Article by M. Reyes González Vida
Painting Department, Faculty of Fine Arts. University of Granada, Spain
I was very excited when, the ICAF asked me to compose the jury panel to choose the Spanish entries for the World Children’s Festival 4th Arts Olympiad. A few months earlier, with my colleague Miguel Ángel Moleón, I had organised the 1st International Conference on Art, Illustration and Visual Culture in Infant and Primary Education: construction of identities in Granada, Spain, and this new proposal offered me a means to continue my research into some of the aspects discussed at the conference: the use of art to explore the presence of stereotypes in our culture, the relation between the arts and other forms of understanding life – in this case, sport – and the function of art in transmitting values in childhood. I found the idea fascinating.
What it involved was even more exciting: choosing images made by Spanish children to reflect how they understand art and sport. With each creation, they would be giving us a little piece of their life: this was a real privilege!
As the works chosen would also represent Spain, selecting them was a huge responsibility. I spoke with people I knew from the worlds of art, education and childhood, asking them to sit on the panel. One of these was Miguel Ángel Moleón, a lecturer from the Painting Department of the University of Granada Faculty of Art, because he is an illustrator and is passionate about the worlds of childhood. Another was Miriam Pires, a Brazilian artist currently conducting research in the same department, because she has held children’s art workshops for years and understands the creative processes of childhood. I also wanted to contact with people from other professional environments, so I spoke with Xana Morales, holder of a Degree in Audiovisual Communications and a researcher with the Musical and Artistic Expression and Body Language Didactics Department at the University of Granada, and Pedro Chacón, holder of a degree in Fine Arts and lecturer at the same department, as he is writing his thesis on children’s drawings.
This made five of us, each with our own individual vision. We had a hard time agreeing on the selection for the Arts Olympiad. This took us nearly a full day, not just because of the number of entries, but also because we inspected each very slowly and carefully, concentrating more on their creative and critical content than on their formal merits. In the end, we selected Sport, our life, a digital piece by Carmen Ruiz (5th grade, E.I. Zagal, Alquería School, Granada, Spain), and Somersault, a two-dimensional piece by Nora Boulhabel (3rd grade, same school).
When the ICAF asked me to write an article on the selection process, I thought that, in addition to saying how the jury had been formed and how it had operated, it would also be important to say something about how the children and teachers from the selected school had experienced the process. To do this, I visited the Alquería School and spoke with Laura Justicia, Nora’s teacher, and Isabel Rosales, Carmen’s teacher.
Laura told me that in 3rd grade they used magazine pictures or photographs of sports chosen by the children as the starting point for their artwork. The images were glued to paper and the children expanded on them. Nora chose a magazine picture of the cables that support gymnastic rings as her starting point.
Laura approached the activity by asking the class why people create art. The children responded that they do so because they like it, because they enjoy it, because they get paid for doing it, because it allows them to express their feelings, wishes, memories and concerns, and because it makes their dreams come true. She then asked them how they themselves feel when they create art, and they responded that it made them feel well, because they liked it, because they enjoyed it and because it made them happy. On reflection, they recognised the values that underpin the artistic endeavour, such as hard work, teamwork – in the case of collective works, and cooperation. ‘It became apparent that, in the end, people get involved in art and sport for the same reasons’, explained Laura. The children realised that both art and sport can make people happy, that they both require imagination and creativity, and, as Nora explained, that both can involve disappointment or fear of failure.
After these reflections, the children had to choose a sport to represent in their projects and to begin making sketches, thinking which value they could transmit through their sporting images. Nora’s work, for example, values hard work. Rosi Ràfols, the school headmistress, explained that these values form part of the ethos of the school: ‘one of our values is that we regard teamwork higher than winning. As it happens, the kids in integration, who have difficulties, play too, and sometimes the fact that all of them take part becomes more important than winning’.
The 3rd grade kids enjoyed the project immensely, not just because of the chance of being selected, but because they learned new things and because they worked very hard. Rosi told me that all the kids at the school valued what they do very highly: ‘We have to ensure none of this artwork is lost. The kids value hard work, nothing is easy. They all keep sketch folders and nothing gets scrunched or torn up, no matter how unsatisfactorily it may have turned out. It all has to be kept as a dossier on the artistic process’.
Nora’s work caught our attention because she distanced the rings from the typical closed venue in which the sport is usually practiced. We on the jury panel interpreted this as expanding the sport beyond the venue and into life itself. The idea of placing the rings in the middle of a forest is very creative, as is depicting the athlete as a girl, in a sport typically associated with men.
Carmen’s teacher, Isabel, author of the other selected work, told me that 5th grade had decided to use digital methods. First of all, they discussed values, friendship, sport and teamwork, as well as what they got out of sport. Football (soccer) can be problematic. ‘The group is very competitive’, explains Isabel, ‘because they want to win above everything else: ‘We’re the best! We won at football! We’re unbeatable!’ and all that sort of thing. We worked on that, to show that winning is not the only important aspect’. They then began to work using the computer Paint application.
Each of the group brought in a photo of themselves, playing a sport or not, using it as a starting point for their creation, which would necessarily allude to sport. With their photos as a starting point, they used their computers to find other images and elements to complete their work. ‘Carmen found it very hard going’, said Isabel, ‘because she wanted a picture of a flat-screen TV showing a sporting image and, as we couldn’t find one, we used one of a TV and put the sports picture on top of it. She also knew that she didn’t want a run-of-the-mill sport, and that it should be well visible in the picture. So we chose a picture of a girl swimming, because it showed the movement of her arms very well. The ironing board and the iron were also meticulously planned. Moreover, when she took the photo she adopted the correct posture, with her hand on the iron as if she were holding it’.
Carmen explained that she had chosen the composition because her brother likes to watch sport on TV, although he also plays. ‘Lots of people just watch it on TV’, she says, ‘so even if they don’t play a sport, it is a part of their life. You can be doing other stuff and watching sport at the same time – that’s why I’m ironing’.
What Carmen most likes about her own work is the TV, ‘because it’s like it’s attached to the wall, rather than being on a table’, she says, ‘and also because I’m in it. It’s like I’m going to Washington, because I’ve never been to America!’. What the jury most liked about her picture, on the other hand, was that it reflects on stereotypes about women and their relation to sport.
This is one of the biggest achievements of art: the artist interprets the world and we, the viewers, reinterpret it through the artist’s vision. The 4th Arts Olympiad gave me a better understanding of the world and a better understanding of myself in the light of the vision of these children.
For more information about International Child Art Foundation and Arts Olympiad, please visit;
Mª Reyes González Vida is an Assistant Professor at the Painting Department of the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Granada, in Spain, and a visual artist.
She earned a doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Granada (2007). The title of her Thesis reads ‘Relationship between Contemporary Art Creations and the Construction of Cultural Identity in Children’. Her investigation has contributed to further professional endeavors, such as the 1st International Conference ‘Art, Illustration and Visual Culture in Infant and Primary Education: Construction of Identities’ (Granada, Spain, 3th-6th November, 2010), of which she was director.
She is also a member of the research project ‘Youth as visual culture producers: Artistic skills and knowledge in Secondary Education’, funded by The Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (EDU 2009-13712) and a member of the ICAF Advisory Board (International Child Art Foundation Advisory Board).
To contact Assist.Prof. Reyes González Vida: firstname.lastname@example.org