Art and early childhood

(C) Jamuna Inamdar

In this post, I share an excerpt from an interview* with artist Ravi Kumar Kashi in which he speaks on art and art education.  In  the excerpt I share, Kashi talks to educator Lakshmi Karunakaran about his childhood, his introduction to art and early influences that shaped his artistic leanings.  While listening to Kashi recount his experience, I was reminded of similar stories of exemplary Indian artists / art educators from the past as well as present.  I have shared those in this post as well in a bid to create a collage of important features in the development of children’s aesthetic sensibilities and sensitivities in early childhood.

Says Kashi, “I was born in Malleshwaram in Bengaluru.   The Malleshwaram ground was a huge cultural space.  A lot of traditional music would be played at Krishnan Devasthana and then there was Rama Seva Mandali, where we were exposed to different kinds of art forms.  The Shani Mahatma story telling would go on through the night.   There would be shadow puppetry shows and Yakshagana.  Malleshwaram, I now realize, has shaped my art leanings to some extent. Right from my childhood, I was attracted to visual art. I hung around a lot at Chitra Kala Parishad and watched others paint. In front of my school there was a sign board painter who also painted landscapes. After school I spent a lot of time just watching him. And then there were snake charmers, all sorts of games were played on the streets. So as children we never straightaway went home after school. We spent a lot of time looking at these things, absorbing them, engaging with them. Unlike today, in those days no one monitored your time. This tremendous pressure for scoring marks was not there. You were not judged by your marks alone. I think Malleshwaram and all that happened around it had a significant impact on my artistic growth. By the time I was 9 years old, I was set upon becoming an artist.”  (Karunakaran, L. [interviewer] & Kashi, R. [Interviewee]. Interview Transcript. 2016)

The kids are natural artists – they just go behind their school building, grab a stalk and weave the most exquisite pieces in a matter of minutes… another teacher’s day gift by a kid in Chhattisgarh, India.

Similar memories have been shared by other artists and educators reaffirming the importance of one’s immediate environment, which when conducive, tremendously helps stimulate and develop all the child’s senses.  Experiences and activities of a child in peaceful and natural surroundings, exposure to material, especially natural material and music, painting, dance and movement, drama and stories can be extremely enriching to a child’s development.  Instead of being burdensome these should kindle a child’s joy, curiosity, imagination and wonder (NCF, 2005).

A great artist and educator, Devi Prasad, in a preface to his book Art: The Basis of Education, writes about the typical school life he experienced as a boy which failed to kindle any kind of interest or joy in him towards any kind of activity.  When he was 9, his family moved places.  This necessitated renovation around the new house and watching the craftsmen at work proved to be a major influencing factor in the life of this artist.  He recounts, “They  (the craftsmen) did not mind my sitting and watching them work and meddling with their tools. This experience was enough for me to take an interest in carpentry at school. So much so, that I gradually collected enough tools of my own, bought with my pocket money, to be able to make things for the house. I also became interested in keeping the wood work of the house especially the doors and windows—clean and well painted. Later I even became interested in drawing and painting, a subject which I took for my college education after finishing school.”  “I realized that if during my childhood I had not had the opportunity to “meddle” with the tools and the raw materials of the craftsmen who renovated our house, I would not have developed the taste for “making things”! Without this experience would I have understood children’s nature, as I think I did in later life, I often wonder!” (Prasad, D. 1998)

It does not come as a surprise then that Devi Prasad’s teacher, the  great Indian artist Acharya Nandalal Bose had, I daresay, an even interesting childhood.  Born in Haveli Kharagpur in eastern Bihar, Bose grew up surrounded by dense forests of Mahua, Sal, teak, timbre inhabited by animals such as leopards, tigers, elephants, bears.  According to Dinkar Kowshik, Bose’s mother Kshetramoni Devi “had an eye for little things of beauty and would delight Nandalal by improvising toys and dolls with ingenious skill.  She was adept at carving clay moulds that were fired and used for stamping impressions on homemade Sandesh and Chandraphidi sweets”. “From his early days Nandalal began taking an interest in modelling images. Decorating Puja pandals or Tajia structures was a form of community work and Nandalal was probably enthused by such activities. On his daily rounds to the village school, he would pass potters, carpenters and toy makers working at their crafts. Their intimate understanding of each material and its character, their skill in manipulating the potter’s wheel and virtuosity in throwing clay, or their ability to use simple instruments like the chisel was a source of constant delight to him.” ” Nandalal’s seemingly uneventful childhood was suffused with the flavour of Indian culture. The stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata entered into his awareness even as a child. The village craftsmen kindled his intimacy with hand and material. (…) the quiet unhurried flux of nature gave him a calm and collected mind.”  (Kowshik, D., 1983)

Children line their shoes, outside their classroom in Chhattsigarh, India. Children clad in socks and shoes are still very rare a sight in government schools in rural India.

John Dewey, the educational reformer, has emphasized the importance of seeing harmonious objects in one’s environment, especially
in childhood.  Thus, the child will have developed a standard of taste, whereas barren surroundings will eliminate a desire for beauty.  According to Dewey, taste cannot be taught or passed on in the form of second hand information.  The child will develop a standard of taste by habitually living in surroundings that are aesthetically pleasing.

I hope the above excerpts offer some insight to teachers, school administrators or any adult with young children in their care.  While techniques in art are important and specializations take place in later years, at an early stage in a child’s life, a nurturing and stimulating environment that allows space for expression and exploration can achieve significant milestones in the child’s overall development and in shaping her inclinations. It helps in activating a child’s relationship with things, people and in turn making her more empathetic and less averse to non-participation in the life  and world around her, an important characteristic for any artist!

It is perfectly possible for generalist teachers, with no special training or degree in the arts to create such an environment.  As Devi Prasad writes, “I have seen teachers who did not possess even the minimum skill of drawing but who had knowledge of child-art, who appreciated and enjoyed it, and who fully identified themselves with the needs of children, being very good art teachers for children. Only such teachers can nurture the creative spirit and artistic talents of children. If such a teacher happens to be a good artist it will surely be an asset, but it is a rare thing to happen. Moreover it is not that essential.” (Prasad, D., 1998)

Jane Sahi in her book Learning Through Art  emphasizes on something similar – a varied and rich sensory experience for very young children and considers it as the beginning of many a subsequent activities.  She writes, “Children below 6 benefit from being in close touch with a rich sensory environment.  This can be supported, encouraged and guided by a teacher who provides a space where children can be actively involved in touching, listening, seeing, moving and manipulating materials, especially natural materials.  Asking probing questions that help children delve more deeply into what is familiar and answering their questions helps them to be more attentive and to look closely at their experience of the world.”  (Sahi, J. Learning Through Art)

Busy Creating

In this post, I shall continue to add views and thoughts of other artists and educators on how aesthetic exploration and exposure in early childhood can help shape children’s sensibilities.  In later posts, I will attempt to present some concrete examples through which adults with young children in their care have gone about creating such a nurturing and stimulating environment.

This is less about making children into artists or about introducing art education in schools and more about creating a learning experience for children where there immense potential is allowed to develop with proper consideration.  As Maria Montessori writes, “If at some time the child were to receive proper consideration and his immense possibilities were to be developed, then a Man might arise for whom there would be no need of encouragement to disarmament and resistance to war because his nature would be such that he would not endure the state of degradation and of extreme moral corruption which makes possible any participation in war.” (As cited in Prasad, D. 1998).

 

Footnote:

*It is interesting to note that this interview with artist Ravi Kumar Kashi was first aired on  a radio show called Teaching And Learning Moments, produced by Teacher Plus in collaboration with Bol Hyderabad  – a University of Hyderabad’s community radio station.  This show, “is on education and various aspects of teaching and learning in and outside the classroom. With new episodes every week and different guest speakers coming in and sharing their experiences and points of view,” it plans to,“bring you discussions and answer your questions on practices in education.”  One can write in to editorial@teacherplus.org with one’s  questions.

It is even more interesting that the Season 2 of this radio show, “features artists who talk about the major influences of teachers/mentors in their lives and the unique perspective that they bring to their students.”  These interviews are conducted by educator Lakshmi Karunakaran.

You can listen to Ravi Kumar Kashi’s full interview here.

 

References:

[1] Karunakaran, L. [Interviewer) & Kashi, R. [Interviewee].  (2016).  Learning to See (Interview transcript).  Retrieved from Teacher Plus Web Site:  http://www.teacherplus.org/teaching-and-learning-moments-with-teacher-plus/learning-to-see

[2] Prasad, D., 1998.  Art:  The Basis of Education.    Published by National Trust.

[3] NCERT., 2005. The National Curriculum Framework.  NCERT Publication.  New Delhi, India.

[4] Sahi, J.,  Learning Through Art.  An Eklavya Publication in collaboration with Vidyankura, NIAS, Bangalore. India.

[4] Dewey, J., Retrieved from Web Site: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dewey-aesthetics/supplement.html

[5] Kowshik, D., 1983.  Nandalal Bose:  The doyen of Indian art.

 

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