A few months ago, I visited MOMA on an unofficial tour led by my friend Dan Siedell (author and Presidential Scholar and Art Historian in Residence at The King’s College, NYC). It was great.
He took us to floor 5 where we looked at Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh. Then down to floor 4 where we looked at Rothko, Pollock, Twombly.
We talked about the comment people often make in front of a painting like Rothko’s. “My child could do that!”
Dan said, well, that’s kind of the point.
These artists were drawn to children’s art. The power of a child’s art is defined by what they cannot do–by their lack. And as a result it’s not about showing off skill, or expertise. It’s coming from somewhere else. It’s all heart.
Artists like Twombly were trying to get at that same heart. They stripped away, they set out to unlearn, to recapture that enchantment and power inherent in the art of a child.
The child is small in front of a world that is vast. A child is not in control of his pencil or his paints. He struggles to depict it–every line has heart. All that he is goes into it.
Is the power of the art of a child something to do with where they see themselves in relation to the world? If you are right-sized, as a child, before the world, your art will be coming from a place of humility and fragility. And wonder.
What if that comment: “my child could do that!” were no longer a derogatory comment? What if it were one of admiration and respect?
To have “heart” in a children’s story is critical. It’s what distinguishes the sentimental from the true, the living from the non-living book.
I’m privileged to work with incredibly talented artists. For them to paint with heart, so that it looks spontaneous, and like a child, takes immense skill–and years and years of practice. Simple isn’t simple. Take Sue Heap who illustrated How To Be A Baby–so deceptively simple. And filled with heart.
Or Jago, whose work manages to transcend all ages and appeal as much to a 3 year old as a 93 year old. (And, case in point, I have a couple of new picture books coming in February that are illustrated by two incredible artists that I cannot wait to show you! So… stay tuned!)
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Picasso