It is ideal to have a separate, large, well lit room for art activities in every school. But we all know that an average village school, unfortunately, does not have even a room each for all the classes. What could be the solution in such a situation? In case the school has only one room for all the classes, it would help to keep that room nicely arranged so that it generates some inspiration in the children to do some creative activities. Paintings by children can be displayed with care on the walls of the room. The display should be changed regularly, as and when there are new works done by the children. Actually, children themselves like to arrange these periodic exhibitions. There is no need to buy readymade equipment for the display. Simple items such as bamboo or cane mats can be used as background and acacia (babool) thorns as pins to fix the pictures. It would not only be the least expensive, but would also be an exercise in aesthetic understanding and resourcefulness. Children's artwork, aesthetically arranged on the walls of the classroom, is always a source of encouragement for them.
If there are more rooms than one in the school, the teachers, council can decide to allocate one of the classrooms to be used as the art room. It should be arranged in the manner described above. One side of the room will have the art material and equipment, well arranged and neatly maintained so that it will be inviting to the children to sit there and work on their pictures or whatever art work they want to do. I need not reliterate the fact that the child is all the time ready to accept new challenges.
Another idea worth following is to arrange wall displays of the art work by children of other schools. My own experience in this regard has been very positive. It has always helped children with new ideas. It will not be an overstatement to say that a creative atmosphere is as important as having a good teacher. In other words, the quality of education will be good if the educational climate of the school is sound and creative. In an earlier chapter we have discussed this subject at full length. We have emphasized the fact that it is the responsibility of the teacher to create a sound educational atmosphere and that the quality of education depends on it.
It will be more than sufficient if teachers who are beginning to take child art seriously are able to follow the information and suggestions based on the experience of many experienced teachers and educational thinkers. If teachers are able to perform their duties in this manner, there is no doubt their pupils will experience the feelings of joy and fulfilment. Moreover, teachers who are able to continue studying childhood and the issues that affect the child's growth, can make their work more scientific and interesting.
Educational psychologists divide people into various types according to their natural characteristics, tastes and tendencies. It is expected that educators take these into account while making their educational plans. If a person is inclined toward literature, the educational programme ought to be based in such a way that his or her inclination is given all the necessary support and incentive. Some may be of the "technical type"; in a literary frame, they would prove to be misfits. They would be miserable and gain nothing. In fact, it might do them harm. Therefore, a good understanding of human nature is a basic need for planning educational programmes.
There are various kinds of typological categories worked out by psychologists. Teachers can learn a great deal from studying about it, and improve their understanding of the child. If teachers are able to grasp the importance of understanding the nature of every child in their class according to his psychological type, it will help them in planning their work more scientifically. Thus, they will be better equipped for giving the appropriate guidance to their pupils, and develop a sympathetic attitude toward their work. It is not my task here to go into the academic aspect of the subject. At the end of this book, there is a bibliography which should help in making a further, in-depth study in this field.
Keeping Record of Children's Art Work
A systematic routine that is needed to make the work of the teacher more effective is the practice of keeping record of the art work done by children. Beginning from the first scribblings of a child, the teacher should regularly pick up some representative work by him and keep them in a file in a systematic manner. It will help in assessing the growth and development of the child, and when the time comes, it may also assist in guiding the child's future educational programme. One has to be careful not to pile up all the drawings of children. There ought to be a selective process. The file should be so arranged that a quick glimpse should be sufficient to provide a fairly good idea of the child's growth. If the child artist wants to see his file, it should make him understand whether he is making progress or not. A child who has been making similar kinds of pictures all the time, should be able to realize the fact even without the teacher telling him that he is not being very creative. Such a file is also useful at the time of arranging exhibitions of their work.
I had preserved many pictures made by our pupils over long periods. These files gain further importance when we exchange work by our children with the work of children of other schools. When children learn about such exchanges, they feel thrilled and encouraged. A by-product of such activities is the generation of friendship among children of several schools and the enhancement of their aesthetic sense.
Art appreciation is an integral part of art education. Ordinarily, it implies a historical and analytical knowledge of the art traditions of one's own culture as well as that of others. However, I attach a much wider connotation and greater importance to it than is implied by its commonplace definition. In this chapter, we shall try to explore the possibilities of creating a deeper understanding of art among people at large and children, who have reached their adolescence, in particular.
During his early years, the child has neither the need to learn anything about what is understood to be art appreciation, not does it help the child in his artistic creativity. It is helpful only during and after the child has reached the stage when such knowledge makes sense along with his intellectual growth and emotional clarity. It is not implied here that children do not need to get acquainted with good examples of art, past and present. In fact the more good paintings, sculptures and handicrafts children see, the more inspired they are with new ideas and experiences.
As far as giving knowledge about art appreciation is concerned, I can say, with all the emphasis possible, that the influence of adult art harms the creativity of children of preadolescent age. This simple fact has been emphasized on various occasions in this book. However, as far as adolescents are concerned, they do benefit from the knowledge of various art traditions. It is because at the beginning of the stage of adolescence, one feels the need to work as an adult. So, instead of showing him examples of cheap and popular taste, it will obviously be more sensible that he studies, in his own way, the examples of art that are more or less universally accepted as great art.
Every society has its own art traditions, classical as well as folk, which have become part and parcel of the life of the people. Hence, one's own art traditions should be at the top of the list of art traditions to be acquainted with. Once you understand your own traditions well, it is easier to understand that of others.
There are two major aspects of art appreciation. Firstly, art should be understood through nature, and secondly, it should help in the understanding of nature. Genuine understanding of art is intimately related to one's identification with nature. So, the first requirement is to try to reach nature through the medium of art. In other words, to be able to understand and appreciate art, it is necessary to study the principles of balance and rhythm in nature. The two paths run parallel, yet are intimately related to each other. In fact, they are mutually interdependent. The teacher who knows that art appreciation is an important part of the education of the adolescent, should also create situations wherein the student is able to discover the close relationship between art and nature. At this juncture, I must point out that by nature I do not mean only its visual aspect. Nature here should be understood in its totality, of which its visual aspect is only a part.
Generally speaking, school or college syllabi for art appreciation are not much more than a list of facts to be learnt by rote. For example, some experts on the subject may have gathered loads of historical information about the art of a particular region or culture. They are also able to write books on the subject, but, in all likelihood, may not have become sensitive enough to the aesthetic value of the art objects of that culture. Most probably they would choose calendar type pictures, when they went to the art market to buy paintings for their living-rooms, lobbies and bedrooms. They may be able to unhesitatingly point to a painting and tell you that it belongs to a particular school, period or cultural background. But that kind of art appreciation is not of much use.
By art appreciation, we mean an understanding of good art, developing the sense of aesthetics, and differentiating between beautiful and ugly objects. What we mean by it is developing the sensitivity to pick up a piece of good art at first sight.
The historical aspect of art appreciation is its secondary requisite. Without adding anything more to it, I shall only describe what Acharya Nandalal Bose once said. He had put it in a very helpful manner. While expressing his scheme, he had the university educational system and its teachers in mind. I have no doubt that teachers everywhere will find these ideas fully applicable in their own situations. The Acharya had said: "the first thing to do is to keep a display of good examples of arts and crafts in the school library, class rooms, reading rooms and living rooms. If original objects are not obtainable, their good photographs and reproductions should be displayed.
"Secondly, the school library should have a good number of books with fine reproductions of art objects, written by people who understand art and aesthetics. We may have to get such books written by the right kind of authors specially for school libraries.
"The third thing to do is to introduce children to selected examples of art of your own culture as well as of other regions of the world. It can be effectively accomplished by showing slides and films."
"The fourth suggestion is for teachers to take their students to museums and galleries to let them get acquainted with the art of the past epochs. If schools can arrange for students to go to football matches, why shouldn't visiting art galleries be possible. It should be remembered that one single well planned study of an example of good art can be more effective for training the eye than listening to a hundred lectures. Looking at good art objects with some understanding, or even without it, from an early age, helps in developing an eye for art and the capability to differentiate between good and bad art, which also enhances the aesthetic sense.
"The fifth suggestion is about bringing children closer to nature. To achieve this objective, organizing seasonal festivals has been found useful. Much of the work connected with such festivals can be done by children themselves. They can collect flowers and leaves and other objects specially associated with each season, and do the decoration with these items. It is important to introduce children to the character of each season by arranging readings of poetry and prose related to that particular season."
"The sixth activity that is helpful for sensitizing children about nature is to introduce them to the seasonal festivals that nature celebrates by itself. For example, every season has its own blossoms and colours of the crops grown during the period. Arrange picnics near the brilliant golden rice fields and where there is abundance of lotus flowers in the country ponds in autumn; 'flame of the forest' (palaas) and 'silk cotton' trees in bloom in spring. Picnics of this nature are a great source of joy to children. They love to wear clothes associated with particular seasons. Once a relationship of admiration, respect and love for nature is established in this manner, children will never lose their sensitivity and creative spirit. After all, it is nature that has provided the artist with all the ingredients for their creativity.
"At the end, it is suggested that schools may regularly organize annual festivals of arts and crafts. In these festivals every student will actively participate by contributing his or her own works of art, specially made for the festival. No one's work should be left out, even if it is of a qualitatively lower level, for, it is more important that each student feels it to be his or her own festival. The display of all the art and craft work must be exhibited in good taste and a dignified manner. Programmes of dance, music and colourful processions will make the festivals richer and colourful. These festivals will have added importance and beauty if arranged during special seasons. For instance, in Bengal autumn would be the right season for it."2 These words of the Master Artist emphasize that there is a close relationship between art and nature. Both can be better understood with the help of each other. Along with imparting educational experiences to the children, it will make the teacher aware of this kind of approach, and of the need for translating it into practice. To be able to guide children, teachers should saturate themselves in the spirit and the vision about which Nandalal Bose has spoken so clearly and effectively.
If over and above the approach towards artistic sensitivity elaborated by the Acharya, history of art is taught in a scientific manner, will surely help in art appreciation. But as it has already been stated, the way the subject of art appreciation is treated today, it will not help the child in developing the spirit of creativity and a sympathetic relationship with the world outside. The crucial point that needs to be repeated here is the necessity of an integration between intellect and aesthetic taste.
I want to add a few more suggestions to the above list. I have found an interesting and useful project for helping children develop a taste which is aesthetically sound as well as functional. The project is to initiate an interest in children to improve their school and classroom environment. Surest to one of the students, or a group of them, that they rearrange their art room or the classroom. They will first empty the room completely and then plan and work out the new arrangement. When it is all done, discuss the project with the whole class. Points to be discussed may be as follows: simplicity of arrangement, free movements choice of wall display, colour scheme, flower arrangement etc. Similar discussions may also be held after each celebration in the school.
How do you dispose of the waste material? The answer to this question can provide interesting information about the level of resourcefulness and creativity of a person or a social group. To make the point, I shall give two illustrations: one from Japan and the other of the tradition of making kantha (quilt) in Bengal. The Japanese have a good sense for using waste material such as cloth, bamboo and paper. It is amazing what beautiful dolls they can make from cut-pieces of cloth and wood waste; papier mache masks, and decorative objects from shredded waste paper; and from waste bamboo, items such as beautiful knives, spoons, on some of which they do artistic calligraphy.
Similarly, the art of making attractive kanthas and quilts from old and often torn sarees with beautiful needlework is an example of artistic and functional use of waste material by the women of Bengal. They may be considered illiterate by the so-called modern educators, but in reality those who can create beautiful objects are the educated people.
The finer awareness of beauty is enhanced by nurturing the power of imagination in the individual. I have known people with good taste taking interest in collecting what many would call funny, interesting objects from nature, such as old twisted and bent pieces or branches of trees, stones with unusual shapes from the seashore or mountains. "Collectors" of such items see interesting shapes and objects in such strange articles. I believe it would be a good training for stimulating the power of imagination, and therefore creativity. As seekers of new experiences all the time, children take much interest in such activities.
If carried out with discretion and a well defined objective, the popular practice of collecting pictures from newspapers and magazines can be a useful medium for developing the sense and skill for the understanding of several aspects of artistic creativity. I have observed a common flaw in this practice: the indiscrete and purposeless collection of prints of bad examples of art objects. (I am not mentioning here anything about the hobby of collecting and displaying of pictures of cinema stars). Teachers have the responsibility of helping children to develop a sense of purpose and selectivity in the process of collecting art reproductions from newspapers and magazines. In our art section of the Sevagram school, we have been able to make a fairly comprehensive collection of prints of paintings of various schools, traditional as well as modern, of Indian and Western painting. One snag, rather a serious one, is about the quality of printing of the magazines.
However, even this "snag" can be "exploited" for bringing home to the students the facts about the correctness of colours and the sophistication required in the printing processes. Comparing an original work of painting with a magazine reproduction is often sufficient to explain to the students, the points to be noticed while selecting prints for their collections.
There can be two separate parts of the activity of collecting prints. The general one is concerned with the technical aspect of the educational programme. For instance, collecting pictures related to general knowledge regarding various subjects. Although the selection of pictures for this part of the activity does not require great aesthetic sense, restraint should be exercised in choosing only good photographs and diagrams.
The other part of this is directly related to art activities. It would, naturally, cover as many branches of art as possible, i.e. painting, sculpture, architecture, handicrafts, etc. The most important task of the teacher here is to create a good sense of selection of the right kind of art objects, i.e. selecting only these prints which give the truest possible impression of the original work. In other words, teachers themselves have to be trained and sophisticated enough to be able to choose the right examples.
I have a concrete suggestion in this regard. Whereas schools can make their own collections and also encourage children to make theirs, there ought to be some kind of centralized mechanism, through which sets of high quality art reproductions from all over the world, classical as well as modern, are always on the move, for exhibition in all the schools of the country. It is true that good quality prints are very expensive and difficult to keep in good shape for long. Therefore, it is all the more important that it has to be some kind of centralized programme, organized by the State and/or some educational trusts. In this way, teachers and students of all schools can have the opportunity to learn about the arts of the world, of all epochs. It would be a good example for the children to make their own collections.
In the education of children, art history and its principles are of no less importance than of the creation of art objects. A careful study of the great works of art is more effective than listening to a dozen lectures on it. But the point I am trying to make here is, that, for such a study the student ought to be psychologically prepared before he can be introduced to the subject. Its introduction to children before they reach the stage of adolescence can be a hindrance in the development of their creativity. But, at the same time, children's looking at great works of art should be treated in the same way as their looking at nature. i.e. with no intellectual objectives. It is only at the beginning of adolescence that the child is ready to consciously learn about art appreciation, and as to how human beings have been reacting to different situations, and how, and with what sort of techniques, they have tried to express their feelings.
The interest in collecting cuttings from newspapers and magazines can also help in the understanding of the principles of aesthetics applicable to our own culture. But it is not sufficient to know only about one's own culture. The world is a much smaller place today. Therefore, it is necessary that when the adolescent is ready to grasp a wider perspective, he or she should be introduced to the art of other cultures.
A proper understanding of art implies the feeling for beauty and the understanding of the principles involved, which also implies the widening of one's vision. In other words, developing a sympathetic feeling for the art of all humankind. After all, human needs and aspirations are common to the whole human race. When seen superficially, its various ways of experiencing joy may look different in different situations and cultures, but basically they all aim at creating beauty and attaining aanandam (joy, bliss). According to their situations, various cultures have given different emphasis to different aspects at different times. But their ultimate objectives are the same. It is like the waves on the surface of the sea, which are different in size and shapes at different places and times, but the ocean at its deepest regions is the same—quiet and unshaken. Hence, it is essential that our educational ideals encompass the whole of humanity, which is an integral part of nature. It is only then that art appreciation will become a source of sympathy and love for humankind.