I’m re-reading Gillian Rose on Visual Methodology, and she has given me a lot to think about. I’d like to see if I can apply her ideas to some children’s work such as this:
So let’s look at this in more detail.
There are two figures, arms down by their sides, under or at least near a complex climbing frame. Writing explains that the child feels s/he is “very good at playing on the climbing frame.”
Now, I know who did this (I have obscured a name, although I do have the young artist’s permission to share this drawing) and the context, but if we apply Rose’s criteria to it, we need to ask:
- What is being shown? What are the components of the image?
- How are they arranged?
- Is this a contradictory image?
- What knowledges are being deployed?
At the basic level, what is shown is as I’ve said above, a climbing frame and two figures in proximity to it. There are two components as I read it: humans and climbing frame. If part of the questioning we need to undertake is around what has been missed out, what is not there is interesting too, however. It might be that we can distinguish here a sort of intransitivity: the climbing frame is not being climbed, and the figures are not climbing it. In the picture there is no sky or grass, no distraction from other equipment. Does this argue for there being a lack of need from the adult for a ‘holding activity’? “Just [go away for five minutes and] colour in the sky”? Or does it argue for purpose or maybe even haste in the interaction between adult and child?
But we might also suggest a third component: the writing, both by the child and the adult. Image and text work together, and are part of the same tradition (of which child and adult are aware) as the picture story book. The arrangement is one in which this convention is upheld.
Where it is skewed, where it has an element of contradiction, is in the adult intervention. What is the purpose of this object? The title gives it away: this is a piece of school record keeping, very probably created at the request of an adult “to go in your file.” The child’s writing (and adult transcription) and title and date suggest that this is part of a record-keeping system that tells someone (see below) something (again: more to think of here) about how the child artist-writer sees themselves.
So what knowledges are being deployed? In brief, as a first go at this I propose that we can discern:
- an understanding of how text and image can work together;
- an understanding of how to represent the various elements of the climbing frame (including climbers);
- some understanding of purpose and power in adult-child relationships.
So in looking at this power relationship, we come to the reason the work was created. I suspect, as I said, that this is at the request of the adult – and therefore, to some extent, the adult is the intended reader, the sponsor of the activity. Even in the context of physical play, the child is constrained, as is the adult, to use the event to spawn other events closer to the curricular needs, not of the child, but of the adult: play and the observation (or in this case the self-evaluation) makes it have a purpose the adult world might value.