ARTISTS’ EYES: Children’s Art from Studio In A School

Jayda Hines, Grade 4 - PS 180, Manhattan.

“The child sees everything in a state of newness,” Charles Baudelaire one wrote. He went on to conclude that, “genius is nothing more or less than childhood recovered at will.” This is certainly true of Picasso, whose fascination with the visual inventiveness of children inspired him to deskill his exceptional facility in order to obtain a new kind of freedom; this is especially apparent in his late works. His friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, thought of Picasso as, “a newborn child who orders the universe for his personal use.”

Bonnie Chen, Grade 4, P.S. 254 Brooklyn.

Wassily Kandinsky felt that children’s art offered access to alternate meanings, a free mental space in which adults could rediscover the primal unity that or culture tends to suppress. Without citing earlier sources in the history of art, I could propose Courbet’s 1855 epic painting “The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory Summarizing My Seven Years’ Life as an Artist,” which portrays the writer Champfleury with a child at his feet drawing a stick figure bonhomme on the floor, as an apt illustration of the phenomenon. The connections between the art of modern and contemporary artists (such as Paul Klee, Miró, Dubuffet, the members of COBRA, Lonnie Holley, Bill Traylor, Thornton Dial, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and more recently Chris Martin and Joe Bradley) and the art of children are well-established. By looking at images produced by children, we stand not only to gain a better appreciation for the depth and complexity of great Modernist and contemporary artwork, but also—as we cannot at once be children and men—to regain a much-needed sense of enthusiasm and energy, the kind that is beyond the power of analysis. I had just such an experience at the opening reception of Studio in a School’s latest exhibit, Artists’ Eyes.

Elko Gerville Reache, Grade 4 - The Neighborhood School, Manhattan.

Studio in a School was founded by Agnes Gund in 1977 out of her love of art, her belief in the importance of art education, and the necessity to protect this belief during the budget crisis of the mid-1970s (during which the city was forced to cut to art classes in public schools, including elementary schools). Studio in a School’s artists/instructors serve public schools, day care centers, and community-based organizations by giving workshops in painting, collage, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. Since its founding, the organization has served over 30,000 students annually throughout all five boroughs.

Julien Aviles, Grade 2, P.S. 112 Manhattan.

Many small clusters of observers made up mostly of parents who gathered at the walls that displayed their children’s work, intermingled with friends, teachers, board members, and staff; there was an order to the amorphous crowd. The whole ambience was festive and full of gaiety! It was just as pleasurable to watch the children who posed in front of their works for their parents’ Kodak moments as it was looking at the teachers’ proud faces. For a good while I was completely immersed in this congenial environment, which transported me to a heightened state of self-discovery and profound joy.

The exhibit displays more than 200 works of art by pre-kindergarten through 6th grade students, and is divided into three themes, portraits, landscapes, and cityscapes, three subcategories, namely art, healthy living, and animals in the zoo. Fing Tin Fang, Nya Hernandez, Herlindo Garcia (all 5th-graders from P.S. 50, Brooklyn) created some of the most expressive portraits, while those by Derek Webster (4th-graders from PS 30, Queens), Ashley Encado (grade 2, P.S. 305, Queens), and Fitzroy Richardson (grade 2, P.S. 87, Bronx) are equally impressive in their depictions of facial expressions and in their use of color and tonalities. In the landscape theme, both Anika Kalra and Fay Fay Ning (grade 4, P.S. 99, Queens) shared elongated and distant views of landscapes while Winfried Huang, Evelyn Dong, Dalen Huynh, and Sophia Fan (P.S. 124, Manhattan) all chose to portray their trees close-up to the picture plane as if they are treated as portraits, though each demonstrated different permutations in terms of lines and brushstrokes, as well as colors.

Gabriela Hernandez, Grade 2, P.S. 46 Manhattan.

The luminous combinations of bright red, strong blue, and darker green set up a rather compact yet generous space for Julian Avile’s (grade 2, P.S. 112, Manhattan) three adorable penguins. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to resist Gabriela Hernandez’s (grade 2, PS 46, Manhattan) jazzy and dynamic collage of a tree—the same height as its neighboring building—and a bunch of tulips; her economic and harmonious sense of how different forms can both coexist and tell a story conveys so convincingly the growth of living organisms in an urban setting
From the opposite wall Jayde Hines’s and Ta’nei Rivero’s (grade 4, P.S. 180) pastel drawings of carrots, turnips, and radishes, exposed both from the sky above and earth below, would make Paul Klee envious. The same can be said of Elko Gerville Reache’s (grade 4, the Neighborhood School, Manhattan) flowing ensemble of the same vegetation.

Ta'nei Rivero, Grade 4 - PS 180, Manhattan.

Finally, when I left, right after Ms. Gund’s compelling speech, I felt restored and energized by the children’s gifts to our world. And while sitting contently on the E train going back to the Rail’s headquarters, a famous aphorism from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince came into my mind: “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” This immediately brought a smile to my face, and I realized that I had to make sure that I could sustain the feeling forever.


Phong Bui