I am a big fan of the workshop model of cultural experience, particularly when it comes to visual arts. This is mostly to do with the fact that, despite my interest, I am uniquely incompetent with a crayon and, worse, more impatient than my two-year old. Over the last two weeks I have been to two different workshops with my boys, both in public institutions, one free and one paid. Both were centered on the same theme, but the difference between the two was so marked that I feel compelled to blog about it.
Tiny Tots at the National Gallery
Over the last 18 months, The National Gallery on Merrion Square have been running themed art workshops for toddlers. I have been to three of the Tiny Tots workshops at intervals of 6 months, and it has been interesting to see both the workshops and my two-year old’s capacity to engage evolve. On the first occasion, the workshop was designed to introduce the children to the idea of a gallery. We used finger paints, stamps and watercolour crayons to make pictures to stick into a folding card lined with frames, which we could take home. The activities were centered around several tables, which were taller than the children, who needed to be supported to climb onto stools and access material. My son, then 18 months, spent most of the time stacking cushions. The workshop took place in one of the exhibition rooms in the old part of the gallery, which was closed off to the public. The room was almost circular, large and high ceilinged. Crucially, there was art on the wall and you also had to pass sculptures and paintings to get to the space.
The most recent workshop was themed Under the Sea, and this time took place in the New Wing, in the space where the upstairs cafe used to be. The children were seated on cushions on the floor. Before the workshop began there was ample opportunity for rolling and stacking the cushions (again the two-year-old took full advantage). The facilitators began by gathering the children together underneath a large sheet (the sea), playing the theme tune to the Disney film The Little Mermaid and encouraging them to dance. The children were then showed how to make octopus creatures from handprints and they stuck their creatures on to a piece of coloured paper that they also decorated with torn strips of crepe paper (seaweed). The second activity reinforced the concept of shapes with the children. Using a circle and a triangle, we drew fish, cut them out and stuck them to the same background. The workshop ended with another listen and dance to Under the Sea, and we got to take our art work home. There was no visual stimulation at all, and it was possible to attend the workshop without engaging with a single piece of art.