Interpreting modern art: providing structured storytelling approaches for children (and an adult).

I’m stood in a large room, surrounded by giant, towering model lighthouses, slightly phallic and painted in bright colours. Around the walls are half a dozen painting by Alfred Wallace, whose naive style is well known: childlike drawings of boats that he painted when he first picked up a brush in his mid sixties. There is a strong contrast between Wallace’s earthy, early 20th century paintings of boats on old pieces of board and Fujiwara’s polystyrene erections.

Simon Fujiwara is a UK born visual artist, currently aged around 32 and living in Berlin. He was born near St Ives in Cornwall, where i am staying this week, and where he has a retrospective exhibition taking up the whole gallery. I have to admit that, for the most part, i just don’t get it. It’s a series of ‘installations’, such as the inside of a bar, with faintly erotic overtones, and some rather pretentious texts. It’s probably good, but i can’t say i like it.

What i did like though was the way it was being interpreted for the children’s groups walking around it. The girl leading the trip had a series of wipe clean ‘thought bubbles’ that each of the children carried. In each gallery, they would walk around in a semi structured way, capturing their thoughts on their individual bubbles, then they would sit in a circle and pull together their common story.

This format provided a good combination of individual space for freestyle exploration alongside a structured narrative and collective drawing up of a common view. Naturally it provided the guide with opportunities to pull the narrative back to what she wanted, but also allowed the children to indulge their own creative strands. For example, one gallery depicted letters to Mexico, but one child spotted a plane ticket with ‘FRA’ on it, so he created a whole strand about it taking place in France. The idea that the story can be created by individuals, that it is fluid, is important in interpretation of art. After all, it’s only one interpretation out of many possible ones.

As an adult, i have to admit that i’d have benefited from some support around the narrative! I guess i don’t have a particularly high tolerance of art that feels like a school project. It’s not that i don’t value it, it’s just that it’s too disconnected from my notion of what ‘art’ actually is. I don’t feel included, but rather as though i’m sat on the outside of a rather self indulgent conversation.

It is right, of course, that art should be challenging, but it never hurts to create a structured story as well. I certainly thought that there was a lot to commend in the approach taken in the gallery, with space for creativity and a central narrative.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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2 Responses to Interpreting modern art: providing structured storytelling approaches for children (and an adult).

  1. Pingback: Social Gaming for Learning: a practical exploration of #gamification | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  2. Pingback: The Pain of Change | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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