This month I’ve tried to begin this article by making it slightly experiential. I request you to indulge me. Take a moment and look at the two paintings given here. Go on, take a moment and a closer look. One of them may draw you towards it more than the other. Choose the one that draws you in. Now, try and respond as honestly to the following questions keeping your choice of painting in mind.
- Why do you think this particular painting draws you in?
- What do you think the painting is doing? Does it tell a story? Evoke a feeling? Document an event? Present an idea?
- Does it evoke a feeling within you? What does it make you feel?
It’s possible that it doesn’t evoke any feeling.
- Perhaps, a thought? An idea? If so, what thought? What idea?
- Does the painting have any emotions of its own? If it has characters, what emotions do they carry?
- Why do you think the artist chose to paint this?
- Does the painting bring to mind any of your own life events/memories?
- How has your opinion of the painting changed from the time you started looking at it until now?
- Do you think other readers will view the painting the way you did? Will their responses to the above questions be the same as yours?
Now, let’s put some attention on these questions and your experience of responding to them. The first question makes one contemplate. No one can answer this question for you and there can be no ‘correct’ answer. The second question simply makes one think, in a very straightforward, literal sense. What do questions 3 and 4 push you to do? They encourage self-expression and opinion, leaving room to step away from participating in it as well. The next two questions (5 and 6) require you to understand the emotions of another, that which is outside of you – they develop empathy. Questions 7, 8 and 9 show us that art is personal and the personal is ever-changing and evolving. There can be no right or wrong – neither for the creator nor for the observer. It also tells us that art is perceived by different people differently, it brings in different perspectives. And finally, we can see that art does not differentiate; it surpasses language, intellect, ability, gender, age – it holds space for all.
This is the foundation of art. Any form of art – be it music, theatre, dance, or visual art. It has the power to help one experience freedom in its truest sense. We don’t have to be an artist ourselves to cherish this joy, we simply have to recognize art and make it part of our lives. Unfortunately, there is a notion that ‘art’ is something one sees in galleries and is reserved for artist communities, but folk and traditional art has always been popular and accessible and is present in almost every home – on sarees and other fabric, on bedcovers, durries, traditional jewellery, the list can go on.
Why am I writing about this to teachers? Because as educators, it is imperative that we experience the freedom that art has to offer – the freedom to think without worrying about being right and wrong, to express without being judged, and the freedom to know that those seemingly different from you share the same joys and feelings. After all, shouldn’t life be about how the heart feels? As adults working with children, we must immerse ourselves in artistic experiences so that we can be constantly reminded of all the elements of its foundation and in turn allow it to fuel ourselves to create an environment for our children that is welcoming, patient, open, inclusive, and celebratory for them to experience the joy and freedom that art has to offer.
Let’s bring art into our classrooms in myriad ways. Let it not be restricted to the art period. Make room for boundless creation and skillful observation. Ask them the right questions. Find ways to make connections between various forms of art and your subject. Imagine how magical mathematics would be if students watched a classical dance performance and were asked to observe the endless angles the body of the dancer makes. Cooking, baking, toy-making, sculpting and building with different materials, playing with paint are forms of art that science teachers must bring into classrooms to connect serious science concepts with art and life. Language teachers have the best opportunities to introduce famous artists and their work by presenting them during picture composition exercises (instead of the horrifying cartoon graphics that often appear in assignments!) or even when discussing settings or characters in stories. There is plenty of room for social science teachers (both history and geography) to bring in historic paintings to make their lessons interesting and reminding students that art has always been a great way of documentation.
We must also make enough room for self-expression through art. Representing thoughts, ideas, feelings, and concepts learned through visual representation is a wonderful way to encourage creation and self-expression. In schools, art must break away from being boxed into styles of ‘still life’ and ‘nature’ and ‘abstract art’. It needs to move into an understanding that art can be used to express yourself and you can find various ways to do this! Reflective discussions (like the one we began this article with) after artistic creation or observation is also essential. However, the nature of these exercises must create safe spaces for listening, accepting responses with no judgment and must hold space for all. Let us remind ourselves that the innate nature of the arts is to be open and inclusive.
It is our responsibility to make the arts accessible to our children, so they grow up with art as part of their life, which will further enable them to be confident, curious, creative, and empathetic individuals. Art is around us, in our everyday, we must begin to recognize this. The mathematical marvel, the knitted and crocheted torans, which sit lifeless at our doorways, is art. So are the complex geometric rangoli designs at our doorstep. These must be recognized as art and if we would like to bring art into the lives of our children, we must find magical ways to bring them into their learning process, not forgetting that we must also keep creating opportunities to appreciate art for art’s sake!
The author is an arts-based therapist, educator and children’s author. She has been working with children from different backgrounds for the past 15 years and is an advocate of ‘inclusive education’. She is currently the Executive Director of an inclusive not-for-profit ICSE school in Mumbai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.