An integral part of our identity

Interpretations of Paul Klee's Castle and Sun by four year old children

Interpretations of Paul Klee’s Castle and Sun by four year old children

Following a recent visit to a primary school here in Northamptonshire, one of our Indian guests, a student on the MA programme in Bangalore posted a comment on this blog reflecting on a particular aspect of the visit. Shweta had visited classrooms, met teachers and children and enjoyed an opportunity to see all the hurly burly of school activity and had clearly enjoyed the experience of a school context considerably different from that in which she works in India.

Having discussed the trip with her, I have no doubt that Shweta will retain many pleasant memories of her school visits and will hopefully be able to reflect on the value of what she saw in respect of her own teaching and learning. The comment that she posted was quite specific in its focus upon work in one class for four year old children and related to a display of art work completed by the children in that group. Shweta wrote:-

“On our visit to one of the primary schools, the 4 year olds had just put up a display of their interpretation of Paul Klee’s ‘Castle and Sun’ painting and we were blown away. 4 year olds !”

Shweta was clearly amazed that children so young had been encouraged to examine the work of an artist in such detail and then make their own interpretation of one of his pictures.

“it gave us pause to reflect how we should introduce art in context to appreciation, history etc and not just offer drawing classes as part of the curriculum in schools. It’s an integral part of our identity.”

As is often the case with comments made by teachers, these observations caused me to think about some of the things we have perhaps come to take for granted in classrooms, but which may be overlooked in the burgeoning rush to examine educational standards in narrow linguistic and mathematical terms. Shweta’s words provide some interesting insights into the ways in which we view children’s learning and why we teach particular aspects of the curriculum.

The Swiss painter Paul Klee, often used intense blocks of colour in his paintings, especially in the depiction of landscapes, and these often have a particular appeal to children. The work of four year olds exhibited in the classroom display pictured at the head of this posting gives a colourful interpretation of his work Castle and Sun and has enabled the children to experiment with colour, shape and form. Shweta was clearly surprised that four year olds could deal with such a sophisticated representation using elements of the abstract to present an image. My own reaction to this is that most four year olds have wonderfully vivid imaginations and seldom have difficulties in seeing and interpreting the world in different forms, but that as they get older many lose elements of this understanding as they become more “conventional” in their thinking. The apparently simple images created by Klee are, of course, founded upon a discipline that involved intense observation, subtle choices about colour and form and an understanding of perspective, and I am not suggesting that the process through which the four year old children went in their lesson is the same as that pursued by Klee.

The most profound part of Shweta’s observation seems to me to be centred upon art as an integral part of our identity. She recognises that the need to express ourselves is a fundamental part of our being, and that the children in this school have been encouraged to present their own ideas whilst using Klee’s work as a stimulus for their learning. Certainly those educators who wish for a more formal approach to learning could be to an extent pacified with notions that in producing these colourful images children are being introduced to mathematical concepts such as shape and size, they may also be relieved by the idea that the pupils are being given opportunities to practice fine motor control that might ultimately have benefits for their handwriting. These proposals are undoubtedly true. However, I would hope that we could consider the elements of personal expression and interpretation as being of equal importance in learning of this nature, and that at least some of these children will continue to explore their world through the production of images that give both themselves and others pleasure.

So, thank you Shweta for taking the picture and sharing it with us. Thank you also for your thoughtful comments and for using this blog to enable us to think more about what we may value in our classrooms. Perhaps when I am in India in September I will find similar work in classrooms, possibly interpreting the works of M.F. Husain or S.H. Raza, both of whom retained a playful element to their work similar to that of Paul Klee.