Last night we were treated to a complete surprise by Marsh, who do risk analysis and insurance for schools (they were touting for business, kindly, which is why we ended up on their amply-funded hook at one of the best freebies I have ever received). We were invited to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition for a private viewing for two hours – one of the best ways to spend an evening that I know. We were amply supplied with as much drink as we could cope with, and canapes that tasted like meals in themselves. I have never been to the Summer Exhibition before, but will eagerly go again. It was, I gather, slightly different from the newcomers’ exhibition that it was designed for in the 18th century, and had some well established artists – ones I know about and noticed were Yinka Shonabare, Anselm Kiefer, Norman Ackroyd (his stunning view of the Stour was on view) and the print collective known as Pine Feroda, who have taught me most of what I have learnt about woodcut. Tons of other stuff, of course, too numerous to mention – well over 1000 pieces of art over 8 galleries or so.
The title of this blog comes from a piece by Bob and Roberta Smith, illustrated above: Art makes children powerful. I found that it was a useful title to guide my thinking about art as a social tool rather than craft only, and as a medium of empowerment rather as a means of decoration. Of all the things that were on display in the Summer Exhibition, only a handful were decorative merely. Virtually everything had an expressive power – and I stayed mainly in the two printmaking galleries – combined with fantastic skill and execution.
It got me thinking – do we, as teachers, use art as a means of empowerment? Perhaps we do. Every time we teach skills to children, we empower them, and each time we ensure that children get to record the way they see the world, we do likewise. However, skills and vision are both needed to become artists, and often we (in the spirit of Picasso who said that the struggle for children is to remain artists as they grow) encourage children to see without giving them the context of what “seeing” looks like. The skills of artistic interpretation depend on seeing the world in a particular way, so interpreting the metaphors through which children see the world in any case.
So yes, art makes children powerful, provided that we teach them the accurate execution of skills, and through our own sight, through literature and story, science, scale and sense, teach children the many ways that they can see the world.
Malaguzzi taught that children have 100 languages. Many of those are the way they interpret the world. If we can act as facilitator-translators for them, and enlarge their view of the world and everything in it, we are empowering them, and this art will make them more powerful.