Sidney Nolan: Through a Child’s Eyes

Reggio-inspired and Project-based Living and LearningWe took a bus trip into the city. It was a rather impromptu trip; no real plans, just the excitement of hopping on the bus and riding it into town. Jack knew he wanted to do two things; ride the merry-go-round and eat cupcakes. Beyond that we had no plans.

Reggio-inspired and Project-based Living and Learning Reggio-inspired and Project-based Living and LearningThe bus stop is just outside a beautiful fountain, just beyond that is the Canberra Museum & Gallery (CMAG). While Jack and Sarah bounced happily around the fountain, the CMAG sign, promising me a nice hot chocolate, enticed me in.

I’d heard about CMAG; how some pieces are hung low on the wall so children can enjoy them as well, a few activity tables for children to explore and a welcoming reading nook with beautiful books for the children to read at their leisure. I also noticed a studio with child-sized easels and rows of paint pots…. we’d have to sign up for a class if we wanted to explore in there further. Next time.

This time though we would just have a bit of a wander around. I couldn’t help smiling when, while I was talking to the person at the information desk, I turned around to see that Jack had stacked the child-sized stools, declaring proudly that he too had made a sculpture. I do love his creativity.

Sarah enjoyed the Gathered Together exhibition; drawn in by the bold colours and lines of the Indigenous art. She enjoyed pointing out all the different shapes and finding animals hidden among the paintings.

Jack enjoyed the Sidney Nolan gallery; explaining with great animation in his hands, what was happening in each painting. He was particularly drawn to Policeman in a Wombat Hole and Kelly and Horse.

| An Everyday Story - seeing art through a child's eyesIt was interesting listening to Jack explain what he saw in the paintings (these are very well-known Australian paintings and so I was familiar with them), but they were new to Jack and he saw something very different. He saw the colours and the shapes, the small magpie, the expression on the horse’s face and how he must have felt to be carrying a robot on his back.

Reggio-inspired and Project-based Living and LearningI thought about reading the description to him, but as he stood in front of the painting, head cocked to one side, silent, I decided that what he was doing right that very moment was infinitely more important. He was making sense of that painting in his own way, looking at the lines and the colours, taking it all in.

He didn’t need, or want a history lesson on Ned Kelly. Jack wanted to look at that painting and make up his own mind; he didn’t want me telling him what the painting meant, who painted it, what to look for in the painting and what makes it important enough to be hanging in a gallery. He wanted to explain to me what he saw.

We might look at some more Sidney Nolan paintings online, we might even take a trip to the National Gallery where more of Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly paintings are displayed… we might.

For now though, I have a beautiful memory of a little boy explaining how a man managed to fall into a hole and where a robot with a square head is going on a brown horse.

9 Replies to “Sidney Nolan: Through a Child’s Eyes”

  1. This is a fantastic reminder to hang back sometimes before launching into a stream of explanations about everything. What a great outing – I am a little envious of all the great facilities you have to explore in Canberra – I am developing quite the holiday itinerary from your posts. So glad you’re back from your blogging break. At the moment I am so excited by the beaded branch exploration and our eyes are now peeled on our walks for our own branch. Thank you!!

    1. I agree Emily, so often we jump in explaining to children what it is that they are seeing or hearing, rather than taking TIME to listen to their stories and explanations. As you said Kate, in your blog post, Jack was already articulating what was happening as he saw it through his eyes. I work in a child care centre and we had a discussion around how fast we were to jump on the internet with the children to find answers to their questions rather allow moments of time for the children to seek, explore, enquire into their own answers. Their understandings strengthen as they work on their own theories, with us as teachers who listen, support, and give time while exploring alongside these young researchers.
      I’m glad I found your blog.

  2. I love that you allowed Jack his own explanations and imaginations. I’ve worked a lot with special needs children and what I learned then is something I do with all children – that is, to let them have their space to explore and get the wheels turning. As adults, we assume we have all the answers and want to fill the silence with explanations, but we soon realize that sometimes the answers don’t come quickly, and often not what we expect, but it is their unique voice. And more often than not, they humble us with that surprisingly intuitive voice.

  3. I love your pictures of Jack studying the painting.

    Near us is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. There, they teach you to talk with children about art like this: “what do you see in this painting?” “what makes you say that?” “what else do you see?” I loved it, because it makes art accessible to everyone.

    1. Lise, where do you live that you are near an Eric Carle Museum? How fun. We absolutely live on Eric Carle. I swear not a day goes by that we do not read one… or two… or five of his books! Love! That would be such a thrill to visit a museum in his name!

  4. What a lovely memory! I love that you didn’t force the correct answer on him, but let him make his own impression. It’s something I’m trying to do with my kids (as a backlash against my own parents well intentioned but oppressive parenting style I think). Well done!

  5. Oh Kate! You don’t know how happy this makes me. I manage the education section at CMAG and this is the sort of interaction with paintings that we can only hope to encourage in our littlest artists and appreciators!…I wonder if Jack might enjoy our CMAG on Sunday workshops – held the first Sunday of every month (4-8 year olds) – $5 per child. Delivered by two very beautiful art educators, they look at a current exhibition (brief gallery interoperation) and then head into the studio to make and create (approx 50 minutes). It is such a wonderful program…The studio is a pretty wonderful environment, also booked by preschools and early primary for our various art and social history programs throughout the school term. Next time you’re at CMAG, if you happen to be in on a Wednesday-Thursday-Friday, and you have time, ask the museum assistants to see if I’m around. I’d love to meet you all! x

    1. We would love to Claire! We had such a wonderful time at CMAG. I had been speaking to the volunteer about the CMAG on Sunday workshops, I think Jack would love that. We’ll definitely be going along. The T for Toddler program looks amazing too. 🙂

  6. Um… how cool is Jack! Just saying. What a dude. My parents are in Canberra, I’ll have to go here next time I’m in town!

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