Children, Art, Animals and the 'Real World'

Feeding the Rabbits by Frederick Morgan (1856 -1927)

As a teacher I frequently hear how ‘children love animals’. In fact, material pertaining to animals may raise their level of interest, engagement and relevancy. This often holds truth, but it sounds and feels like a story without a happy ending.

It seems that we are lead to believe that loving animals is almost ‘child’s play’ and that we should have outgrown this once we reached adulthood. You know, once we’ve entered the ‘real world’, as my dad liked to call it.

There is something hidden and uncomfortable about this. How do we go from feeling emotional responses to mechanical thinking regarding animals. My view is that children who have been taught kindness toward others, accept animals as they are and recognize within them another living being. As we grow into adulthood many of us seem to lose what we were allowed to experience as children. And before long, we distance ourselves from that child who was fascinated by these living beings.

Perhaps we mentally categorize animals and place them into boxes so as not to have to look, or feel, much deeper. For if we look too closely, the child inside of us might cry and ask why the cute, funny chicken is treated so cruelly on a factory farm. The child might weep if we look at how the adorable baby calf is taken from his mother when he is one day old. When we mask that child with a grown up 'real world' adult, we tell ourselves that it is ‘normal' to regard and treat animals as commodities. We dismiss the fascination and love a child holds for animals because, after all, it is only a child’s perspective and can’t possibly hold the wisdom or logic that the adult has.

We like to think of ourselves as intelligent and fair-minded humans who problem solve and use critical thinking skills. But we forget that what is lost along the way, is the intrigue and compassion for other sentient beings when we have arrived at the ‘real world'. It's all business in the 'real world'. The fascination for the inquisitive and funny rabbit, who is revered in so many children’s books, becomes somewhat of an object devoid of individual essence, in the ‘real world’.

I was never very good at the ‘real world’ or, at least not ‘that’ one.

As an Art educator I see children express themselves daily.  Teaching skills, techniques, elements and principles of design, art history and aesthetics and developing visual literacy is a part of what I do.
Elliott Eisner addressed the significance of Art education in ‘Ten Lessons the Arts Teach’:

One of my favorite quotes is Pablo Picasso’s: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  Why is this?  Is this because adults do not recognize the intrinsic value art holds as a means for communicating and expressing for anyone, regardless of age, especially when we enter the ‘real world’?

Visual art is one of the most misunderstood and disregarded means of communication. We recognize writing, speaking, singing, and technology as strong viable forms of communication. Yet, art allows us to connect that inner voice and emotion into a process that results in visual representation. 

If we are fortunate enough to have our eyesight, then when we open our eyes in the morning, we take in so much information. When we drive, or walk, or ride a bike, we are taking in information with our eyes! That is powerful. The visual arts are a powerful means of communication that is simply overlooked and tragically abandoned in our society.

Animals and art. Both powerful, both beautiful, both intrinsically valuable in their own right. And both, so often misunderstood and forgotten.

When there is so much pain and suffering in the world and money seems to be the guiding control, causing increasing decay, I find solace and peace in truth that animals speak. They are genuine and will never be anything other than authentic selves. In the 'real world' we could learn so much from other sentient beings. What Franz Marc says about the artist needs to apply to each of us, in the 'real world'.

"Is there any more mysterious idea for an artist than the conception of how nature is mirrored in the eyes of an animal? How does a horse see the world, or an eagle, or a doe, or a dog?" Franz Marc

The Red Horses by Franz Marc (1880 - 1916)