I'm Not a Skeptic!
River Landscape with Horsemen and Peasants
by Aellbert Cuyp
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004