What a delightful evening we had with Laura Jones, Te Papa educator, as she enthusiastically involved us all in how to connect with and appreciate art. We were connected to the child within as we considered a number of works traditional, modern and Pasifika – in the Toi Art Gallery.

How can a child, unfamiliar with art, connect with and appreciate a wall of traditional portraits?  And what is missing in the Toi Art Portrait Gallery?  That’s right – there are no labels on the wall beside the portraits.  If there were, how many of us would spend more time reading the labels than considering the portraits? (Yes we’re all guilty of that!)  So in an interactive exercise, we were encouraged to look at the images we saw and interpret them as a child would look at a picture book.  There was no right or wrong answer, but we could then enter into conversation about what we observed and what was happening in the portrait. All our personal observations and interpretations were valid, eg. ‘look carefully and consider what the image tells us about power and control, society’s standards, who is bigger/smaller in the picture.’  And have you noticed the mirrors on the wall among the portraits. Why do you think they are there?  You are the portrait!

From the portraits we moved on to consider that art is not just traditional painting, but has many different styles.

Could we connect to Tiffany Singh’s ‘Rainbow’ through the smell of the spices and also their colour? Filipe Tohi’s Pacific art demonstrated how things are woven together, as indeed we are all woven together, but it was clear his work has a deeper meaning and story than our immediate visual reaction to it.  Rebecca Baumann’s automated colour field with its complete rearrangement of colour, makes a unique work of art.  Len Lye’s films projected on to the wall, can connect to a child’s (and our) imagination and how we see the world.

Art asks us to sit and look.  It’s OK to sit or even lie on the floor so we can see different angles. We connect with each work of art, traditional or non-traditional, through our own imagination and view of the world.  There are no right or wrong answers – we just need to take time and enjoy.

Diana Halsted  – Member