This Ted talk with Alison Gopnik is great. I particularly love her description of being a baby as like being in love in Paris for the first time after drinking 3 double espressos!
I also find it interesting to think about the idea (based on research she mentions) that the longer the “childhood” the smarter the animal, and how that might relate to the trend toward “childhood” expanding into the twenties. It fits with the idea Ive talked about before that nowadays “adult” is a state where one is continuing to “develop” instead of being completed as it was thought of in the past.
Gopnik also talks about childhood being a time when your job is to learn and have ideas and adulthood being when you put what you learned into practice, Research and development vs production and marketing … its a great analogy.
At the end she proposes that if we want to be more like this, open minded, open creativity, then perhaps adults should think more like children. Another connection of children or “child-like” and being creative. It’s interesting to think about.
I have recently started reading the book “Becoming” by Carol Mavor. In it this morning I read that there is a cliche of “the artist as eternal child.” I found this interesting and it got me rethinking my wonderings about the connections between the idea of “child” and “childlike” and being creative as an adult. I wondered if I had been evoking this cliche in my writing about my work when talking about how I as “artist” relate to children, but I don’t think I have.
In making photographs relating to children/childhood I have often gotten the comment that the images are “childlike” or that they are about me as an adult looking at things from a “child’s point of view.” This always struck me as odd because it seems to me it was MY point of view I was exploring. It is from examining these two ways of looking at this that led me to the discourse of childhood and how it has developed and changed over time.
My original interest began with how our understanding of childhood is changing toward the “knowing” child and our understanding of adulthood is changing toward the adult no longer as a state of completion that a child develops toward but as ever “developing” or as always becoming. This, put simplistically, results in children being seen as “beyond their years,” being given more power and say in their lives and adults having multiple career changes, marrying later, having kids later and continuing to learn and “grow” throughout one’s life. This shift in ideas of child/adult also correlates to changes in economics and societal structures.
So basically the boundaries of these two categories of people are blurring. And because of this, I would say my pictures are in fact about my adult point of view relating to the people and spaces around me. Maybe in a way I’m talking about claiming this way of looking and way of experiencing the world around me as ADULT. While at the same time children are being thought of as already complete human beings not the blank slates to be filled. 🙂
Anyway, some things I found interesting in the book (p25):
Modernist art “grew hand in hand with the invention of a new understanding of childhood: as free, unsullied, playful, utopically in touch with the world.”
“For Baudelaire, the skill of an artist turned on his ability to find ‘childhood recovered at will.’ For ‘the child sees everything as novelty; he is always intoxicated.'”
Mavor also says that Freud believed “that to find childhood is to make art.” and “D.W. Winnicott saw…the artist’s creation of objects (as) and extension and refinement of childhood play.”
(Included above and below are some iphone pictures)
This past week, I have been reading and thinking about “the everyday” in art. Up until now I really hadn’t thought much about the everydayness of what I myself photograph or of “the everyday” as a context for my images. But I would say I am definitely engaged in photographing what I see and experience within the everyday. So with that in mind the essays and discussions about art and the ideas of “the everyday” become an interesting way for me to think further about what my photographs are about.
The anthology “The Everyday (Documents of Contemporary Art)” has a great introduction to what “the everyday” is and the history of ideas surrounding it. It briefly presents Henri Lefebvre and his “The Critique of Everyday Life.” In reading this introduction and a few of the essays, what got me thinking was this idea (that I think comes from Lefebvre and maybe is linked to the Situationists) that within “the everyday” are the makings of transformation, or change or even revolution. Or, that perhaps even in just examining the everyday you transform it. This is appealing to me possibly because I have always had a sort of mild fear of the mundane, everyday, monotony or sense of sameness in life and I find it interesting that there could be some sort of amazingness buried within.
In the introduction to the book, Stephen Johnstone quotes Lefebvre who wrote that the everyday is the place “where repetition and creativity confront each other”(15) … and in “Clearing the Ground,” Lefebvre writes, “Simultaneously it is also the time and the place where the human either fulfils itself or fails…” (27) I love that here in this sort of invisible place of mundane sameness is the makings of “life,” of content, of creativity. It makes sense in an obvious sort of way but also seems like kind of a great contradiction that is interesting to think about.
Further on in the essay, Lefebvre writes, “… it is in everyday life and starting from everyday life that genuine creations are achieved, those creations which produce the human and which men produce as part of the process of becoming human: works of creativity.” (31) As part of becoming human we create and that creating creates us. This “becoming human” I associate with childhood and the idea of development, which has recently expanded beyond childhood to the idea that we are always developing, always “becoming”. For me this gets at the idea that the state of “becoming,” this childlike exploration/development/growth, is inherently creative and to engage with it is to make art… or that life becomes art…or something like that….
I am also interested in Lefebvre’s idea that “the work of art acts as a kind of ‘play-generating-yeast’ in the everyday”. (p14) I like that he links art with play, and that they have creativity in common. It makes me think yet again of ways that Christy-the-artist and Christy-the-nanny are engaged in a similar pursuit. Playfulness/playing in the everyday leads to art making or better yet, it IS art making, it is an act of creation. This is certainly true in all the ways the imagination and the visual and the senses are engaged while playing.
I have talked in the past about the link between art/creativity and childhood/“child-like” and how this plays out in what I do with my photography. I think the added piece that this “everyday” discourse brings to my thoughts is this idea that in the everyday, within the repetitive sameness, there are these opportunities to become aware and to therefore create and transform the everyday into art – to have human fulfillment rather than fail?
Ha! I think I may be throwing together a lot of different ideas and maybe misinterpreting things here and there but it is a start to my thinking about these things, :).
(for example I would think that as soon as the everday has “amazingness” to it, it would no longer be the everyday… and is that the transformation/change Lefebrve talks about?)
Johnstone, Stephen, ed., The Everyday (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008).
I went to a dance recital over the weekend for a five year old friend. There were kids of all ages in the show, but the 2-3 year olds were really something to see. Not only were they just ridiculously cute in their fancy dresses, but also their performance was great – mostly they just stood on stage, a few doing moves and some getting frozen with their arms in position staring at the audience. It was so adorable that everyone was laughing. Visually it was something I would have loved to take pictures of, all the little ballerinas in a group with one lost ballerina off to one side…. This got me wondering what it is that makes children doing this sort of thing so interesting and funny. I mean if it were adults the audience wouldn’t have been laughing, ya know?
It first struck me that maybe in looking at very young people doing things that are new to them but are familiar and not new to adults; we get some sort of insight into humanness or something? I find my visual interest as a photographer is consistently in children doing things in the world, not adults. There is something in seeing children act in the world that engages my mind, stops me to think and wonder… When I attempt to photograph adults similarly, it doesn’t resonate in the same way, it doesn’t bring up questions or a wondering. What is the curiosity?
Judith Butler, a philosopher/theorist I read a lot in the 90’s, presented in her book “Gender Trouble”, the idea that identity (specifically gender) is something we are performing. It is the idea that gender is learned behavior that we enact and these performances are then what constitute “male” and “female” identities. Gender is what you do, not who you are (and there are many variations). This idea expands to identity in general. We are performing who we are, our actions don’t reflect some sort of “natural” identity that already exists but instead our actions create it.
Perhaps seeing kids so clearly learning to perform, not just a dance for a recital, but how to be “grown up” people, reminds us ever so slightly that we ourselves have learned to be who we are and to perform ourselves in the world… and its kinda funny.
I find this connection between my undergraduate studies in identity and how we become who we are/ BE who we are and my photography of children and childhood interesting. Perhaps I find clues to personhood in the way kids interact/act with the world around them that are harder to see once become adults.
I met Ezra over the weekend (actually two weekends ago now). He is two-ish months old and is Estelle’s brother. Being around him got me thinking about the way of being of an infant, what it is all about, all the amazing things occurring in the brain of a baby etc. Ezra staring up at his blinky star happy as can be, arms and legs wiggling. It struck me as baby meditation.
Being new to this world, it seems to me a big job of a baby is to observe, to take in huge amounts of information. It blows my mind to think about what they are learning to comprehend, tiny details and patterns that we are unaware of. While listening to an audio file of an Andrew Weil Meditation book, it occurred to me that meditation can be described as focused observation and being present and being creative in the world can also have to do with observation and being present….So spending time with the little ones as a nanny, it’s like this big part of my job is to be observant and present. Isn’t it kinda the perfect counterpart to being a creative person?
Okay, so there is observation and being present, but I have also found there is some sort of connection between the way I go about entertaining/playing with kids and with being creative, like maybe it’s the same way of thinking or something. I was sitting at a café and wondered to myself, “What if I was with Estelle right now? What would we do?” And I immediately noticed how the blue sugar packs made this lovely angle toward the yellow and then brown sugar packs in the sugar bowl and I would probably play with them or build something out of them or … and then Estelle would get interested and we would play and talk all around the objects on the table.
So what is interesting to me is that when I asked myself those questions, it was really an aesthetic response I had (in addition to nanny knowledge)… It’s the color and shape and placement I’m noticing and interacting with knowing that if I engage with this the child I am with will most likely get interested and it will go somewhere like decorating the table or a story with sugar packs as characters. Prior to wondering this I wasn’t paying attention to what was on the table at all, partly because I was busy on my computer and partly maybe because I have learned to be an adult in public and not play with the sugar bowl?
I guess what it is I wonder and think about is how this so obviously relates to my pictures of children and childhood – the way I engage with kids is similar to how I engage creatively. And I tend to think of this as part of what my pictures are about, that what I am doing is related and relating to what the kids I’m with are doing… But there is often this comment about me making pictures from a “child’s point of view” that I always stop and question because I see it as my point of view (and well obviously it is). I think maybe it’s just that the adult me point of view relates well with what we think of as a child’s point of view, which I guess now I am saying is sort of inherently a “creative” view of the world (defined here as related to being visually open, curious and engaged in the present moment).
Is the grand thought behind this maybe about creativity and a way of being in the world that we are born with? Are we born artists (and scientists and meditators)? Are kids always in a creative state? I guess this really depends on what you think of as creative. I am thinking of the sort of visual pleasure/appreciation that can come from openly taking in your surroundings with an eye for something to engage with… Okay so now I see I have found my way around to perhaps we are all just born to appreciate the world around us through our senses and young kids are doing that much more readily perhaps than the average adult?
Oh the thoughts keep going and going….
There are a few things I have found to be important for making my pictures with children. First of all there is an age range that really is ideal. This seems to be a little before 2 till just beyond 3. I think it’s at the point where the child really starts to move around and interact independently with their surroundings that things start to happen for me visually.
Another important factor is that the child at some point doesn’t pay attention to what I’m doing while taking pictures. We are hanging out together and interacting but the presence of my camera doesn’t interfere. She continues to play and be engaged or she is doing her own thing and me taking pictures goes completely unnoticed … while another child may just stop, get quiet and watch me.
I have also found I am most interested when kids are in a space that isn’t visually defined as a child’s space but there is still a clear sense that it is in fact their space. So like, not too many bright colorful plastic toys, or not a playground, but a regular space at home or outside that has been created and defined by the child’s presence there or their interaction there. It is interesting too because I think there is a space created and defined by the child being there in that place, and experiencing there in that place, but there is also this larger container space that is created by parents/caregivers that allows the child’s defined space to exist in this way that interests me…
This kid space seems to be created by them exploring or following their curiosity with focus, not concerned with the “bigger picture” of life that an adult would be… a sort of exploring without constraints or worries or a to do list… I think they can do this because the adult world of their parents/caretakers has created this “safe” space/place for them to be in. And, it is interesting because it’s seemingly invisible to them, but if it were gone they would be immediately aware of it. This space is created by their adult people’s attention on them and awareness of them and care for them and it allows the child to focus on the unknown, explore and expand into the world around them knowing they will be contained… it’s boundaries for them basically, invisible limits that are set for them.