Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Final Report by Boris Tissot

KIDS' GUERNICA in Picasso's Atelier
Final report
Boris Tissot
Place of action: Picasso's atelier on Grands-Augustins Street in Paris
Le Journal: Le point de jour
Children and Guernica, Children and Picasso

Phase one: Setting the stage

Phase two: Engaging with symbols and signs

Phase three: Staging the painting



The French National Committee for Art Education and Alain Casabona were hosting thirty five children in residence in Picasso's Grands-Augustins workshop in Paris, exactly where the artist painted the famous canvas " Guernica " in 1937.

And the partners were 2 associations :
-   Centre Paris-Lecture (a critic reading center from the city of Paris ) for the newspaper and the writing workshops
-   the “Atelier Fabrication Maison”, a collective of artists, funded by the Ile-de-France contemporary-arts council, for the picture workshops .

The company Lefranc-Bourgeois sponsored for the painting equipment.


With the “Centre Paris-Lecture” and “Fabrication Maison”, what was the goal of the Kids Guernica workshop in Paris ?
Our goal was to develop the children's freedom of observation, in order to sharpen their understanding of the world, their awareness of peace and the need to defend one's convictions while working to resolve conflicts with other people's opinions. To stimulate their imagination and desire to make things, to incite critical thought by validating the children's personal experience as expressed in talking, writing, drawing we can see in the 3 journals… and, in the end one painting "Guernica, a painting which screams." There were no right or wrong answers. The idea was to find one of the possible responses, and actually we found as many responses as there were children in the group.

Le journal “Le point du jour”

The Centre Paris Lecture conducts workshops in analyzing pictures, investigating what constitutes a picture, whether it is a book, a film, or an exhibition. The Center then produces a journal based on the children's spoken and written words, drawings. It involves spending time with the children looking for the answers to a question, examining a question from every direction : “What is war and peace ?”

A difficult question, a question that resists, a question that has not already been answered over and over. A question, finally, that sets the group of children searching for answers. It is a lively and joyous experience.

It is a means of giving ourselves the right to think about our experiences. Thinking is not the exclusive property of specialists and experts. We are all entitled to think. A non-specialist can draw upon a large body of knowledge. He must then work and work, thanks to and with the people around him. The purpose of the journal is to provide systematic, co-operative training in acuity."

After some discussion about Kids Guernica in Atelier Picasso with our partners, I invited Robert Caron director of Centre Paris lecture to tell us what he is thinking about this experience with whom I I totally agree :


When we think about children's art, we tend to make a number of assumptions.
For example, we assume children automatically express themselves freely.

It is also conventional to assume that children are "naturally artistic."

Thirdly, it is customary to do away with all limitations.

And lastly, according to custom, childhood is associated with cheery, bright colors.

But perhaps these widespread assumptions are wrong, and we need to get rid of them.

Kids Guernica is the institutional framework of the project. All over the world, children working on the project have produced colorful, joyful visions. And yet the subject is war; the reference to Picasso is clearly stated, as is the intention of the coordinators of Kids’ Guernica and sometimes the paintings to put an end to the monstrosity of war, to shout "No." And yet…

"Kids" is fully half of "Kids Guernica." Why should the kids necessarily be these happy, innocent creatures they are generally held to be? Why shouldn't they be thinking persons capable of reflecting a profound, individual vision of the world? What would keep them from tackling the problems of humanity with sobriety and depth? For children are /indeed/ part of humanity. They are not a separate category, looking on at adult turpitudes. They participate in and share these turpitudes.

The other half is " Guernica ." The artist's shout; his "NO!"

Guernica is a town: it represents thousands of lives, thousands of deaths… Also, thanks to Picasso, Guernica is the story of an artist's intention. How can wrath and rebellion be depicted? To embark on the same journey, the same phases, the groping, the sketching, the doubts, the decisions, and the techniques is to be immersed in Guernica .

With these considerations in mind, we got 35 children from a community recreation center in the 19th arrondissement of Paris to work and they accepted the challenge: to slip into Picasso's slippers (since we were going to work in his workshop) and paint an immense picture that would try to express a shared sense of revolt. Here is a trace of our eleven days of work…


Phase One: Setting the stage

The primary and primordial setting is what happened in Spain : the bombing of Guernica, World War Two, the war, the death of civilians, etc. We had to plunge ourselves into learning the history; we wanted to know it backwards and forwards, to feed upon it. Films, photographs, and books thus supplied the children with the background for Picasso's painting.

Another element in the setting is all the murals made by other children all over the world as part of the Kids Guernica project. We had to look and read, decoding the signs and understanding the intentions of these children. Then we had to realize that perhaps it isn't necessary to redo what has already been done. We had to decide that in a way, we were contributing a new mural to complement and enrich the gallery of all the preceding ones.


Phase Two: Engaging with symbols and signs

Picasso's " Guernica " is not a landscape. The sketches on the workshop wall show us a multitude of objects, figures, animals, etc. It is obvious that the artist started by going on a hunt for images.

So we did the same thing. The films and photographs consumed in the first phase help each child to choose his own images. Next, we established a to-and-fro movement between images and words. When a group discussed an idea verbally, the words gave rise to more images.

When the children looked at figurative representation alongside Picasso's stylized images, it was clear to them that Picasso's expressions were the more powerful. Each child artist had to make the transition from representing things to drawing signs which conveyed a meaning and fit into the child's plans. Signs generated an alphabet in harmony with the children's words and intentions. The children checked each step in the process and could explain their choices.

This phase is the unrewarding one of sketches and studies. Interminable trial-and-error. Picasso went through the same thing, exploring how to maintain the link between work and intention. The personal message of each individual thus tests the hypothesis that the first spontaneous rough one is sufficient.


Phase Three: Staging the painting

Once the gallery of signs was established ? each child possessing several ? it was time to investigate how they would be arranged. Again, we might have given free rein to the children's first choices. However, very soon, discussion and debate within the group demonstrated the need to "stage" the signs, to make a composition rather than a mere juxtaposition.

Let me remind you, even though you may already know it, that a painting is an arrangement, or an ensemble of shapes, lines, curves, colored surfaces, which are blended and dismantled just as the meaning that the artist is trying to convey.

"To make a painting is to compose" once wrote the French painter Cezanne.

This is the phase when signs and intentions are “at war”. A number of layouts were made. Each person offered his viewpoint, his interpretation. Gradually, as the layouts, the debates, and discussions continued, a consensus emerged. Finally, everyone in the group was sincerely satisfied that his or her intention was part of the composition.

This phase also required patience: the children forced themselves to delay the moment when they would pick up the brush. Much was learned, too. So the eagerness to paint yielded to the long process of achieving a consensus among the kids.

Nevertheless, it was much easier for Picasso: "He was all alone!"



There is none. A mural. Unfortunately, the children have not yet seen it vertical. They have not yet had an opportunity to face it; their minds and hearts have yet to be struck by the full effect of their careful work and deliberate determination to set down signs and a message. We borrowed Picasso's slippers and his workshop. We remained close to him and his intentions. His eyes were watching us from the portrait hanging on the wall. The children took notice of it, and sketched it in their notebooks. Though the children remained "kids," they did not have to abandon " Guernica ."

Thanks a lot
Boris Tissot

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