As mentioned in my earlier post Why children’s art is visually appealing?, There are many examples of artists who seriously considered children’s art as symbol of uninhibited, direct expression and took interest in retaining children’s creativity. Gutai Artist’s Group was one such example.
Gutai was an art group active during 1950-70 in Osaka, Japan. It comprised of a number of artists, all of them unique with their creation. They were the pioneers of performance art and revolutionized the way of Artistic creation like never before. Their work was hugely neglected back then and even today, very few are aware of these artists and their work. I confess that, I had not known about them until one day Shilpi introduced to me about this group and their groundbreaking work. She has written an interesting post on her musings about Gutai Art Group you can read it here.
They took daring steps towards the undiscovered world of creation. However, the thing that greatly draws me to them, is their affinity to the art of children. They greatly admired and took inspiration from children’s art.
These innovative creators, were also very keen on children’s art and education and many of them taught children and regularly wrote articles in Japanese Children’s Poetry Magazine named Kirin(Giraffe).Yozo Ukita was one such Artist from the Gutai group, who was a part of the publication of this Magazine. Since 1955, he along with other artists of Gutai wrote several articles for children in this magazine.
Gutai group often collaborated with children and they treated children’s art with consideration that they gave to their own work writing about it seriously, publishing and even promoting children’s work through exhibitions.
Here are few interesting concepts/ideas that Gutai artists thought/wrote as articles for children:
Atsuko Tanaka: To Mothers
During one such exhibition arranged by Kirin Magazine for children, Gutai Artist Atsuko Tanaka came across a child who submitted bricks tied together with rubber-bands as Artwork. Atsuko Tanaka was instantly taken aback by the child’s conceptualization of an artwork. She writes:
“Among the works presented at this Kirin exhibition, one was made of old bricks tied together by numerous rubber bands. Seeing such a work, people might say, “Do you call this some sort of art? Things like this lie around everywhere.” At first glance, it may appear meaningless; however, I think it is very good….[She] did not try to tie bricks beautifully. She just wanted to tie them up together and she presented it as a work. Because she presented it as a work, it became different from things we see around us.”
In 1956 issue of Kirin magazine, She wrote an article addressing parents and guardians: “To Mothers” in which she advises parents to raise children without the pressure and constraint in creating art. She requests them to not interfere with children’s notion of creation by imposing their own notions of art and beauty, there-by allowing children to create freely.
What she tried to convey is so important even in today’s times: when some parents expect the children to draw in a particular way that is conventional and approved instead of being free with creation. They also expect children to get grades/appreciation/awards instead of allowing children to indulge in innovative, original and out-of-the box creations.
Here’s one of Atsuko Tanaka’s creation: The Electric Dress that consisted of several versions with blinking light bulbs in different shapes and colours. It was created by Tanaka as a response to sudden and rapid growth with industrialization and technology happening in Japan at that time. One day she was seating on a bench at OSAKA station, she saw a flashing advertisement illuminated by neon lights. She decided ‘I would make a neon dress’. And she made it!
Yoshihara Jiro : Please Draw Freely
Yoshihara Jiro, placed a huge board stuck with paper, some markers and allowed anybody to draw on it. They could start a new drawing or add to the existing. He invited them to draw as freely as they can.
Shimamoto Shozo : Let’s make mischief!!
Shimamoto Shozo sought to inspire children to productive tomfoolery using both descriptions and photographs of works from the 1st Gutai art exhibition 1955.
He says: Making mischief is not considered a good thing. And often children are taught not to make mischief. But there’s a difference between healthy mischief and unhealthy, bad mischief. He explains:
What is an unhealthy mischief? The one that harms others e.g. stealing somebody’s money, belongings, A prank that embarrasses someone, tearing or disfiguring someone’s good work, breaking valuables of others. So in short all the mischief that harms people(or any living being) is a bad mischief.
What is a healthy mischief? One that does no harm to others and their belongings. E.g hiding and springing a surprise on someone, creating something and then destroying it yourself where the creation and destruction are both part of the experience. These are good mischief.So Shimamoto says that it’s good to do healthy mischief. But what happens is that the parents are so scared of their kids making mischief that they prohibit kids from playing any mischief at all.
There!, Shimamoto tries to tell the parents and kids to loosen a bit. Don’t be so restrictive. Let the good mischiefs happen, let that playfulness be alive.
He addresses to children: ”At your age, you have to remember many things and do many things that your fathers, mothers and teachers tell you to do. As you do difficult things like grown-ups and your older siblings do, it becomes hard for you to behave spontaneously like you did before. This means you are becoming a good person, but sometimes you might feel not entirely satisfied.”
This dissatisfaction is due to loss of playfulness, loss of being your true self. He further adds “One way to satisfy this desire is Mischief.”
He invites children to retain their child-like self (not childish self) intact. The child-like self is abundant within children and looses traces as children grow; they lose the sense of playfulness, fun and become rigid grownups. The playfulness can retain child-like spontaneity, and Shimamoto shows one way of retaining that. He shows some ways of making good mischief: “The only way to make good mischief is to make your own tools for it. For example you can build a paper screen and break it, or buy a sheet of paper and smear different colors on it randomly.”
He encourages the children not to worry about what others at home will say. He tells them the story of some of the grownup artists who did such mischief to create art: “One of them, Saburo Murakami, thought this up: he blocked the entrance to his exhibition with huge sheet of paper so that nobody could enter. Then he ran towards it from 20 meters away, broke it and went through.”
He further encourages them saying if you feel you can come up with better healthy mischief then you should act on it. He assures Kids of being themselves, playful selves that they are: he advises them not to think that art can be made by only privileged few with skills and efforts. He assures them that Art can be made from such mischief and playful aliveness. Only when you explore through such mischievous and playful way, your spontaneity will create something that is truly original and alive. He explains that Art moves people’s mind not because it is skillfully done but because it enthralls people, it makes them want to go inside and interact with it.
Lastly, He says: if you tell your mischief to your friends and they get happy saying ‘I want to do it too’, that’s a great Art.
Here’s an example of Shimamoto Shozo’s mischief: Once he created a canvas by sticking layers of newspapers to a wooden frame because he could not afford to buy canvass. While he was trying to draw on it, the newspaper accidently tore open creating interesting hole. He got so interested in that sudden moment of creativity that he created holes in the entire canvass!
|Shimamoto Shozo: Holes Work 1950, Courtesy and
©: Shimamoto Shozo website
Saburo Murakami : Art as a space of freedom in ‘speed violation’
This guy, Saburo Murakami flung himself on the frames of paper to create performance Artwork. Paper was considered to be traditional ingredient of Japanese culture and Architecture. His work represents breaking boundaries of conventional cultural limits.
His work produced understanding of violent interaction between body and material with the application of speed.
|Saburo Murakami : Passing Through 1956. Performace View: 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition,Ohara Kaikam, Tokyo.Oct 11-17, 1956|
Courtesy: Otsuji Sieko Collection, Musashino Art University & Library, Tokyo.©The Former Members of Gutai Art Association
Yamazaki Tsuruko : Extremely interesting!
Yamazaki Tsuruko tells children to think about what is the meaning of doing something ‘interesting’. She gives examples such as
A. When playing a game that you have played many times before
B.When making up a new game and playing it
A.When doing something easy and ordinary
B.When doing something difficult and thrilling
And asks the children ‘Aren’t ‘Bs’ more interesting?.’ She advises children about fun of active challenges rather than passive pursuits in her article.
Shiraga Kazuo : The Baby and Milk or Proof of Life
He says ‘A baby cries when he needs milk. This signals that the baby is alive because it will die without milk. So if you want to do something, that means you are alive. If you do it, then that proves that you are alive. Speaking of doing what you want to do, there is one method you can always count on, that uses only what you have in front of you. Think hard. You can do many things when you are given a piece of paper or a box. What do you do if you don’t have crayons or paint? You can make a hole in the paper, tear it or stick a torn off piece on the hole you make. You may find it more beautiful than you expected. It may even seem to be a proof that you are alive.’
Shiraga Kazuo, dived in mud and wrestled, kicked, thrashed, squeezed the mud creating a first ever mud art work created by physical action with mud.Shiraga defined painting as a gesture than a medium.
|Shiraga Kazuo : Challenging Mud. Courtesy and © The Former Members of Gutai Art Association|
He dressed himself in red coloured costume with elongated sleeves and swayed on the stage against the black background to create an “alive and moving” painting.
|Shiraga Kazuo : Performance on stage. Courtesy and © The Former Members of Gutai Art Association |
Further he created painting by moving aerially over the painting and using his feet
|Kazuo Shiraga in his studio in 1960. credit and courtesy of Amagasaki Cultural center|
Shiraga’s bold performances were inspired by idea of tension between state and art. These aggressive performances also revealed and questioned the masculine possibilities and risks in the post-war Japan.
Shimamoto Shozo : The Earth is not round
Shimamoto addresses to children by saying they will not believe him and mock him if he tells them : ‘Earth is not round, it is flat’. Why will he be mocked? Because Earth is round, it’s a fact. But several hundred years ago, everybody believed The Earth was flat and people mocked and scorned Galileo because he was saying something new.
He says ‘In everything, it takes great effort to think up something new. And even if something is good it takes time for people to appreciate it. So if you are not strong enough, when you think up something new and important and nobody praises it, You may give it up. And instead you will start thinking up things that are not so new, but that please everybody.’
These messages of the Artists encourage the children to be brave and experimental with their creativity. They are also the counseling messages to the Guardians, Parents and Teachers to nurture the abundant creative energy of children. Gutai Artist’s greatly believed in importance of ordinary people’s engagement in artistic creation and overall growth of art. Their messages are applicable to us adults as well..
- Gutai Splendid Playground: Ming Tiampo and Alexandra Munroe
- Electrifying Painting: Ming Tiampo
- Why Gutai? : John Held, Jr.
- Gutai Splendid Playground Exhibition at Guggenhiem http://web.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/gutai