ECHO - Ecological Art Education
In the spring of 2002 my fate endowed me with a meeting with excellent person - Ludmila Shaposhnikova. As the result of our meeting there appeared an exhibition of ECHO-studio under the title of "The hidden harmony" in June of 2002 in the International Centre - Museum of N.K.Roerich - 239 pieces of painting, graphics and ceramics. And a decision to publish an article about our studio with reproductions of children's pictures in the magazine "Culture and Time", issued in that place.
Some day in September, 2002 we were going to celebrate humbly the 10-th anniversary of the "ECHO", and it entailed unexpectedly some wonderful summing up of out labours in the room where the walls themselves radiate the ideas of eternity, beauty and striving for light. And the words which were heard in our hearts yet before were uttered there. The harmony between teachers and students, aspirations and way…
And recently I've received a message from the editorial staff of "Culture and Time", about the publication of my article in brief variant in ¹3-4 - 2003 together with some reproductions of studio students pictures.
ECHO children, their parents, E. A. Tarantul, V. B. Ziliakus say their thanks to Museum assistants and personally to Ludmila Shaposhnikova for their consideration, excellent organization of exhibition and also gifts for children! Also we are thanking M. N. Chiryatiev for his moral support! Best wishes for all of you! This fragment from the article was excluded from the publication. We also express our gratitude to B. R. Korzhenianz, editorial staff of the magazine, T. I. Melchakova, and to S. M. Zorin, creator of magic performance - optical theatre.
The twentieth century had passed, with all its wonderful breaches in every sphere of knowledge, all its tragedies and revelations, having piled the barricades of private and global problems behind which the abyss of non-existence of modern civilization comes to be seen more and more clearly. Energetic spiritual torrent of the beginning of the XX century had given a powerful impulse to art and directed it into the depths of human being, having elicited his apparent loneliness, despair, dividedness and longing for alluring harmony of existence. Are there any answers or decisions for this problem and where are they?
The essence of human is in his childhood. But what is childhood? Child is understood very often as some semi-finished future "adult person" who feels primitively, understands "poorly" and knows nothing at all - some empty vessel which should be filled. We have some other comprehending of childhood as strange as it sounds - it is returning to the Earth and gradual adaptation and development into the earth being. And the enigmatical phrase "Become as little children" reveals the same sense. Gifted, genius people, as a rule, have much of a child in them and they are not able to turn into "adult person" deafened by rude mundane energies. And most children have their channels open, their memory fresh and their feelings open for the subtlest. In my youth I was astonished with wisdom and profoundness of "speculations" by four-years-old son of my neighbours who were drunkards and heard neither themselves nor their child. And who can forget the piercing keenness of perception of one's childhood and youth, beyond any words and explanations?
Every child of little age likes to draw. And they are drawing with enthusiasm their bird's-eye views and their favourite people-tadpoles. Their pictures always evoke delight and amazement within wise adults by their so-called "spontaneity". There's an opinion that all children are talented and it's impossible not to agree with it. But where and why do the talent and the desire to create leave as the child grows? There is wonderful children's art, but there's virtually no wonderful teenager's creative activity.
Different approaches to children's studying of art can be found. The so-called "Mother's method" offers not to interfere at all in what the child does. Others believe that the child's drawing should be only a little bit "corrected". Some others think that the child should be "taught" how to draw "correctly" from real life etc. But in each case it is a question of "objective" or "objective-subjective" reflection of "objective" reality existing beyond the human, beyond the child. And where is all the world of sensations, feelings, emotions, images, associations, comprehensions which are the objective reality of every person's inner life, that which the perception of outer world depends on?
In our contemporary world the human lives in rectangular boxes with square windows through which he can see other squares inside the rectangles, in his every-day life he is so far from nature and its healing energies. The cult of material things and their possession rises to maniac level. Deliberately ideologized pettiness of primitive advertisement and rating television garbage become the highest point of children's consciousness. And this "quintessence of human culture" is supported by squalid cartoons of western mass culture in shining package. The problem of HUMAN ECOLOGY, the problem of maintaining the best of Russian culture and the most hidden - child's soul - comes to the first place in the pedagogy.
The developing child absorbs greedily the world new for him and adopts quickly the priorities and emotional floods of people who surround him. Soon he will learn that all thinking of those around him is directed without, on to particularly material problems. In his kindergarten, at school he will learn much news about what rules and laws exist, what is the structure of the world around him. He will be required to have knowledge and to make successes, and nobody will know or wish to know his feelings and emotions, unless he expresses them somehow unusually. His parents are interested in his successes and, as a rule, only last of all, in his psychic state. The present system of education contributes poorly in young person's development, and more often only warps instead - "be the best, be the first to strike".
20 years of working with children in the Art School had revealed the same problems and made me realize the deep wrongness of primary art education. Monotonous still-life studying, for many years, in attempts to reach the "right" picture and apparent "beautifulness" of colour and tone narrow ultimately the development of creative ability of children, standardize, level and oppress them. Children begin to be taught perspective excessively early, when their perception is not ready for it yet. This unequal struggle with the form takes 90% of time in classes. And as the result, on the second or third year of studying children loose their interest in art. This age /12-14 years/ is the age of very complicated critical period in teenagers development when their lack of self-confidence become more acute and urgent need for independence appears. The present system of primary art education only worsen this feeling, because the adolescent is not able yet to draw "right", "alike", and thus he gives up on his craving for art.
These problems and my desire to help children made me seek for new approaches and methods conforming to new times. Thus appeared a new idea - idea of ecological art education - ECHO. In Russia we say - as the call, so the echo.
It became necessary to make children meet with their own alive soul and to direct the adult's interest on to inner world of a child. There appeared a task - to express inner emotional states, which in its turn required for specific imagery forms corresponding to the subject and acceptable for children's possibilities.
The refuse of working from real life in classes during two first years of studying on the basic ECHO course and appealing to the child's inner world lead to certain fine results. The problem of so-called "rightness" of the picture exists no more. The assessment of "correctness" bases on inner criterion, inner psycho-physiological feeling of colour and rhythm, inherent in child. The sore problem of peer's assessment eases, because it depends not on the ideal object remote from child but on the subjective correspondence between one's feeling and its expression. There appears the deep attention to one's own feelings, the concentration on intimate, relative and native. The students become closer to each other, because there are archetypes of apparent expressing of inner emotional state. The releasing of inner feelings helps the process of their realization, entails certain purification, catharsis, harmonization and emotional stabilization for a child, and gives the teacher an opportunity to approach to the inner world of his pupil, to follow his conditions and to correct them more subtly.
We can take some of first-year-tasks as a n example, and trace the orientation and ways of ecological-artistic education.
Creating a monotype means creating an original, theoretically inimitable print on a sheet of paper which represents casual combination of forms, colour, rhythm and have complex graphical manner of execution - analogous to "Rorshach's spots", which are used by psychologists as a test for revealing some particular features of person's perception.
This task is interesting because of its inner potential, it is attractive for children as well as for grown-ups since it assumes: creating some complex image by perfectly simple means; watching something unusual, which contributes to natural concentration of attention; stimulating imagination and associative thinking, conditioned by semblance of this or that silhouette with certain objects of reality; experiencing of emotional joyful state in the process of recognition; revealing the figure you've seen - by pencil, or soft-tip pen, or painting; completing the silhouette with necessary details - if it is a dog, you should trace it's eyes, ears, tail and so on, and that calls for accurate following the spot's contour, stepping up your memory and besides endows you with certain skills; releasing of conscious and subconscious images, which has a therapeutic effect; feeling delight with regard to inevitably successful work.
And at the same time this task gives teacher an opportunity to follow accents in child's world outlook and to adjust further individual working with him.
What means do art have for expressing feelings and emotions? Can we draw a weeping willow and say that this is our sorrow? Or that the firework is our gladness? But why the weeping willow when our heart feels sorrowful because of our fail to decide some problem. And why the firework or something else when our heart is rejoicing because of the dream we've seen which is too miraculous to be explained by words? And our feeling is so bright and we want so much to take a sheet of paper and to draw it there, so that many others could see it too and their hearts would shine and the souls would warm up! What for to appeal to cunning allegory, when there is a chance to express the same very simply and clearly, if you feel sincerely. Painting as an art has its own means inherent in it - the line and its rhythm, understandable for children. At the dawn of art the ancient man revealed the line's powerful expressive force, yet in Orignac "spaghetti". The little child who for the first time in his life takes a pencil or a paint-brush in his hand, expresses his feelings and his soul movements using the line. But many adults, slow to grasp things, do not appreciate these pearls of discovery because they can't find their the picture of their beloved stuffs which they can possess. That's the origin of line-and-rhythm composition which is the basic method of children advancing by ECHO way. Line in this method is regarded as an essential forming element of flat picture. The line, its movement, its rhythm - that's the fundament of world discovery for children in primary classes of ECHO. The importance of rhythm in human life, in life of the EARTH, of the Universe is understandable enough for everyone now, but it will take us a lot of time yet to reveal the essences of these rhythms.
Colour in the art of painting serves apparently neither for filling the contours of the drawings nor for designing the form. In every case, that is not it's main purpose in development and education of children. In our practice colour is a wonderful indicator of child's spiritual condition and his mental development, alike temperature in medicine etc. The problem of an image as an alloy of meaning, feeling, structure, rhythm, colour eases as well by expressing certain emotional state, where many components get their spontaneous realization and the way to more complicated tasks reveals. Drawing horrifying or tender lines the child expresses his inherent and only his own sense of rhythm, form, colour combinations, fused together by the essence of the theme given to him, and doing this he creates something which other people can understand, something which can be seen by his peers or grown-ups and they will feel the same.
Throwing off the shackles of object-obsession, the colour reveal such treasures in a child's soul that amazed grown-ups, artists- professionals and less prepared spectators, perceive it like harmony wonder of unknown origin.
But this wonder may not occur if there's no emotional readiness, or if the child is not confident in himself or in his teacher's trust in him. That's why one of necessary ECHO condition - the realization of every pupil's uniqueness, inimitableness and value of the things which he creates regardless of his "imperfection". We have no "stars" in our class, good and bad pupils. Everyone is wonderful and worth respect. And that's not mere boasting. If you're more gifted, that's very good, but the bigger responsibility lays upon you. Everyone has his own tempo of development. One is quicker, but then he may stop, the other is more slowly, but later he can begin to shine amazingly and go farther and deeper. The main criterion is the desire and the ability to work hard, but these qualities can be developed too.
And the teacher can't something like demiurge sitting on his throne and speaking the last truths from the altitude of his "wisdom". His place is beside child who knows that his teacher can be sad or joyful, that he is not always able to do what and how he wants. He is merely elder and knows a little more, and he is always ready to try to suggest what to do in an occasional trouble. He can offer some variants, but the pupil is responsible fir his own choice. Comfortable atmosphere, respect for individuality, the refusal of object barrier open way for developing the pupil's soul, spiritual education and perfecting.
But what do we mean when we say about this type of education and perfecting? We mean the way to understanding the beauty and the unity of the universe and the human. Everything is penetrated by the unity of creative activity. The development of feeling this unity by the child's own creative activity opens great opportunities in cognition before him. The nature of creative activity itself consists in the union - you with the object you've got to know - inside yourself, it doesn't depend on how spatially remote from you this object is. Our ancestors understood the human as a microcosm connected with the whole universe by many threads. And appealing to the search of positive image in a child creates the connection and penetration in to the positive sought in whole, which the child's mind is able to perceive and accept at the moment.
All the tasks are intended this way or that to experiencing of positive emotions and comprehending of one's indissoluble connection with life of the whole universe, and the result of all this is some healing harmonization of the person, something which is now called an art-therapy. Six years ago we were asked to admit a girl in our studio, a girl who was not able to study at school. She had a medical diagnosis "an organic brain alteration" and a mine - "oppressive colour-emotional condition". In two years she become able to go to school and gradually she began to study better and better. The previous year she had entered Saint-Petersburg State University. Of course, it was her mother who did her best in helping her in her studying, but they say, we have played a certain part in these positive changing. It's a pity that now this girl has left the studio, although she has yet much which need correction and developing. Now we have a pupil - a girl sick with cerebral palsy, she has been studying in our studio for three years already by the moment. She can't speak, she has only one capable hand, she walks with difficulties and she has stopped in her mental development, but now we can speak of real improvements in her creative work and her inner condition. It is no question of idyll or some success, we are speaking about necessary work with bitterness of failures and joyfulness of achievements.
Wonderful therapeutic and magnetic influence of music has been known from ancient times, and the theme unifying them in some entity goes through the whole cycle of ECHO's works. Working on the themes of "Music of winter, spring, autumn, summer", our children receive immediate impressions from walking in the country, but also from listening to the "Seasons" by Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi. But of course, their task is much more complicated then merely depicting some landscape. (This they can do when they have time for free theme, immediately after the assigned). This is the attempt to express the real music of one's impressions from light rhythms of flying blizzards, smooth snowy dells, geometric magic of snowflake crystals, diamond ice facets, openwork of frosty windows, etc (in "The music of the winter"). And imagine our surprise and joy when little children after four months of studio experimental lessons, getting such difficult theme, have completed not only graphic, but even painting compositions with pleasure. And they have showed the music of their hearts first of all, in unison with snow-white fest of the nature, singing echo, joy of unspoken God's mercy. And on the very first exhibition of our studio in 1993 these works were shown in the exhibition-hall of Saint-Petersburg Academic Capella and have found very good response in our spectator's hearts.
The next step in the process of developing of children's musical feelings synthesis is listening to and trying to depict some musical pieces which they like most of all. Now we don't have to encounter with nature forms, only with overwhelming music and it corresponds so much to the key of line-and-rhythm colour compositions already familiar to pupils.
Good music itself carries open harmony, the stream of thought, the depths of image, the experienced culture of feelings, the completed connection with the whole universe, and so it is a wonderful study aid for tuning and developing of one's heart. Music "forms" the culture of outlook, creates some special atmosphere in the class, helps to complete and to introduce rhythm in the composition, to create some imagery solution. Such tasks are necessary either for junior group where our little pupils make sketches for their familiar songs, or for elder group synthesizing their comprehending and sense.
When turning the child's attention inside his own being it is impossible to pass over one very important component of his inner life - his dreams. The theme of dreams as an object for thinking and further depicting makes children to fix the images, to realize and reveal their own most complicated inner world which is the bridge to other worlds and to understanding of outer surrounding. From introversion to extraversion, and not vice versa, as it is usually accepted in the most approaches to different kinds of problems. Transformation of dreams takes place as a part of complex of other solutions. Dreaming begins to transform into dream-vision, and in best cases - vision and serious development.
The persistent attempts to depict one's own dreams develops some other memory and other keenness, gift surprising meetings and insights to some persons, tells the teacher about the development of mind.
Once one of my pupil's mom, in anxious and even a little bit scared mood, came to me for asking an advice. Her son was then 11 years old, he has been studying in our studio for two years already, and his family began considered very worrisome the fact that their child became a believer suddenly. He had asked some old woman to gift him an icon, during his summer vacations in the country. In his corner of the children's room which he shared with his junior sister, he put the icon on the special place and began to guard it from the curiosity of his family, and asked his mom to take him to the church. Their family, grandparents and parents alike are both remote from some confession or any kind of spiritual searches and so they were worried very much by this incomprehensible movement in their child's heart. I advised my pupil's mom not to hinder her son's feeling and congratulated her on his entering the spiritual way of developing. He was growing among love and care in his family, so I only suggested her to follow that he would not enter into some sect, though I myself was sure that he would never do it. The matter is that after one and a half years of studying he had his dreams changed and their wonderful spiritual nature couldn't be doubted, and also there was such an impression that he was placed under protection. And all this happened long before we started to become acquainted more thoroughly with spiritual searches of humankind. After that this boy revealed himself surprisingly in his creative activity, and the visitors on our exhibitions are grateful to him for the chance to encounter with such wonderful pieces of art. Now he is a student of Artistic Academy and regarding to his interests and deeds his spiritual way of developing continues actively. And this is not the only occasion in our practice.
An ethno-cultural material is inestimably helpful for us in developing of sensitivity and imagery thinking, for it carries the thousand-year experience of the abyss of being. The children are getting acquainted to customs and rites, they are listening to melodious native and tender style of Russian epic tales, and so they come closer to the inspired nature and comprehend the indissoluble connection of all living. Raw materials for food and technological industry turn into living, feeling, struggling and sacrificing substance. Children encounter cosmogonic myths of different peoples, and through them they encounter powerful ancient multi-sense images of mythological mind, expand the idea of time in their own minds, get some knowledge about exiting mystery of the beginning and powers responsible for creating the eternity.
And here we can say is the core and the middle point of the ECHO. Our children go from cosmic pantheism to spirituality of monotheism, to the new turn of the mind development, they penetrate into the greatest teachings of the world, to the extent of their possibilities and limited knowledge, and of their teacher's possibilities. Children try to realize the unity of time, the idea and its embodiment, the decisive role of individual in great as well as small events. We do not set as our goal to initiate the children into some certain confession or teaching, and I think we have no right to do that in spite of our own preferences. But it seems important to me to make my pupils feel that their appearing on Earth is not an accident, but a necessity. I'd like them to feel that we all are the ECHO of the Universe, its children and its builders, that each our movement passing by the theory of relativity affects instantly in the most remote infinite corners of it, as in the single organism. I wish them to realize that necessary astounding and transforming discoveries and Encounters lie ahead for them on their difficult and very interesting way. When suddenly everything will become blinding clear and easy for them and they will be Infinite itself, grandiosely sounding Music with all their love and tenderness, and they will know that we all are only on our way to the Human. And the tasks which are yet to come in that joint creation of this Infinite Harmony Music of Creating.
We also have lessons devoted to the World Peoples Culture; there we read together the poetry of East and West, drama from Kalidasa to Lorca and A.Blok. As far as possible, the impressions from what was read are realized in homework or at class.
When we have been preparing for serious work on the theme common for our elder pupils (13-14 years old) - "The Event - Christmas", we've been reading M. Bulgakov's "Master and Margaret" for a year before starting to work directly. It has been necessary for making children's comprehending and feeling of the Gospels more prepared and more fascinating. Then we asked a priest who was impressed by our studio pictures on one of exhibitions to tell our students about Christ. It was important for us that they would hear another language, another imagery system, from the person unknown to them, not from their close teacher, and that they would understand the mysteriousness and seriousness of what they should approach and experience, realizing the response of their hearts.
There is the inner structure of composition, not always apparent, in the works on this and other themes. Creating this structure is the main problem of "achieving the rhythm", approaching and search on the initial phase of work on composition and the greatest impulse for the future action. And it is different for every author, although everyone tried to express rhythmically the essence of the same event and everyone succeeded in his own way. And it was the work of intuition.
The theme of the Human comes to the first place in the elder classes of the ECHO. From nature music to the music of human spirit. From expression of emotions to experiencing and comprehension of entity of being in its time dynamics and in realizing of one's destiny. From maintaining the individuality to development of person.
In September, 2002 it was the 10th anniversary of our foundation of Art group within general state school. That was never our name, but this title is accepted within the system of facultative school education. Now, turning back to 1992, you begin to see that there's nothing accidental in one's life and fate. After long period of work on the State Art School I was going to stay there till the pension time and couldn't even suppose that I would leave it by my own will and would move to general school. But this step from habitual to unknown, subjecting to mere impulse, was done and I together with Eugenie Tarantul, who was the teacher too, left the Art School. And immediately the rightness of this step was proved. K.V.Polushkin, the headmaster of the school ¹507 of Saint-Petersburg, whom we asked about the place where we could find a job, have seen the works of already beginning experiment of the ECHO, invited us to his school and even yielded his study for our work himself moving to the little room. It can't be - they will say, and I will say the same, but IT CAN BE! I offered my little Art School students' parents to follow me with their children I've got to know that they wanted it too. Nobody of them regretted their decision. Life supports our work, and we value it very much. The circumstances that occur, the unexpected encounters, the unexpected help tell clearly about that. And although not everything have come true, about which we dreamt with my first students, we are grateful to what have happened yet.
We have very serious troubles, very difficult obstacles which are hindering our work, the realization and developing of our experiment, but there are also very hopeful moments, coming from once unacquainted people whom we call among ourselves the messengers of LIFE.
Our life is full of different entering wonders, concrete and real. And there are a lot of them. Isn't it a wonder, that our exhibition "The Songs of the Gamajun Bird" at the Ethnographic Museum in Saint-Petersburg in 1994 had been visited by splendid people, Khuramshins Svetlana and Anatoli and their daughter, Svetlana Inozemtzeva, and that they offered us to organize our exhibition at Seattle, museum Bellevue. Isn't it a wonder, that Tatyana Kargina, a journalist from Seattle, being near death, has seen our pictures and wrote for the Seattle newspaper the most wonderful article about children's pictures among all that have been written for today. Isn't it a wonder, that Sofia Raskina, a journalist from New York newspaper "Novoe Russkoe Slovo" ("New Russian word"), have read this article and wrote her own article about our studio too. Isn't it a wonder, that after having seen the reproduction in the second article, Sam F, an excellent person from Philadelphia, spent his premium and sent us materials for work, and then persuaded the Franklin Mint museum to make the exhibition of our works, though it had never exposed children's art before. Isn't it a wonder, that the tiny school studio is being invited to prestigious American Museum with large exhibition and that children are given expensive presents. Isn't it a wonder, that in New York museum of N.K.Roerich in its day off Aida Tulskaya presents us more than fifty excellent large reproductions from N.k.Roerich's pictures. And other wonder, in other time and other place. Very ill-paid school librarian, G.P.Jatsunova, who was unfamiliar to us then, presents us multivolume edition of Agni Yoga and at the expense of herself transfers the information about our work to Moscow, to the International Roerich Centre. It is a wonder, that we received the kind letter of L.V.Shaposhnikova to us, not official letter, but as usually people write to their close friends, and in it - the proposition to make an exhibition in the Roerich's Museum.
It is a wonder, that hundreds of people write excellent reviews, full of emotions, about children's art, and thus they give us powerful emotional support. We have lots of wonders, it is impossible to name them all. They are the living deeds. The living responses to the Future calling for us all.
Somebody may think or say: what fervor, what wonder? It is natural! YES!
But when you meet only courteous indifference at best… When a "philanthropist" knowing everything about all great teachings uses children's name only in self-interest and forgets immediately about children's good… When they call from the television and offer a brief interview with children the cost of which is my three-months wage… When an officer offers a basement for the studio, a basement full with feces, with lots of tubes and without windows, and the other address given by him does not exist on this planet… And children dreamed about the house among trees… When… When… When…
Then the person who buys you the cardboard for designing children's work is a real Wonder.
M.K. Churljenis wrote an excellent poem on the same subject (sorry for prose translation):
For the world of lies and false measures
There is the anti-world of incorruptible truth.
The era of Kindness is ripening there.
Look there thoroughly and you'll see
The clear signs that appear there
And the rising of Kindness era!
And anti-world where black is white,
And anti-world where dark is light -
In the dream, escaping from all day's concerns,
I'm looking on the antipode of today.
The art of excellent Mikalojus Konstantinas is not a dream, but it is an inspiring purifying, working deed, as well as the feat of Roerichs family where each torch and diamond is the call for action!
The Museum of N.K.Roerich is not a dream, but it is layers of time on the Building!
The hidden harmony!!!
In August, 2003 the magazine "Young Artist" published an article and reproductions of ECHO works, and some time earlier, in the spring, the "Native home" magazine and the almanac "For you, Petersburg" of International Petersburgians Club responded on our activity too. We are very glad that there is echo from the ECHO.
Tsiliakus V.B., the head of the ECHO
1st of October, 2003.