Saturday, February 23, 2013

Some observations of children's art (under 16)

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On my third trip to San Francisco (third trip without any specific destination or purpose, that is), I spent a good amount of time in the Children's Creativity Museum at the Yerba Buena Gardens, specifically the spiral gallery that has been featuring artworks from the International Museum of Children's Art. Perhaps I wanted to get reacquainted with my childhood? i.e. drawing with total abandon and not caring whether it looks "right"?

I did not take any photos because I deliberately chose not to bring my camera so I could be more attuned to my surroundings. I did make the following observations:

(1) The artworks were generally very colorful, with bright hues and sometimes pretty clashing combinations -- lime green next to vermilion next to copper sulfate blue next to chromium yellow, for example. However, a group of paintings and sketches (mainly from the Eastern Europe region) reminded me of Picasso's Blue Period... because they used only blue shades. The subject matters were not particularly depressing, although they were somewhat abstract renditions of faces and people.

(2) Some of them were rather "well-done", meaning that the human anatomical structures, spatial perspectives, and shading techniques were quite mature and sophisticated. Two examples stood out the most to me -- 1. (Done by a 14-year-old Latvian) A watercolor of a winter night in a forest, with a wooden cabin at the center background, a moon on one side of the sky, human footprints going from the foreground to the cabin, and a lone rabbit sitting in the snow at the foreground. The moon's halo and the clouds were blended nicely; all the trees' shadows, reflected light spots in the footprints and on the rabbit were positioned properly. Totally publishable in a children's book :-P only because adults' books usually don't have pictures... 2. (Done by a 13-year-old Uzbek) A traveling bard of prophet sits in a contemplative posture reminiscent of Rodin. His facial expression, light beard, clothing folds, and shading were all meticulously delineated. Back when I was around that age... I might have been able to paint like that on a good day. (My charcoal sketches were the bomb, however.)

(3) Many artworks featured local cultures and history. Especially the colorful traditional South/Southeast Asian garbs. There were lots of farming-related artworks (Central and South Asia) as well as paintings of indoor daily life (Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong). The Austrian kids drew choir singers and the Mozart family. A German kid drew a witch cruising over a coniferous forest. Almost all the people in the artworks had big smiles! Except for the ones doing lots of manual labor that is. I particularly liked the horses, camels, and bulls in the Mongolian drawing of a mystical mountain man. They were tiny but the horses looked like horses and not dogs or pigs :-P

(4) There's an undercurrent of... global pop-culture. In a drawing by a 9-year-old Slovak featuring a three-headed dragon attacking a castle (with the requisite princess trapped inside), the dragon's stomach contents were X-rayed out in full view: packaged MacD food such as fries, burgers, and milkshakes. A Vietnamese (girl -_-) drew some farmers with wide pink hats. Many of the Singaporean and Indonesian family/friends portraits (along with an Argentinian drawing of fairies) displayed a visible influence from Japanese anime, i.e., large and detailed eyes, colorful and textured hair, etc.

(5) Some countries were not represented in this collection. Notably China (government censorship and propaganda?), Japan, Korea (too much time spent in cram schools?) Only ones from South America were one from Argentina and one from Peru. On the African continent... Egypt, Ghana, and Sudan. Lots of Eastern European (Soviet bloc :-P), South, Southeast, and Central Asian representation, especially the *stans. The only artwork in this collection done by an American was called "Two Families", featuring a sailboat with people and some whales big and small.

I wonder how much did these young artists receive prompts re: their subject matter and choice of medium? As a hopelessly analytical adult who has a taste toward postmodern surrealism / magical realism, I want to parse out the elements that originated purely from the children from those that were prompted by adults. I'm sure in some cases the boundary gets blurred. I'm also curious whether the selection in Oslo is much different from the SF cohort. Perhaps it would indicate more complicated (and adult) layers of national and cultural sensibility?

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