One of the things that I think makes Children’s Art School so unique is our emphasis on artists, how they think and do things differently to others, their ability to focus on an idea and see it through; their practice often becoming their life’s work. In an age where distraction is one of the key problems for children in a highly visual and technological world there is much we can learn from this and it is so important for our children to engage with the processes artists use in the development of their work.
My background as an education curator, working for one of London’s leading contemporary art galleries taught me the power that artists and particularly those who engage with education and participatory art practice have to help people think differently about the world.
Contemporary art can be exclusive, difficult, elusive and downright frustrating, but it undoubtedly makes you think about the big questions in life in a very direct way because it hits the senses first then engages the mind and if you give it time, it shifts your viewpoint and even forces you to act.
At Children’s Art School, not only do we work directly with artists but in our after school art clubs and courses we reference living, practicing artists all the time so that children can see the real place art has in our world and the value that it has. They can begin to see that powerful statements can be made through visual means and that this is not just the privilege of the written word – the message they get so frequently in school with creative subjects often taking a back seat in their education.
It is vital for me to continue my research into what artists are doing across the world so we can feed this back to the children we work with and continue to inspire them to think big. So what better place for a busy, working mother to catch up with her subject than 4 days exploring one of the most prestigious contemporary art events in the world, The Venice Biennale.
Spending this amount of time away from your family is no mean feat, every mother knows that and spending it with that amount of art – difficult art – makes you confront some of the worlds greatest problems thrusts you out of the world of school runs, laundry and food preparation into another making you question your very existence and what you are doing with your life.
Some would call it torture and pacing the streets of Venice, book and map in hand tracking down artists inhabiting derelict churches, magnificent palazzo, garden pavilions and other unexpected venues is hard when you know its your only chance for a while to get up to date.
Do I get it? Have I missed something crucial? Why can’t I understand that passage in the guide book? Not to mention reading a map in venice, seemingly wasting hours down dead end passages trying to find that all important installation. All the trappings of the worst stereotypes of contemporary art and working in the art industry come back to haunt you.
But punctuate this with meaningful conversations with trusted friends, a lot of laughter (and tears) beautiful surroundings, amazing food and the odd glass of wine, it all falls into place and just looking, thinking, talking and pondering helps you to make sense of it all from your own perspective. A lesson I am only just learning is to trust your judgement and before you know it you have a good sense of what it is that artists are thinking about and you can bet your life it’s the things that REALLY matter. We have a lot to teach our children about this and they understand it far more easily than us.
So what are artists thinking about across the world?
Well it seems the major inequalities playing out across the globe are troubling us all with the poles of Capitalism vs Marxism pretty dominant themes. Das Capital was referenced countless times with the faces of Lenin and Stalin peering accusingly at you round many a corner.
Climate Change also a major theme with trees, bees and birds a strong reference point and mirrors that make you reflect on your place in it all in a culture where its all about ME, ME ME!
Historical references were interesting, showing the artists’ fascination with the past as a means to interpret the present and the future. With poignant references to ‘work’ in the industrial revolution by Jeremy Deller referencing the factory songs sung by workers as a comment on todays zero hour contracts and the wrist bands worn by workers now to monitor productivity – asking us has anything changed?
Petra Bauer asks us what women want by looking at the journey of socialist women activists through historical photo’s from socialist women’s clubs magazine archives and reprints of posters – again posing old questions in a new context, encouraging us to act.
And the plight of refugees seems all the more relevant in this city, Venice where references to colonialism, ships and trade are so easy to find. These happy, waving cats, surely a reference to good fortune, plunge off the conveyor belt of capitalism inviting a guilty chuckle followed by a serious readjustment in your mood.
The invitation to act and participate is perhaps a more positive message with artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija commissioning demonstration drawings of mass uprisings against power, oppression and global capital.
And through his mass firing of bricks stamped with the slogan ‘never work’ by brick workers; transforming simple bricks into ‘art’ which the public are invited to take home with them for a small donation, he asks us to reflect on the idea that work and non work should be indistinguishable – a idea close to my heart!
I could go on…but I have too much else to do!
I know a lot of my readers are not well versed in the language of contemporary art but I hope I have shed a little light on some accessible ideas and some of the motivations behind what I do and why I think it is so important to share this with our children.
Art CAN make children powerful if they are taught to use it as a medium through which to get a message accross.
Signing off for now….