14 September 2014

When Kids Ask Artists About Art

The Children's Choice Awards jury meets with artists involved in each production they see immediately after the show - often the star performers or directors themselves. This meeting provides an opportunity for the kids to ask any questions they have about what they just saw, to help inform their final evaluations of the performance.

Over and over again, I find that kids ask the artists what many adults would like to know - but are too afraid to ask. Adults are not supposed to ask "stupid" questions about art; we are expected to understand what it's about, or come to our own conclusions, even though many adult viewers of contemporary art don't have the tools to do so.
The kids, on the other hand, feel much more at ease seeking the information many of us want to know. This may be because the "etiquette" of "understanding" art hasn't yet been engrained in them, or it may be because as kids they're used to asking questions - and used to being told they still have much to learn. Some of their recent questions include:

How was that art?
What was it about?
Where did the idea come from?
Why was there a costume designer when there were no costumes?
Who paid for this and how much did it cost?
Why did the performer do that?
How did you do/make/create that?
(and my favourite) How much do you make?

Many of the artists the jury meets aren't used to being asked these types of questions either, and how they deal with the discomfort the kids can cause them is another layer to the intervention that is the Children's Choice Awards. Some get nervous, or are unimpressed, and get through the talk as fast as they can; others smile cleverly and give away only the answers that will provoke more thought. Some keep the aura of mystery about their work, others demystify their "art" entirely (sometimes even to the disappointment of the kids). Sometimes the kids' questions even point out errors in the performance - on more than one occasion we've seen artists answer, "well, that was an accident..."

If the artists engage with the kids and take their questions seriously, whichever approach they take enriches the kids' - and our - understanding of what we just saw. Watch some of the artist talks we post on this blog, and you'll see what I mean. The talks we've had this year with director Romeo Castellucci, the singers of Sänger ohne Schatten, the artists behind El Triunfo de La Libertad, and choreographer Saburo Teshigawara were all pretty entertaining - not only because the kids asked questions that many of us were wondering, but also because of how the artists themselves reacted. Chances are, even if you think you understand the show you saw, you'd learn something by listening to the kids ask the questions we'd love to ask ourselves. They prove the old adage true: there's no such thing as a stupid question.