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     Volume 4 Issue 7 | August 6, 2004 |

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Straight Talk

Hey, I'm Not a Skeptic!

Nadia Kabir Barb

River Landscape with Horsemen and Peasants by Aellbert Cuyp

If someone had told me a few weeks ago that it would be possible to take fifteen five years old girls to the National Gallery in London and actually keep them interested in the art around them for almost two hours, I would have been incredibly skeptical. But having actually had the dubious pleasure of joining my youngest daughter and her class on that particular school trip, I have to admit that I was totally incorrect. If I delve into my memory banks and try to recall outings from my school days, the only school trip that I have a vague recollection of apart from our annual picnics is a trip to Sonar Gaon, home of Isa Kha. There were almost a hundred girls on the expedition and it was in all likelihood the highlight of our school going life up till then. Sadly, school trips were not something that was part of the school curriculum at that time. Nowadays I can barely keep up with the number of field trips and school outings my kids have between the three of them. That in itself would be no big deal except for the fact that my name seems to come up rather frequently when they draw lots for which parent is to accompany the teachers. However it seems to be an ideal way of combining pleasure with work or rather learning with fun. One also gets a first hand idea of how times have changed in the educational arena.

Although the weather on the day of the school trip was perfect, the traffic was not. Unusually, the planning by the local authorities was rather impractical as there were a couple of major events happening on the same day. We had the inauguration of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and a show with the Grand Prix racing cars. This meant that a few of the main roads were cordoned off and the diversions to the traffic created chaos around parts of the city. After a lot of ingenuous driving by the coach driver we arrived at our port of call, clambered out and entered the foyer of the National Gallery. At first it seemed that the fifteen girls had doubled or tripled judging by the amount of noise and chaos they were creating. But as soon as the lady in charge of the tour arrived, they magically transformed into little cherubs.

I had assumed that we were going to be traipsing around the gallery being inundated with names and facts such as, "the works of art on your left are Impressionist paintings by Monet and Pissaro and on your right are Post Impressionist paintings by Cézanne and Gaugin" or "the next painting you are about to see is a self portrait by Picasso". In fact not a word was said about dates, or what period or even what type of painting we were looking at. On the contrary what actually happened was the group was shown three specific pictures. The first painting was called River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants by Aelbert Cuyp, the second painting was one by Henri Rousseau called Tiger in A Tropical Storm (Surprised) and the third painting was by William Hogarth called The Graham Children. All three paintings were completely different in their style, use of colours and content.

The children were asked to sit down in front of each of the paintings and the lady in charge whose name I think was Jenny, began talking to the girls about some of the schoolwork they had been doing and the fact that one of their projects had been on animals. Her questions were very simple and drew their attention to the painting by asking them what animals they could see and what they thought the characters were doing and who they might be. I was becoming more and more impressed with the skill with which she sparked the imagination of these children and drew the quieter girls from their shells. To be completely honest, we parents had underestimated our offspring and were totally taken aback by some of the answers, as they were remarkably insightful. Even when the answers were totally off the mark, it was delightful to hear them speak with such self-confidence and the innocence with which they view the world. Jenny herself was a revelation as she talked and laughed with the class and wove magical stories about the paintings in front of us. She would have had a brilliant career as a children's television presenter! In fact when it was time for us to go and have lunch the girls were almost reluctant, a stark contrast to the beginning of our trip when each and everyone one of them had declared themselves ravenous and had to be gently coerced into relinquishing their lunch boxes.

The journey back to school was boisterous but edifying as the girls chattered about their favourite painting and whether the tiger in the Mr. Rousseau's painting had been fierce looking or not. The parent's conversation was not dissimilar to that of their offspring but had a few technical words thrown in for effect. In every school trip that I have had the fun of going to, whether it was the Science museum, Woburn Safari Park or the National Gallery it seems to me that not only do the children benefit from the outings but so do the adults that are accompanying them. You get the opportunity to view things from a completely different perspective. So next time, even if I am asked to accompany my children to the Museum of Entomology, no eyebrows will be raised and all skepticism will be put on hold.


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