For the last five years, the Children's Creative Workshops (CCW) acquaints children with fine arts in a game form.
Children from 7 to 12 years old plunge into an unfamiliar world of paintings, styles, and symbols, which is often not understood even by adults. Last year, the CCW became participants of the international project CHOICE, which provided the collective with new development possibilities. Irina Lukashenko (IL), the CCW manager, the coordinator of the project, and Sofia Sadovskaya (SS), an art critic, one of the teachers and a curator of the project, speak about the CCW and the way they teach children the ideas of contemporary art.
- The CCW celebrates its small anniversary. Who are they - the mothers who founded the Workshops?
SS: - The Workshops appeared in 2012. They were initiated by Polina Sei – she had little children then and she wanted to acquaint them with the art world. Valentina Kiseleva and Anna Chistoserdova from the U Gallery liked the idea and they supported Polina by providing the CCW with premises. At that time, I returned to Minsk and joined Polina. It is possible to say that prior to the CCW nothing of that kind existed in Minsk and there is still nothing like this in the city. The Tyubik Studio in the National Art Museum we are often compared to has lessons on classical art. We work with the 20th and 21st centuries.
IL: - The idea became viable also because around the U Gallery there were many families that wanted to have their children in alternative circles. There are a lot of drawing circles, but there were no children’s places to study the history of art.
- Tell us about the classes.
SS: - It depends on who gives them; I can tell you about my technique. As a rule, there is a topic of a lesson. Now it is a name of one artist or even one work. During the first 15 minutes, we talk of what we see in the painting. I ask children of what they see, feel, and what unusual they notice. I want them to think. After that we play the games connected with the picture. For example, if there is a dance, we suggest that children should dance the work or write poems about it. We try to live the painting with the help of different sense organs. Also, we watch children - what is easier to do for this or that child - to dance, to sing, or to speak. Then we give a master class - we make works in the style of the studied artist. We do not limit children in what they want to present; we only set frameworks of the technique - a collage, an application, a work of wire or something else. Groups are small – up to fifteen people.
- Still, how do other teachers work?
IL: - Basic differences, perhaps, are that one gives more theory, and another one – more practice. For example, practice is the basic tool of the artist Bazinato (he specializes in design and architecture). During one of his classes, children made a tower with columns of cardboard. Thus, they began to understand how in general a building can be stable.
- Do you give certificates after the course is over?
SS: - We have no purpose to teach children something concrete, we not an art school. Our purpose, first of all, is to teach children to accept and understand contemporary art, to reflect on it. Unfortunately, at schools this direction is not studied, and when we, adults, come to a contemporary art museum for the first time without any former experience, e.g. the famous MoMA in New York, we will understand nothing. Works can cause our aggression - what is this?!, I can do it, too!
IL: - Contacts with art teach us critical thinking, acceptance of different points of view concerning one thing, tolerance, empathy. After all, the big problem of the Belarusan realities is that both children and adults do not understand art and especially contemporary one. And then they begin to fear it, not to accept it, and to build unnecessary borders. Little children are liberated, they will surely understand something and will react.
- What do parents think of your classes?
SS: - Not always can parents understand contemporary art, but they know that it is important for children to study it. When parents call us, some of them think that we teach to draw beautifully. But I warn them at once that our classes are different. And if they want to teach their children to draw, they should go to other circles.
IL: - Our courses were attended by a girl who in the end of each month gathered her family and gave a mini lecture, and then – had an examination. Her parents were very glad that their child attended our classes.
- And what inspires you in children's works?
SS: - I am inspired by conversations. They are very fascinating and unexpected. When children relax and are liberated, they say extraordinary interesting things. They see the world not like adults. I am also inspired by reactions of parents when they notice something new in their children.
IL: - I like it when children are in a natural stream of creativity and start to communicate freely among themselves during classes. There is energy of light children's happiness in their works. Or their inventions: for example, during one class we thought of devices that would help people in the future. The things invented by children would never cross adults’ mind.
SS: - In general, works of children who are not 12 y.o. yet cannot be evaluated. Art for a child is a process of research; as a rule, it has no ending. We can see that a child draws a beautiful picture, in our opinion. And suddenly he or she starts to paint this «almost masterpiece» black. But for the child the task is not to make a beautiful picture the parents will hang on the wall. The task is to study the world by means of creativity. Drawing for a child is a very important stage of development, and it should not be evaluated.
- How do you present Belarusan artists - as local ones or as people of the world? For example, what do you say about Chagall?
SS: - Marc Chagall lived in Viciebsk and painted this city, therefore, we have the right to consider him a Belarusan artist. Still, we have noticed that when during classes we take a name of a creator whom parents do not know they do not want to bring their child to these classes. As for the Belarusan art of the 20th century, the majority of parents do not know almost anybody, except for Marc Chagall. Therefore, thanks to CHOICE, for the course on our artists, we have gathered a group of children despite the parental conjuncture.
- During classes, you say - Marc Chagall, he is from Viciebsk, he is our fellow countryman, we have to be proud.
SS: - We simply say that he is a Belarusan artist. That Vladimir Tsesler is our contemporary. A child should know that they are our fellow countrymen, our history, that Belarusans have done much in art. But it is, of course, not some didactic work in the standard sense. For example, we show a painting by Chagall and we ask what city it is, how can we understand it.
- The CCW are only in the U Gallery?
IL: - Only in the U Gallery, but we also had master classes in Viciebsk, Brest. To make a network, at first, it is necessary to get stronger, to create a base. Contemporary Belarusan art is not such a popular theme; it cannot spread so quickly as the Belarusan language courses.
SS: - Parents understand why one needs foreign languages, mathematics, but why to study contemporary Belarusan art is not so clear for them. The pragmatism of today’s society focuses parents’ attention on applied sciences. Emotional intellect remains outside. That is why we see adult children who are not able to express their feelings or to cope with their emotions, to understand other people. The immersing in art would solve these problems.
IL: - Therefore, the series of lectures «How to talk to children about art» is for parents.
- What exactly do you want to do so as to get your foot on the ladder? Books, CDs, new courses?
IL: - At this stage - to get experienced and to develop our methodology. Also, we plan to attract new audiences - teenagers.
- In general, is your purpose in the project CHOICE achieved?
IL: - It is still early to speak about it; the project is not finished yet. But, at this intermediate stage, looking at how many people have responded to our crowdfunding campaign to publish the book «Art of Belarus of the 20th century. Viciebsk School» (and we have collected 107% of the necessary sum), it is possible to say that meanwhile the result is good. The successful fund raising campaign has demonstrated that people are interested in studying this topic.
SS: - Yes, but the book is not the direct purpose, it is a pleasant bonus both for us and the Belarusans. First of all, we wanted to get a group of children involved in contemporary art, and we did it.
IL: - When the book will reach the reader, both adults and children will become interested in the history of Belarusan art and simultaneously proud of our heritage.
- Nevertheless, how did you manage to conduct such a successful campaign on such, as you say, an unpopular theme?
IL: - We did everything we were told by our manager from "Ulye" and even more. The campaign was aggressive; we trusted ourselves. In general, we are now working on our second book, methodical. We will tell in it about our experience, about the games developed in the CCW. The book will be presented in an electronic form on the Internet.
- You are inspired very much by your work. The number of subscribers to your book is also way too big. Are you doing really so good?
IL: - There have been no serious obstacles indeed. Only expected questions - why in the book we consider these or those artists to belong to the Viciebsk School. The thing is that with the help of the book we show, inter alia, the evolution of the idea created by the Viciebsk School. And this idea is reflected in works of contemporary artists.
SS: - UNOVIS («The Champions of the New Art» - a short-lived but influential group of artists, founded and led by Kazimir Malevich) has influenced all branches of design, all artists who revealed their talent in the creation of applied things. Now, it is very difficult to see a straight line from Kazimir Malevich to contemporary artists. The evolution of ideas was interrupted by Soviet power and ideology. But we have tried to track this evolution in our book.
IL: - The Viciebsk School is not limited to time and space. It is a phenomenon, a one-stage impulse we feel even now. Our book is also a component of this impulse and, maybe, a new impulse for future generations. But we shall see it only in 20 years or so.
The International Project "CHOICE - Cultural Heritage: Opportunity for Improving Civic Engagement" is implemented by the Association of Local Democracy Agencies ALDA (France) in conjunction with the International Consortium EuroBelarus (Lithuania).