Coming within the framework of the European Project Mapping – A map on the aesthetics of performing arts for early years, the exhibition "Children Spectators" is now in its fourth edition.
One of Mapping's objectives is to create a meaningful dialogue between the performing arts and the world of illustration and literature for very young children.
It is one thing to illustrate moments of theatre, dance or circus. It is quite another to represent those performative snippets as seen and experienced by a young child, and to depict those priceless moments when a child takes in images, sounds, words, visibly feeding his/her imagination.
Over its four editions, the exhibition has attracted an increasing number of illustrators from around the world.
The 2022 call for entries curated by Bologna Children's Book Fair saw some 721 entries submitted by illustrators from 65 countries.
The jury, made up of Giovanna Ballin (Edizioni Corraini), Giorgia Grilli (University of Bologna), Philip Giordano (illustrator) and Roberto Frabetti (coordinator of the Mapping project, and Chairman of the Jury), selected 36 illustrators from 20 countries and regions: Argentina, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and Ukraine.
We think it important to underline that although the Mapping project focuses specifically on the very young child, the illustrators were part of a wider project on the performing arts for children of all age groups. We thought it pertinent to ask artists to focus on the complexity of children as spectators, capturing the range of emotions and the intensity with which children buy into the many different ‘pacts’ we all make with fiction during a performative experience, the unpredictability of their emotional reactions, and their accompanying body language.
Rather than simply illustrating children watching a show or performance, ours was an invitation to observe and illustrate
moments of aesthetic appreciation by children. It was also an invitation to illustrate the difference kind of participation elicited by the performing arts as opposed to reading a book or looking at a visual arts exhibition.
This was the underlying aim of the “Children Spectators” illustration exhibition, and one of the guidelines followed by the jurors as they attentively examined the wealth of excellent illustrations received.
As well as this guideline, the jurors gave equal importance to the artistic quality and technical ability of the illustration.
Looking at the huge number of images submitted for the competition, we were struck by the widely different meanings illustrators attributed to the expression 'the child spectator'. The term clearly prompts adults to ask themselves how and what children see, not only when watching a performance or a show but how they see the world and life in general. In other words, the idea of the child spectator induced adults to (finally) consider the extent to which a child’s sensitivity is specific and different. Their penetrating perception, sense of wonder, and curiosity in what they witness are emotions they also visibly express with their body language. Very many illustrations, in fact, depicted children who are at the same time actors and spectators, so total is their participation in what they are watching. Indeed, the whole world – not only a staged performance - is a spectacle for the child. Children move through the world wide-eyed, their senses alert, ready to touch, smell and taste what they are ‘spectators’ of. In fact, many of the illustrations depict children as seeing things that escape others. This was therefore the somewhat 'philosophical' discourse around childhood and the child’s viewpoint that emerged from the competition and our selection. The call for entries appeared to have obliged many adults around the world to try and define the child’s different view of reality, giving it form through an illustration of children attending a performative art event. It follows that as well as evaluating the artist’s technical and compositional skills, the jurors focused especially how on the way children (as opposed to adults) see the world was conveyed in the illustration. Conversely, stereotypical images of the child as a spectator that
projected a child stereotype were not taken into serious consideration. Creators of both illustrations and the performing arts for children have to shed the banal well-worn notions and representations of this age group that abound.
In our view, the jury’s final selection - interesting, varied, and by no means homogeneous - accurately reflects the diverse professions and viewpoints of its members: an illustrator, a publisher, a university researcher, and an actor. These different points of view led to aesthetic considerations being counterbalanced by a focus on the extent to which the illustrations captured the underlying theme. In fact, some works that were initially discarded were subsequently put back into the running after an exchange of views by the jurors. We were often surprised by the new take we gained as a result of these discussions. Indeed, as jurors, we believe the selection process was helped by this profitable meeting of minds.
Depending on our different points of view, we regretted having to discard some illustrations of remarkable artistic quality and technical skill which, however, were off the mark as regards the competition theme. Other very original, sophisticated, on-topic interpretations fell short in terms of execution.
But it was a privilege to be able to observe such a large number of illustrated works - a gigantic portfolio where manual techniques (etching, watercolour and etc.) are still present despite the prevalence of digital illustrations. As already mentioned, there were many interesting illustrations that unfortunately were unrelated to the competition theme. This is synonymous of a general over-eagerness of illustrators to send in work regardless of the specific theme request.
It is also true, however, that the theme “children spectators” is not an easy one to apprehend, with the result that even at this 4th edition, many submissions did not address the topic. Others, on the other hand, not only showed excellent craftsmanship but also expressed a personal and original vision of children as spectators and their special ability to emote before a live performance. The artist’s view was condensed in the short – often touching - explanation accompanying
each illustration, often pointing out narrative aspects not immediately apparent.
As in the previous edition, we were pleased to note that many illustrations have chosen to put the accent on movement and action, typical elements of the performing arts. Importantly too, many illustrators captured even very young children’s ability to openly show sensitivity and imagination, pausing to appreciate even the simplest detail.
The Jury: Roberto Frabetti (President), Giovanna Ballin, Philip Giordano, Giorgia Grilli