By Abha Bhagwat
A child that did not score well in school is not considered intelligent. The education system in India has created a modern caste system by dividing children in different groups; such as those who go to English medium schools or Vernacular medium schools and score above 90% above 80% or below 75% etc. This hierarchy puts a lot of pressure on children making their spirits fragile while making the souls pathetic. I could have been one such victim who could never score above 70% but was always passionate about fine arts. I was lucky enough to be saved by good teachers and my visionary parents who believed in me.
While watching my own children grow up, I could understand the importance of freedom, as part of the process of making sense of self and the world around. In the classroom teaching freedom is lost. I started conducting experimental wall painting activities for children and their parents, where everyone can unleash a lot of creativity. Standard school syllabus does not allow children to express their creativity in free atmosphere. A beautiful subject like drawing is taught in a very rigid manner. Filling colours in given outlines is accepted as art experience! Thousands of colouring books are available in market and widely used by children. In reality children never get to experience the core of the art. After meditating on breaking the notion of such mediocre art experience, I came up with an easy way to bring out the best in children as well as in adults.
Twenty children of seven years of age painted a tree on a wall measuring 9 X 11 feet. For painting a bigger surface, children use their whole body and not just wrist and fingers. Nobody holds their hand or tells them how to paint. I am present with them to give them the paints and encourage them to paint what they want and experiment. Encouragement plays a big role and children become more confident in expressing themselves. This also helps them to develop lingual skills, where they start understanding that they can express what is important to them. Painting can potentially connect with a child’s heart and satisfy their creative senses. In this particular tree painting each child could paint three different flowers, each being unique and different from one another. Later when parents were unable to come up with new ideas, they decided to copy what children had painted. None of the adults were as original as children. Education system has already killed many adult’s originality. Children have all original ideas. Later a two year old girl went to the wall and drew what she could. We elders told her not to make the wall dirty, but realized later that she was contributing flowers in the painting. Today a child’s scribbles are not considered as drawings. We must change this approach.
In another big wall painting, consisting of Elephants and other animals a little girl wanted to paint a Mango. Even after a lot of resistance she painted it and also painted bells near baby Elephant’s feet. It was very interesting to see her connect to the painting through stories of her own choice. Once I had asked children to paint humans on a cupboard. One girl painted a cat instead and impressed me, by not listening to what I was telling but putting in her own thoughts. Adults must learn to respect a child’s decision. Street wall paintings made by children with so much innocence are slowly changing the citizens’ view of looking at public walls.
When a child is given a chance to draw/ paint in her own way there is great degree of flexibility she can try different ways of expressing. Forcing one particular way kills the process of learning. Children are not doing art to make the best products, but to enjoy the process, experiment and find something new. Not letting them do what they want will hamper their creativity. Adult’s role is to identify the child’s urge towards creativity and provide the atmosphere where she can flourish.
Some good teachers question the system by asking, how can we measure a poor child’s character when she likes to distribute food in her lunch box among friends and does not mind staying hungry the whole day? It is unfair to ignore these integral values the child brings to school and label her with percentage. Methods of evaluation must improve and make space for all kinds of sensitivities in children.
Abha Bhagwat is a freelance Fine Artist, Art Teacher at school and Art Facilitator for children and adults of all ages in Pune, India. She has received her MFA Computer Arts from Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Abha has been working in Child Art since 22 years by designing process oriented activities. Wall painting with children is a unique concept pioneered and practiced by her. She has published some inspiring books for children. Her articles on understanding art have been published in several newspapers and magazines.