lørdag 6. august 2016

In Widerberg’s and Munch’s Footsteps

Each of us has a unique view on the reality. Each individual’s view is connected to real events, thus how the reality affects us depends on many personal factors… on our senses, attention, imagination, interests, emotions, experiences... Education usually pays more attention to facts from the “real world” than to students’ perceptions of it (Robinson, 2016); fortunately, this is not the case in arts education.

My research builds on the claim that each person makes/constructs/negotiates personal understandings on the behalf of embodied experiences from past and present. Motivation for learning, creating or exploring, can come from experiencing some kind of similarity between a past and a present experience. Here are examples where famous paintings matched students’ personal experiences; in the first example the students were young pre-school children age 3-5; the second example is from early childhood teacher education.

In a research project, few years ago, I accompanied a group of children to a beach. The children played in the fine sand and shallow water.  Some of the teachers took pictures and I later selected photos to show to the children later in order to help them recall their experiences. The plan was to motivate the children to paint. For that purpose examples from a Norwegian painter Frans Widerberg were to be used as inspiration, however, while I was looking through an museum catalogue for Widerberg’s exhibition the children had recently visited, I saw extraordinary resemblance between the photos and the paintings. The motives as well as compositions were identical! I was amazed! When the paintings and the photos were shown to the children one after another on a big screen, it seemed like Widerberg painted the children that day – as if he was on the beach with us (see some of the paintings here: https://www.artsy.net/show/kunstverket-galleri-frans-widerberg ). The children’s experiences of the real world merged with their art experiences. This was magic! The children could instantly sense that art can mean something to them. They experienced that art can talk directly to them and were motivated to explore their own ways of expressing through this this wordless language. Additionally, their own experiences suddenly seemed more important to themselves … since thy seemed to be important to a painter who put them on canvas in powerful colors.

In another educational setting, where I was responsible for a group of teacher students (with minimal art experience), another famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was to inspire the students. Actually it was another way around: the students’ own activity of drawing was to be experienced first, and Munch’s paintings were to recall their personal experiences.

We are fortunate that our campus (University College of Southeast Norway, campus Vestfold) is situated close by Åsgårdstrand, a small city where Munch used to spend his summers. His summerhouse is still there, as well is the beach visible on many of his paintings (see https://www.artsy.net/artist/edvard-munch ). The students spent a day of drawing on the beach – just like that, without any introduction to Munch, however I had first told them about the project with children and Widerberg’s painting. I wanted them to experience the place with their own senses first. The drawing assignment was a form of slowing time, allowing focused attention, dwelling and engagement of senses. Their interest for Munch paintings evolved from the fact that they literally walked in Munch’s footsteps. Their feet touched the same sandy ground… though 100 years later. The new experience – the one from art – could resonate their own multisensory embodied experiences. The past and present experiences could meet in personal, emotionally loaded insights, meaningful because they concerned them, and were not only a piece of art history to be memorized.

Munch's summer house in Åsgårdstrand

Robinson, K. (2016). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education. New York: Penguin Books.


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