'I don't encourage competition in school'

SCHOOLING CHILDREN IN ART: Tarit Bhattacharjee, art and design teacher. — Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

SCHOOLING CHILDREN IN ART: Tarit Bhattacharjee, art and design teacher. — Photo: S.R. Raghunathan  

Right at the entrance of `The School' run by Krishnamurti Foundation India is a prominent sign requesting that cellphones be switched off. As one walks into a setting of trees and under cool green shade,one hears the occasional laughter of children.

Dhanya Parthasarathy asks for the art teacher, Tarit Bhattacharjee, and a messenger is despatched with a note that says visitor for "Tarit Anna".

A postgraduate in fine arts from Shanthinikethan, Tarit Bhattacharjee came to Chennai to spend just six months. He has been teaching hundreds of children artworks, using clay and hay, sand and water, stones and newspapers.

"It's never a one-on-one art class here. Everybody participates," he says standing in the centre of a large room lined with his canvases, a depiction of the sea by middle schoolers and a striking image of Ravana with nine heads ("It's a very old one, and one head fell off," says Bhattacharjee.) "I don't encourage competition. I do not send my students for art competitions. We are not in that race here. At a tender age, professionalism should not be encouraged. As a child grows, so will its skill."

He believes that creating an environment where they can explore art and design is the key. That's where the use of everyday materials makes all the difference. "Rejection touches me. I am moved when I see a child who is not good at maths or science. Just because he is not good at studies, it does not mean that he is dull. That is why I like to show my students that even a useless bit of newspaper or cardboard can be turned into a beautiful piece of art." He is the author of a book on `Child Art with Everyday Materials', an unusual spiral bound compilation printed on brown paper. No pristine white paper or high-priced colours required here. The instructions read: "Colour the paper with tea. You can even allow the tea to drip on the paper. Crush the leaves, flowers and vegetables and directly rub them on the paper."

He holds up one of the 300 or so desktop calendars made by his students this year.

"All from naturally available material. Last year, we used coconut shells," he says, rummaging the room for a piece to show the photographer.

"In a school setting, it's never art for art's sake. The teacher has to be aware of this. The teacher just has to be concerned about how a student relates to his aesthetic environment."

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