Monday, October 8, 2012

monday thoughts: children's art

Crown by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Today I'm launching a new series—my first series on this blog, in fact. Every Monday, I'll write a slightly longer-than-usual post about a particular art-related theme. It might be a movement or style or even just a color or subject matter. Today I've got childish art on my mind.
I think a lot about children's art (art both by and for kids, that is). I've got two of them, after all; this wonderful artist has taught them both for years, and making art is one of my favorite things to do with both of my children, from two-year-old Charlie covering his own torso with finger paint to the girly seasonal projects that Tessa will still tolerate. And next Monday, I'll write about art made by children. It might not be polished or technically impressive. But it's uninhibited, unconcerned with unnecessary detail. It's got a great sense of color. It's bold, quick, and totally not self-conscious.

Some of my favorite pieces of art (I'm talking about grown-up art now) have exactly those qualities. Picasso's famous comment is usually translated like this: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Nobody would argue that Picasso kept his childish genius. And that's what I look for in general. Look at Basquiat's crown. Or Serena Mitnik-Miller's watery, deceptively simple abstracted seascapes.

This almost looks like something Tessa could have made with her stencil kit.
And I mean that as the highest compliment.

Or Hugo Guinness's utterly simple and utterly perfect flowers.

He misses the detail but captures the essence.
He's looking at the overall form, like a kid does.

I grew up looking at this Jackson Pollock in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery:

"Convergence" is a classic example of the "my could could do that" genre.
(To which the answer is 1) but your kid didn't do that and 2) that's exactly the point.)

A few more wonderfully childish works:

Rachel Castle, an Australian artist
who does fantastic, graphic pieces in fabric as well as canvas and paper
Alexander Calder
Matisse did cutouts when his eyesight failed.
Another often-maligned "my kid could do that" artist:
Cy Twombly

In college I was lucky enough to study poetry with Kenneth Koch. He wrote this book on teaching poetry to children, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Koch's lessons (pare it down, be true, write what you know/see/feel) work for art, too. The art above shows that emotion, that directness. (Next week I'll write about how kids do it.)

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