From Raza's canvases to Husain's masterpieces, children must be taught early to appreciate art, say experts

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
— Pablo Picasso

Artistic expression is second nature to children. From very early on, they pick up colouring tools and doodle away their imaginary worlds, often revealing what's going on in their minds. It’s one of the earliest art forms to be introduced in their lives and remains consistently a part of their pre-primary and primary education. Countless parents have been enrolling their children in art and craft extra classes to bolster their cultural education and help them have fun with colours.

While teaching various painting styles and techniques are intrinsic to such classes, they have grown to include art appreciation as well. Children are exposed to renowned artists and artworks, just as they’re exposed to famous composers in music appreciation classes. Western countries encourage art appreciation for young children as their artistic communities recognise them as an audience early on. In India, this is still at its nascent stages but the recent past shows that it’s a trend that is surely picking up.

 From Razas canvases to Husains masterpieces, children must be taught early to appreciate art, say experts

Representational image. Reuters

The Piramal Museum of Art opened the exhibition SH Raza: Traversing Terrains last month in Mumbai, concurrently putting together a diverse programme of events (talks, film screenings, and workshops) designed to reach wide audiences from children to art historians. While the Paint A Raza event invited anyone above the age of 6 to participate in a guided activity that celebrated Raza’s famous works, the gallery installed a magnetic wall with colourful pieces to give children a chance to experience colours and shapes the Raza way.

Sayali Mundye, outreach and programming, Piramal Museum of Art, says, “It is essential and vital for us as a museum to make an exhibit children-friendly. Children are the future change makers, visitors, patrons of art and culture, artists and art professionals. We create safe spaces for creative expression, tools for them to be able to engage with something new and unknown, about art and art appreciation.” Not just exposure to art and techniques, the museum is also aware that within the art appreciation circles in India themselves, there’s a clear disconnect with Indian artists. Mundye adds, “There is a lack of clarity, a gap when it comes to exposure to Indian art and artists. Take this for an example: Raza exhibited in Paris with Picasso and Monet, the European artists is what the major population is aware of and not their Indian counterpart. Where are the spaces for children or adults for that matter to learn about them? Though curriculum is changing in a few schools and we have some organisations working in the space, we still have a long way to go.”

Education boards in India lay emphasis on art in the curriculum, with each school enhancing the learning process in their own way. Mumbai’s prestigious Cathedral & John Connon School uses art as a teaching tool from its youngest section Pre-Primary (ages 3-5), introducing in its Infant School section (ages 5-7) the works of Indian and international artists. Warli art and Raza are joined by acclaimed artist Paul Klee among others, in giving the children cultural learning through art.

Sharmila Lele, headmistress, Cathedral & John Connon Infant School, says, “Study of different artists is the first step towards learning different representational forms. Each artist follows a unique style and a way of expression. The children can find their own path to creativity by learning the works of these artists. As the children bring various Indian art forms to life, they get a sense of belonging. Understanding different cultures help in developing the tolerance threshold in young children while building their character. The art curriculum in school is very thoughtfully planned, keeping in mind children's emotional, motor and creative skills for their holistic growth.”

There’s a need for an attitudinal shift too, feels writer and educator Anjali Raghbeer. While travelling internationally, it was easy to find children’s books on Leonardo DaVinci, Monet, and Picasso. In India, there was no literature for children that would introduce them to works of stalwarts that this nation has produced. Even within the parent community in India, there’s a tendency to take a backseat with Indian heritage. Does elitism in art appreciation amongst parents cause children to lose out on appreciating their own culture? “There is certainly a need to build up the dialogue. We’re a product of our childhood experiences. If parents don’t introduce their children to MF Husain or Raja Ravi Varma, but are happy to extol the creative virtues of Van Gogh, are we not feeding the disconnect?”

The abject lack of Indian art literature for children inspired Raghbeer in 2009 to work on the beautifully illustrated Looking at Art series on Indian maestros. Jamini Roy: A Trail of Paint, MF Husain: Barefoot Husain, and Raja Ravi Varma: The Veena Player are among the books published by Tulika. Raghbeer has also worked on the Art Tales from India series that explores Indian folk art heritage through Madhubani, Bhil, and Ganjifa art forms. She researches the artists and the art forms, zooms in on their distinct traits and quirks to make their stories more accessible to such a young audience. “Children are non-judgmental. When we teach them early on about such stories, they’re fascinated because they can relate to the joy that comes from painting. My uncle was a huge patron of art and I grew up in an environment where art and artists were familiar to me. Through these books, we take this familiarity to a wider audience.”

Mundye believes that early Indian art appreciation helps in creating more responsible adults of the future. “Appreciation for art and artists early on builds value for culture, history and heritage in one's life. It affects the little things, the next time one buys from a craftsman, it feeds into the art eco-system to make it stronger. This appreciation is what will make people aware of the abundant culture we have and the state it is in, then only can we move ahead with change in the country and build a culture of art appreciation.”

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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2018 09:44:28 IST

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