Monday, 7 November 2011

We heart Tony Hart and the boy who bit Picasso!

Well we've been having a pretty colourful time here in Cleary world!

I have a new pink hair-do, which is making me feel more colourful, vibrant and alive!

Gorgeous fireworks danced before our eyes on Saturday night, making us oooohhhh and ahhhhhh!

We went to a car-boot sale on Sunday and I discovered the best stall ever. This guy was selling art papers and old fashioned school books for writing in, dirt cheap. 12 x A4 books for £2! Lined, graph, squared in small, medium and large squares, half blank half lined - I couldn't resist. Poster paint bottles for £1 each! Pencils and pens of all colours and varieties.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. I have a serious stationary fetish. I might have been dribbling a bit on that stall!

So fired up by all this colourific inspiration, we've been doing some pretty interesting art here today. The kids immediately took to the squared sheets of paper, and started producing 'pixelated art'.

 We had a K-9 pixelated Dr. Who robo-dog, a new colour-coded system devised to go outside Herbie's bedroom door, and some other interesting pixelated ork.

Which led to looking at lots of pixelated artwork on google images, which was also fun.

But then they asked to watch a programme called Mr. Maker on CBBC. This guy is scary.

I thought, ok, let's watch a little bit - but was getting really really angry watching this. This?Is?Art? Ok it's aimed at pre-schoolers, but still - is that the best they can do?

Why does everything aimed at young ones have to be so insulting to their intelligence nowadays? As if kids don't understand what you say unless you look like you are on drugs? You can't just be some normal person. No. You have to be KRAAAAZY! With a K. Uggghh. I hate it. I really hate it.

Art for children honestly seems such dumbed-down rubbish these days. If you go in most 'art' shops, or major craft stores, there is so little open ended material available. Instead it's just wave after wave of unimaginative kits which tell you exactly what to do - where's the creativity in that? Stick this here, put that there - voila! You have copied a picture someone else designed. Well done. No imagination required whatsoever! And it's all made of crap plastic horrid man-made material, totally throwaway, basically junk. Where is the beauty? Can you really call such creations 'art'? Even junk modelling makes me angry - often turning recyclable stuff into tat models that won't last till lunchtime - and in the process they now have to go to landfill because they've been made un-recyclable!

After tutting and bitching and moaning I turned Mr Psycho off. "I'm going to show you something much better than this" I promised the kids.

And so we had a fantastic couple of hours watching Tony Hart's episodes of his art programme from the late 70's and 80's called Take Hart and Hartbeat on youtube. Remember him?

Tony Hart's programmes were where Nick Park first introduced us to Morph...

Yeah ok there was still some 'disposable' art stuff going on in these programmes and in one episode there was some weird janitor guy who obviously marked the BBC's attempt to start 'getting down with the kids' by giving us a whacky idiot for 5 minutes of the otherwise excellent show to keep things exciting.
But generally, these programmes were way more experimental. More daring. They used real materials, inks, pens, colours - not just brightly coloured bits of foam and pom poms. The Gallery was a showcase of beautiful artwork sent in by children - using real materials - fantastic pictures in chalks, inks, watercolours, charcoal. Often really highly quality, and looking amazing in terms of the standard, the quality for children so young.

Have kids really become any less able? Are they really much less talented these days? I don't think so at all. They just have so many other all-singing-all-dancing activities to do instead. Computers can do art for you so you don't have to - right? I think there is perhaps a mentality of why-bother-producing anything-imperfect-when-you-can-make-a-perfect-piece-of-crap? There is a serious trend of dumbing down that I think we can't afford to go along with much longer. Will people forget how to paint? How to sew? How to make lasting artwork, to be enjoyed for generations to come? Art work that means something? Do kids know how to really look at anything any more? To savour... to see beauty in the simplest of things - in nature even?

It's insulting to children to assume they're only capable of producing art from a ready-kit.

Some element of impermanence is perfectly necessary in art - a sandcastle being the perfect example - you know the tide will come in but that doesn't stop you making it, eh?

The impermanence of nature means an ever-changing pallette, and life, as it moves on, will show up as different kinds of art throughout an artists life. That doesn't mean that as a child, it should involve simply glitter, pom-poms and glue - let them get into some real art.

Maybe for Christmas - how about buying the kids some really 'grown up' art materials? How about taking them to more art galleries, installations, and talks?

We recently went to a talk by Anthony Penrose, who wrote about his childhood friendship with Picasso, in the book

He was such a colourful, eccentric and at the same time sensible, and warm person, who we were lucky enough to sit just a metre or so away from, and my eldest son Finn just drank everything he had to say. His tales of growing up with what sounded like the most wonderful parents who were best buds with Picasso just had us in awe. At the end, after Finn patiently waited in line for about 15 minutes, he called him to the front of the queue, and drew something wonderful for him - and Finn, took one look at the picture and added his own addition - drawing a boy's face around the word 'boy'.

Anthony had a twinkle in his eye and told Finn how pleased he was that he drew on the book and encouraged him to doodle on all the other pages when he got home if he wished!

Now that is real magic and inspiration!!!


  1. Wow, what a stupendous experience for Finn ... he’ll never forget this one.

  2. First of all - I love your hair.

    I had a bit of an urge to do it recently (same colour too!), but couldn't find any dye and then sorta forgot. You've inspired me again.

    Secondly, great topic. That Mr Maker fellah is Australian I think. And my kids love it. Your post has made me realise I've relaxed my stance a bit too much lately - begun to think, well at least those shows have something creative about them. Arrgh. Better check out that 70's show I reckon.

    I think my lack of inspiration for encouraging them comes from not feeling creative mojo myself lately. Time to make some changes methinks.

  3. Ah, Tony Hart. That brings back some memories. Not all good ones. My and my friend both sent in pictures and hers got in the gallery and mine didn't. Pah. And mine was obviously much better lol.

    We never use kiddy art supplies here. I think if you want children to produce something they love and are proud of, you should give them decent materials to use otherwise they can get frustrated. I mean, why use crappy felt tip pens when you can have SHARPIES?! Yes, they are toxic and they will stain and so on but at least they are proper colours and they don't run out after five seconds so you can make something decent with them.

    Ooh, is that a rant?

    And, yay for Finn. What a fab experience.

  4. Finn was super lucky wasn't he? We are also lucky to count among our friends the wonderful Eastbourne- based artist Clare Hackney, who has been doing some fantastic protest artwork for several years now. We have quite a few creatives in our lives, so we're really lucky, since I am not especially talented myself Leigh! When my mojo is running low, I sometimes think of them, and that helps me to feel inspired. Also being out in nature - some REALLY really mind-blowing scene, also does the trick. I am planning a trip soon to London to go visit some galleries with the kiddos. it's been too long!

    Viv - I have never heard of Sharpies - we're using crappy felt tips! I must look them up, my love creative muse friend! X

  5. I loved Hart Beat... but I also kind of enjoy Mr Maker and he's inspired us with a few techniques - but I totally get what you're talking about.

    Inspired by the pixelated pics. Think we might try them out.

  6. Ah, feel bad now for being mean about Mr. Maker ! He's probably a very nice chap in real life.... but does we really have to patronise children is the point I'm making I guess....

  7. Have to agree quite a bit actually after watching what is now Art Attack on the Disney channel. I should leave it at that before I swear because it was so bad! Possibly even worse than Mr Maker, I mean seriously how much foundation can one man wear?!?!?

    My hubby was a huge fan of Tony Hart and was delighted to get a reply back from an email he sent him a few years back now, it literally made his year!

    Loving the new hair colour by the way, bit jealous too as since mine is so grey there little point colouring it with anything too exciting!

  8. Ah god bless Tony Hart!! I am SO with you on the Kraaaazyyy kids stuff these days. Apart from not owning a TV I just won't let our kids watch kids TV these days because I've been so disgusted by it on several occasions - it's completely and utterly MANIC. No wonder kids come out with ADHD!

    No doubt I will have to give up my Stalinesque status in a year or two when my toddler demands to watch what his friends are watching but for the moment he LOVES all the old classics, particularly Trumpton and Camberwick Green, which Granny introduced him to :)

    Love the sound of Anthony Penrose and his book - will have to look that one up.


  9. Eeeeek. I am on pretty low moral ground here on the TV front. Our guys watch TV and also happen to be pretty bouncy! But then hubby grew up in a household with no TV and he said him and his two brothers were forever fighting, jumping, and manic!

  10. Lots to think about for me here. I completely agree with you - I thought I was a bit odd and a killjoy for not loving kids kits and junk modelling! Lol.
    But Phoebe does love mister maker - she will watch several and not make a thing! Hmm. I think she is a bit of a perfectionist so often won't try if she thinks she can't get it just right. Perhaps some hartbeat and chalk pastels are in order. We have a mix of kids supplies and the good stuff. Love sharpies! And staedtler fine liners in a rainbow of colours. Also - though they are designed for kids - crayole twistables slick stix are great! Oil pastels in pen form so easier for very little hands (and fun for me too)!

  11. I so totally agree, plus I loved Tony Hart and had serious envy of all those who made it to the Gallery!
    We're all a bit Steiner here...haven't always been but I totally love the proper art materials used, in my kid's school; beautiful watercolours, beeswax crayons. Good quality, beautiful, long lasting artwork. Why do we treat kids as if they can only deal with inane ugliness? I cringe when we get stick on foam bits and pom pom 'kits'they usually go sneakily out the back door. My kid's new favourite, well my 4 and 6 year old's is a Japanese brush calligraphy set, they love the whole procedure of setting up the ink grinding stone and little water bowl....
    Great post!

  12. Tony hart! I used to LOVE that show! I agree mr maker is a bit on the crazy side.... Feather enjoys watching him make things though. We have paper and various felt-tips, crayons and chalks laying around all the time and it amazes me the beautiful creations Feather presents us every day. She has a true creative passion and would happily draw all day long, which is awesome. She has already written out her xmas card list AND made all of her own cards! Bless her. Love reading your posts by the way :-) xxxxx