial musically and socially. It is common for teens to form long-lasting friendships in musical ensembles.
  • Serious music students will find both large and small ensembles offer opportunities for musical growth and social connections.
  • Informal musical groups (a.k.a. garage bands) form as teens develop enough skill and unique musical interests to perform with peers.
  • Boys’ voices experience major changes. This can increase self-consciousness and can curb boys’ participation in vocal music.
  • Much to parents’ relief, their teen musician becomes increasingly independent in practicing.


  • Teens are ready to be introduced to and take on a variety of roles and responsibilities in theater. More offstage production opportunities open up to them.
  • Attending professional theater builds teens’ understanding of “master” work and contributes to their abilities to analyze and evaluate.

Visual Arts

  • Adolescent artists find drawing the human form to be particularly compelling.
  • It is not uncommon that young teens abandon visual art when their intellectual expectations exceed their artistic capabilities. Positive reinforcement from adults can be influential in persevering.
  • With the onset of abstract thinking, teen artists readily move away from realism into more metaphorical work. The self is often the most compelling subject of artwork to an artist at this age.



Patti Saraniero
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources


Child Development and Arts Education: A review of Current Research and Best Practices. Prepared by the College Board for The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. January, 2012

Image via Creative Commons; flickr.com user stevenpisano

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