The arts—generally the first area cut when budgets are tight because they are considered “nonessential.” But arts education involves far more than mastering a specific artistic technique or memorizing artists and their works.
Thoughtful exploration of the arts can enhance problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, and multicultural awareness, all of which are key elements of 21st century learning. By melding together two seemingly disparate concepts—surrealism and kids—into one powerful publication, the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art Children’s Art Centre in Queensland, Australia, created a resource that captured the fun and freshness of the surrealism movement while also introducing children to important artistic concepts.
For deftly making understandable to children (and adults) an art form that many might consider confusing, Surrealism and Kids earned this year’s Golden Lamp Award for Supplemental Resources. The book demonstrates the power that a quality arts resource can have in simultaneously stimulating children’s imagination and intellect.
Prepared especially for children, Surrealism for Kids was published in 2011 to coincide with “Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams,” an exhibition of key surrealist works from the Musée national d’Art Moderne in Paris, and the Surrealism for Kids activity space at the Gallery of Modern Art. “The publication complemented our exhibit for children, which featured a series of interactive projects based on the surrealist games,” said Kate Ryan, curator of the Children’s Art Center.
Developed from a selection of word and image games used by actual surrealist artists, the 60-page publication explores the ideas and approaches behind surrealism in a series of activities for children to do at home or in the classroom. Richly illustrated and profiling nine artists, including Salvador Dalí, André Breton and Max Ernst, the publication presents their ideas and activities in a format that is both appealing and accessible to children.
While the surrealism movement attempted to express the workings of the subconscious mind—often with fantastic imagery and the juxtaposition of incongruous images—the Surrealism for Kidspublication was much more straightforward in its conception and execution. Still, project team members strove to maintain a spirit of fun and discovery as they introduced young people to what many might consider an abstract and difficult concept.
“We developed the book in the spirit of collaboration just like the surrealists,” said Ryan, noting that the publication team worked closely together on the concept and design. “We also involved children in the process, from the cover right through the last page.”
Indeed, the AEP awards judges marveled at how the book managed to address the potentially abstract and confusing concept of surrealism in such a kid-friendly manner. One judge expressed amazement “at how engaging, fascinating—and easy—it was to learn about and understand surrealism through these totally engaging materials. It is a beautifully executed book.”
Another judge noted that the book “is visually striking and presents its content in a way that feels consistent with the quirkiness of the art and artists described. In contrast to a more standard approach, the ‘less is more’ design that makes use of carefully selected anecdotes and illustrations manages to convey the essence of the subject in a very fresh way…. It’s hard to imagine children (or teens, even) not wanting to learn more, or play with the methods and concepts depicted.”
“The book is beautifully paced,” commented a third judge, “exposing audiences to just the right amount of information and imagery to delight them and then providing clever and appealing activities that take the ideas of the artists into another realm—a place for students to try the movement on for size. The teacher materials offer depth and room for further exploration.”
AEP’s judges were not the only people impressed by Surrealism for Kids. The book was shortlisted by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in the Eve Pownall Information Books category. It also won the bronze award in the 2012 IPPY Awards (for independent publishers) for children’s interactive books.
Continuing its momentum, the gallery published another children’s book in 2012 titled Portrait of Spain for Kids—a richly illustrated, hardcover book introducing some of the most significant artists represented by the Prado’s collection through ten selected art works. Features of the publication include full-page color images, information about the artists, fun facts about Spanish history and culture, and instructions for at-home activities such as making Spanish recipes.
In a videotaped message aired during the AEP Awards Banquet in June Ryan expressed what winning the Golden Lamp meant to her and the rest of the project team. “By winning this prestigious award, we hope that it will further enhance our work and other galleries and museums like ours who are committed to developing highly engaging programming for our audiences,” concluded Ryan.
Learn more about the publication Surrealism for Kids.