For the last 4 years I have worked in National Museums here with school children presenting Art to them. I was trained at the National Gallery in Ottawa for 3 years and have read quite a few books on the topic and how to do it.
In Ottawa, I did presentations in school rooms and in the galleries of the National Gallery of Canada. My groups are about 20 to 25 students, which is fairly large and demanding. What helps of course is having a school teacher present who is also interested and engaged and on whom I can depend if a student misbehaves or if there is some problem.
National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Art Gallery, Confederation Centre, Charlottetown.
In the last two days I had 5 classes of grade 4 – 5 students in age 10 years old.
They came from Charlottetown, Summerside, Stratford. Some came by school bus and others like this morning came on foot. On the whole it went well and the exercise was about introducing them to Art in general, explaining how to look at Art and doing some exercise so they understand that art in itself is a large concept and not confined to what bourgeois society tells you it is. The students for the large part have never been to a museum, so it is a very new experience for them. The art I was showing them is all on display in the galleries and it is all contemporary, some is installations, all very modern with no easy reference, as I told them it is not about meaning but about observing and looking closely, trying to understand what the artist is trying to achieve and what the artist is conveying.
Getting 10 year olds to look closely at something can be difficult, attention span is short and by today’s standard anything you look at as to be self-evident, not so with contemporary art.
Some kids are good at observation, others have imagination, others have skill at drawing, others do not have a clue. In a class of 25 kids, at least 7 will not be interested and look bored, another 4 will try to wander away, look at other things in the gallery, will not be able to focus. Some will be talkative, others will be silent and withdrawn. From time to time there may be one autistic child or a child who is so painfully shy they stand apart of the group. By job is to try to include everyone and get everyone to share, talk and ask questions. I always make a point of encouraging them, there are no wrong answers, encouraging them to feel free to draw whatever they want, some children have a hard time with that concept, they prefer to be told what to do, being imaginative does not come easy in a world preparing them to be good little consumers.
I also realize that some parents are largely absent from their children lives and leave it up to the State to look after them, some come from troubled homes. Some children are never spoken to at home, there is no conversation between adult and child, no sharing, that is very sad to see. Parents themselves may never have been to a museum or art gallery, never read a book, have just basic education, enough to get a job and pay the mortgage. They have kids but what to do with them, in other words their parental skills are poor.
I had one autistic child in one group, he stood apart from the group in silence, he was lost in thoughts, he was in his own world, the teacher told me that at first he did not want to come to the gallery and would wait outside in the great hall. He appeared fearful or maybe not understanding what was going on. He did change his mind, was it something I said, I do not know. Once in the gallery he became animated, the art works seemed to speak to him and he had a keen interest. He even asked me questions , he noticed things other kids did not, he certainly appeared much more mature and very intelligent.
Next week the new Summer program will be installed in a period of 4 weeks, I am looking forward to it.