Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Art, children, reflection, children... everyone?

Today we have visited Färgfabriken (The Colour Factory) with five of our children to experience some prototypes for an art exhibition for VERY young children...

There were strict instructions - that we teachers should become "invisible" to allow the children to experience the art "their way". The concept (as I have interpreted it) is to see how children view art - are adults adapting art to make it "child-friendly"? Does art need to be simplified for art to comprehensive to children...

I think that one of the main things that I have come away from this experience is that maybe this is not about children... maybe in reality children NEVER have an issue with art, or their ability to interpret the art... but that it is the adults that have a problem...
The more I observe children the more I see that they can take delight in just about EVERYTHING - and given the chance they can reflect and imagine in just about EVERYTHING... the problem comes as they grow up - as Picasso says "all children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up"... so my reflection is... maybe this is an exhibition for adults THROUGH children - yes it is the children that access the art, that experience the art, that play with the art... but this allows the adults accompanying them an opportunity to access art in a different way. Sometimes I think art is made inaccessible...

I remember HATING modern art - I just didn't get it... now I view it in a different way (although there is some I STILL just don't get) - now I view possibilities from a child's perspective - I have abandoned my adult eyes and see it through new eyes... through possibilities to recreate new stories through the hands and hearts of young children... modern art is SO forgiving in that sense, it really can be just ANYTHING.

A week ago I ended up in a discussion about art with a friend (who has artist friends) and I was somewhat shocked about the snobbery in the art world (I have now viewed art through children's eyes for such a long time... with wonder and amazement with fantasy and stories and with imagination...) - but to hear that in the art world there are those who say unless you exhibit in certain galleries you are not a serious artist - it is just snobbery beyond belief - and for me is NOT art (although a part of it)... sometimes I feel that art has lost it's soul... as its not representing the artist, but the artist is trying to be as tricky as possible... "how can I be complicated  - how can I appear intellectual?"... don't get me wrong, I like art that makes you think... but do we have to think HARD all the time? Can't we just feel?
So somehow I think that this art experience... this prototype might just allow us the chance to FEEL art again - to not only give children the confidence to enjoy art, but more importantly be a gateway for adults to open for their children to the arts... by allowing the adults to see their children appreciate art, to hear their appreciation, to hear their interpretations, might be the key to children remaining artists until adulthood.?
this was the very first thing that greeted the two 3.5 year olds that I was with (3x 2.5 year olds were in the other group) - this eyeball moved in the jar, it made a sound - and the sound and the movement definitely caught your attention. I did as I was asked - and made my self as invisible as possible - so I was somewhat surprised at how much the artist was involved in the children's experience - but there again this was HIS first experience with young children (which makes for a VERY exciting recipe of ideas)... in a sense there was too much eagerness to show everything and not enough of a pause to allow the children to see and to move to each item in the room - especially when some of them were a little frightening... In the end I interfered with the eyeball - I had to point out the sound "listen... what does it remind you of" "the underground train" was the reply - and yes I could understand that, there was a rhythm that certainly reminded you of a train... eventually the eyeball was taken out of the jar and allowed to roll around the floor - now THAT was really exciting - not only from the point of view of the eyeball's unpredictability but also fro a teacher's point of view of watching how these children interacted with each other... The eyeball was VERY hard to get in and out of the jar - so not something a child would do on their own.... I was also fascinated by the fact that neither of the children had picked up the jar before the artist himself did...

the same was for the case of these hands with ears (on the photo you cannot see the ears)... when I walked into the room my first feeling about the hands were that they were a little creepy, and that they looked far too fragile for young hands... Neither of the children were keen on approaching these hands and the artist encouraged them to touch them ("you first" said one of the children). The artist picked up the hand and allowed the children a closer look....
later, one of the children picked up one of the hands as the artist did, and dropped it, breaking 2 of the fingers clean off (at this stage I have to admit I was GREATLY relieved by the fact that I was supposed to be invisible - and that in a way that my gut feeling about the hands had been right). The child tried to repair the finger back onto the hands - calmly, but interested in the process, trying to work out which finger belonged where... the artist responded that "it doesn't matter"... this I have reflected upon all day and I find I simply cannot reconcile with it... it was not OK, the child WANTED to repair the hand, she felt responsibility, and I felt that this was a GOOD thing - perhaps by saying that it didn't matter we feel as adults we are not harming the child's self -esteem - but what message are we sending "its OK to break other people's things"? I hardly think that this is the message we want to send... WHAT IF this hand IS used in the final exhibition (and it can be mass produced) what about having a station for "broken hands" that if hands get broken the children can take them to  a place to try and fix them - different materials can be at "hand" to do this... then there could be a table/stage for all the broken hands that maybe grows over time and becomes its own piece of artwork... what would this story tell us? When I started thinking about this it made me think of Etruscan medical votives (OK way back in the day I did a degree in history and ancient history - and the Etruscans were one area I focused on!!)

here is an image of the Etruscan votives - images of a body part that the Etruscans wished to be healed, left at the temple with a small offering... if you ever have the chance to look at this artwork you will also notice there are an awful lot of wombs (fertility obviously being high on the priority list)
it took a long while for the children to move to the hair that could be moved up and down, but once they saw they could control it they were all into it... It moved and flowed wonderfully, made me want to have a hairdryer or a fan and to be able to blow the hair in different directions, to see it flow. This was not the only hairy item in the room... both hairy items did not attract the children at all - which made me think of the number of children I have met over the years that have been afraid of beards... is it the fact that you don't know what is behind the hair that makes it scary? Is this something that could be used as part of the art?

here is the other hairy item... a mouth - or a... well my mind saw something completely different... The child behind is squeezing a bottle connected to a tube that connects to the work of art - which causes the "mouth" to exhale. I could see that both squeezing the bottle and feeling the puffs of air coming out were fun... but personally I just did not like how it looked, I think this was the piece of art I understood the least today... IT was though a great way to see children taking turns....

mirrors with this age are just brilliant - they LOVED looking at their distorted reflections and laughed and laughed.



Then it was time to leave the first room and go into the second room with another artist. I don't have an image of the first part as it was just too dark. BUT after allowing the children to simply experience the BIG echoing room the children were then ready to look at her things...
The first thing to look at was a big sheet of white material hanging - and a small hole in the window was left open, EVERYTHING else in the room was blacked out... this meant that onto the material an image outside was projected - the children were calm, they were, for the first time, able to reflect on what they were seeing. They talked about turtles and a balloon (the image was of a balloon in a tree) . On our way back to the preschool we were reminded to look for the ballon and the tree - which we found of course...

next we went to a kaleidascope (for want of a better word) where the children could go inside and experience the light and the reflections in the mirrors - as all the walls were mirrors. At first we were in there together the children, the artist and myself ... the children noticed there were many people in there - many of everyone, they mentioned the patterns and made reference to "twinkle twinkle little star" - but it was hard to focus - they were laughing giggling and tickling each other...
we adults left the space and through the crack I could see there was more exploration of the mirrors... but one of the children repeatedly opened the door to see if I was still there. So I became "visible" again and said that I wasn't going anywhere and would remain just outside while they were inside. BUT the door-opening continued, but now it felt different - now it felt more of a control thing... the sense that she could open and close the door and decide when I was allowed to see her or not... in the sense it felt like the other room... not so much experiencing but testing the limits of control, testing and trying out how they affect the world around them... these are just as valid responses as those of watching and experiencing - BUT I think it is harder for parents to accept this - to allow their children to test test test when there is a sort of expectation that they should be experiencing and reflecting... maybe for these three year olds (and many other like them) there needs to be time to just test and be a part of - and to later have a time to sit and reflect - may be another calm light experience without so much stimulus for reflection to occur? OR simply a table to sit around to talk... ooo imagine a table with a screen in the middle that could have images of what they have just seen and experienced to aid their memories and deepen their reflection...

on top of the mirror room was this sort of light projected and moving, reflecting in all the mirrors.


The final piece to see was light being reflected by a mirror so that the children could chase (it felt like watching kittens) but they both laughed with great delight

every once in a while it paused long enough to put their foot on it

they also got the chance to try using the mirror themselves - not so easy when you don't really understand the principal behind it - but it is a great lesson for learning it....
on the way back to preschool on of the children noticed that her shoes made light reflections - and I helped her to link up with what she had done with the mirror.



It was a very interesting morning. When we asked what the most interesting part of the morning had been - there was the reply of the underground train that had taken us there...
to me this simply signals that children see art and appreciate life in completely different ways that what we adults do... (I also reflected on this during the afternoon when we were creating art with stones, shells and pine-cones  on some material; the pinecones were not what I would call attractive - they were munched on, squashed and in general not the finest cone specimens ever - but they had been collected by the children and they considered them beautiful... which makes me think, how much are we restricting children by imposing our own values of beauty upon them?) I  do think that an exhibition of this kind allows parents to allow their children to explore art more - it also allows children to open a door to the arts to adults that might have forgotten about it or felt it beyond their reach... this I feel can allow children to maintain their own artistic feelings for longer by being surrounded by adults that support and encourage them to explore, and will explore with them, and not because they feel obliged to, but because of their own new interest in it...

or maybe I am reading too much into this...?

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