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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CHAGALL EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE (article first published : 2000-11-12)

The prestigious exhibition of original paintings, works on papers and tapestries by Marc Chagall titled The Light of Origin – La Lumière des origines is currently running at the Standard Bank Art Gallery in Johannesburg until November 25. An exhibition of his lithographs is also on show at the National Art Gallery in Cape Town until early in the New Year.

While the impressive exhibitions are accompanied by an equally impressive and beautifully compiled catalogue, it is to the smaller educational resource booklet that non-academic art lovers should turn to for guidance, in order to gain a better appreciation of these works.

The booklet is written by specialist educator Helene Smuts who began her professional career as a tour guide at Johannesburg's Art Gallery and now works for the Gauteng Institute of Curriculum Development. The publication is edited by Jeremy Gordin and printed by the Artists Press with design by Paul Emmanuel.

In an article written by Robyn Sassen for the SA Jewish Report, Helene Smuts is quoted as explaining her experiences in teaching children: "I had wonderful situations in a classroom of ten-year-olds, where I would show an early Christian mosaic slide of a lamb. And I would have in one class, a Muslim response, a Hindu response, a response of “we slaughter the lamb at funerals in Soweto”, I'd have an Afrikaans response, a Catholic response and a Protestant response". Touching on religious tolerance in the classroom, Smuts comments "from there comes my sacred respect for the ten-year-old uncluttered spirit."

Apart from constructing workshops for the Chagall exhibition which Helene Smuts based strongly on the storytelling aspect of the French artist’s work, she wrote the 20-page resource book for “children and parents, learners and teachers”. It’s one of the most impressive explanations of a great artist’s work, psyche, culture, loves and life as well as the events and moods that influenced him that I have yet to see.

It’s informative without being patronising, lavishly illustrated without falling into today’s all-too-present trend of over-design and easy to read without academic hype. Another good educational tool are the occasional thought-provoking questions such as “What do you think, was Chagall’s idea of an ideal?” as well as the more immediate “Why do you think Chagall included people and animals from Vitebsk in this painting?”

Some 10,000 resource books were been mailed free to schools but you can also pick up a copy at the gallery. Do take one - it’s worth it. For those unfamiliar with Chagall’s work, you’ll find both artist and his work suddenly become much more accessible and understandable.

(Review on the exhibition proper also in artSMart’s Visual Arts)




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