When we who work with art for children and young people from around the world gather in the same room, I am always astonished, happy and impressed by all of our collective knowledge. We producers of art – from young to white-haired like me – we have, despite everything, been shaped by trying to describe for adults what we know about the ability of children to experience and use our art genre. At the same time, we have an enormous amount of knowledge about the powerlessness of children. We were also once children, and the price of growing up is to forget dependency and conquer the adult world in every way we can.
Many adults, with good intentions, want to keep children in ever-lasting entertainment to make them happy. However, we can recall that we searched for, well, the truth about how to live life, and that definitely did not exclude magic. On the contrary, we had fantastic solutions as children and, have we forgotten, we were obsessed with justice. We were also mighty indignant. We asked questions.
We, the white-haired who have spent time conducting research in the field “children and society,” we who have studied sociology, anthropology, theories of art, theories of play, psychoanalysis, the history of ideas, and new research in neuroscience, we are constantly searching for supporting arguments in dialog with the adult world that allocates, distributes and determines what children should see and be offered in the way of culture. We talk to each other, we teach, we meet patrons and politicians and civil servants, all the teachers and parents.
I have always asked myself, “Why is something that everyone agrees on so difficult to gain support for?” Namely that children are so important. Or that’s what we say at any rate.
Now that Sweden has adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as law, a milestone, it shall be a pleasure to argue for the rights of children to art and culture. An overall view of the state of the world, however, shows that it is difficult to argue for this artistic wonder that exists in our DNA; the right to express ourselves esthetically, to argue for art as a necessity, when we see the figures from UNICEF:
15 million children are caught up in war in violence.
The execution of children and attacks on schools are increasing. /UNICEF report /
Why does this contempt for children exist?
Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, a book we should read and reflect over and spread
Childism is the collective concept the author and psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl uses in her book on child hate. The book shocked me with its clear-cut analytical position for the rights of the child. The author has conducted scathing interviews that illustrate the vulnerability of children in the adult parent sphere of power and influence, ”a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs.”
This is a book with a passion for its subject matter, and “childism” is an excellent concept that I want to spread. The author writes that she searched a long time for a concept that would enable all of us to conceive of the discrimination that takes shape in the ignorance and violence experienced by children every day. I view the book as a tool fashioned from a humanistic approach based on facts. I discovered it at the Anna Freud Centre in London where pioneering research is conducted on the well-being of children and on treatment for children and their parents. Young-Bruehl writes, ” For childism is a societal phenomenon. Most individual parents, given the opportunity to be heard and supported, are not childist. They long to help their children, not merely control them. ”
”Warning to adults”
… the Art question: an artistic power for children is needed
I have written the above for those who will be reading, producing and financing my new feature film for children. The movie is based on my book and play Flickan, mamman och soporna (The Girl, The Mother and The Rubbish). It is about a girl who lives with her psychotic mother and her demons. We toured with the play for ten years. We performed it in European cities as well as in Johannesburg, Montreal and New York. The reactions in those cities were the same as the ones in Stockholm. And in each school class we met children with a similar experience; that of taking care of their parents. Adults reacted with grief, distress and abhorrence, while children, from seven years of age, were highly interested and empathetic and realistic.
To producers who fear the art criticism of the adult, I would like to say
“You will want to save Ti and you will want to prevent children from seeing the love she has for her mother, who is in extreme distress. The girl, Ti, wants to save her mother, but there are demons that aim to separate the girl from her mother. Ti is faced with the overpowering task of outwitting powers that are invisible to her. But she can fight, and she has imagination, and out there, people are looking for her. Many children recognize this situation, however, we adults do not realize this since we are of the opinion that we have neatly arranged the world for them. A result of this attitude is that children live in a kind of chaos because we simply do not understand that they cannot foresee our actions. Don’t try to save children from seeing a film about a dramatic episode in the lives of a few people.
The movie is about portraying the viability of love in an unpredictable world. We have staged this story for ten years as a drama and have met children’s honest and direct appreciation, at the same time, we have also defied many adults.”
Childhood is a continuous here and now for children, and a child wonders about everything it sees, and a child sees the actions of adults in soap operas. And the child asks questions, and is given many strange, directly untruthful, digressive answers by adults.
Good drama, stories, are often those that speak the truth, in the opinion of us adults; truth in performance. This means nothing other than brilliantly acted and designed for the stage. Art requires funding to be able to process the drama for the stage and to make a deep, sharply dazzling impression. Quality costs. To pay salaries and hire those who are best for children has not become a tradition yet, but at Unga Klara I have insisted that no one shall be able to discern any difference in quality and immediacy between theater for adults and theater for children; both are equally important, equally entertaining, equally as deep. We work with the audience and language, and follow new developments in social research.
New artistic research on children’s perception, why an esthetic sense of quality is an inborn need
To underline all this, the importance of art for a human being, I have shown my documentary film based on artistic research on how infants reacted to our play Baby Drama. I have not met one single person who is not touched by the filmed response of the children, aged from six months, to the grownup play about birth. During this research project I learned to reflect on the human innate need for theatre, because infants without previous theater-going knowledge sat as a theatre audience, collectively watching a play for one hour.
My theories are based on the existence of an absolute need in a child for gestures, faces, emotions, language and bodies to learn communication.
In the playful cabaret with six actors, the audience began to contemplate their own lived experiences. The close-ups in my documentary of an infant’s open vibrant face watching this performance is proof, yes, evidence of our adult significance as performers, as art distributors and proof of love for communication. Regardless if parents are a safe or an unsafe base, art is the exciting development of that base.
This year must be a better year for all.
(a shorter version is published in assitej world magazine april 15)