Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The International Museum of Children's Art

On July 18, my last day in Oslo, I had an evening flight -- leaving time for one last excursion. Two of my classmates from Madrid, also with a late flight, suggested the International Museum of Children's Art. When they first suggested it, I was too worried about finishing the final paper before heading to Helsinki, so I declined. Then I realized, I can finish the paper on the road and don't want to ruin my last day in Oslo. I decided to check it out with them. Great choice.

I have to be honest. I was expecting endearing scribbles and sketches, a collection of work you'd find on fridges around the world. Upon entering the quaint house in a suburban area of Oslo, I realized I had grossly underestimated the talent of children.

The decor was child (and inner child) friendly. Every inch of the house turned museum was covered with art, crafts, and toys. We paid a reasonable student entry fee of $6, traded shoes for slippers, and were free to roam around the carpets, admiring the artwork in each carefully arranged room. Within minutes, I felt it was my favorite museum . . . ever. I'd gaze at an intricate painting of animals and, to my shock, discover it was painted by a 5 year old in Thailand. 5! I couldn't even do anything like that now.

I saw an abstract piece with a detailed explanation of the thought process that went into it, as a teenage student in Malaysia explained all the existential concerns, identity, and soul searching that are so prevalent in the teenage psyche - and how he chose certain patterns, colors and symbols to represent these emotions. Many pieces were accompanied by an explanatory essay, reminding me of the important and natural connection between art and literature. I try to bring art into my English classroom. This reminded me that I can do it more often and to greater extent.

There were many pictures of cats, families, spiritual views, paintings of pain, sculptures . . . and color. Children's art seemed colorful and vibrant. Children's art serves an important purpose for any age -- allowing children to express themselves as they find themselves. As I wandered from room to room, completely overwhelmed by the astounding array of talent, I realized that children's art, whether by a 5 or 14 year old, is just as relevant as art by an adult. Talent is talent. And in many ways, I feel that children are more creative, more free spirited, more inquisitive, more philosophical and less jaded by expectations . . . there was a raw purity to their work. This was certainly touching on a theme in our "Philosophy with Children" work in Oslo . . . that children are natural inquisitive thinkers and philosophers. We need to tap that, to encourage it before it is lost. Yes!

I began to regret that I couldn't bring my students to this unique museum and vowed to find something similar in New York. The museum holds workshops where, surrounded by all this art and inspiration, students can create their own work. There was even an area to learn traditional African drumming. cool!

Finally we made it to the last area of the museum, on the top floor. In one section, there were several pieces about the events of 9-11. These were by students in Sweden. There were a few paintings and a 3 foot sculpture of the towers with planes hitting them. It was moving . . . that someone in a country so far away could be so moved by the horrible events and express these emotions through art. It was a touching connection across countries and cultures.

As I walked down the staircase, my friend Clara saw me looking at a work featuring silhouettes created with different backgrounds. She said, "did you read the explanation? You should." The student had chosen a different background for each silhouette. A brick wall for his father who was strong, organized and traditional. A flowery pattern for his mother who loved nature and was a free spirit, etc. Then there was one dark black female silhouette, removed from the others. The student explained that he recently discovered he had a half sister. He doesn't know anything about her, so it must remain black. Profound. I believe he was 10 or 11.

As we chose some postcards of works in the shop, a man dressed in traditional African costume approached us and said, "Want to drum!?" I nodded my head vigorously, gazing at my two friends to see their opinion. "Why not?" They said. We followed him upstairs and sat in a drum circle, in a cozy room filled with about 30 different types of djembes and several giant drums with stools around them, so several people could share. It was just us and the instructor, who was from the Ivory Coast. We each grabbed a djembe and awaited instruction. Our instructor, however, only seemed to know French and Norwegian. But you don't need much language outside the language of music and rhythm.

We did have a translator, though. Veronica attended a French language school in Madrid, so she seemlessly switched from French to Spanish to English throughout our time in the drum circle. It made me wish I was fluent in more than one language -- although spending so much time with the girls from Spain, I grew more and more comfortable attempting to use my high school Spanish skills . . . and the more I practiced, the more I realized I actually knew. Anyways, we drummed for about an hour, hitting moments of unity and transcendence in the way that only a drum circle can do. He pushed us to our limits, increasing speed and complexity until we were unable to keep up. We left inspired and uplifted. I felt as if my third eye was wide open and receptive, ready for my next adventure as I left for Finland.

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