Potatoes with Worms are Ticklish
"Listen, there's a wood louse that really walks a lot, it's taking a walk, and if it takes that road and carries on to the end, it'll reach the sea." This is the title of a child's picture that was displayed at the Ashiya Dobiten exhibition.
Ashiya Dobiten is a children's art exhibition that first ran in 1949 in the city of Ashiya. At that time, those of us who were members of the Gutai Group and worked as teachers of young children showed their work in these exhibitions. However, even if in theory we were the teachers, in reality, they taught us a lot of things, and continually influenced our work.
Experimenting with the children so they could take part in the Dobiten, we really experienced the true spirit of the avant-garde. I think it is no exaggeration to say that the artistic experiments of the Gutai group in the post-war years were largely due to the experience we had with the Dobiten children.
Dobiten is still running and, as always, promotes unfettered painting with all kinds of works, and incredible titles such as "Listen, there's a wood louse..." But not all the titles are so long.
One year I was really struck by a picture a child had done consisting of a big black circle with a lot of red spots inside, and the title was: "The potato's got worms, and it says it tickles." I was touched, and I liked it so much that I use it as my personal motto or proverb.
I talk about it whenever I can. When students come for their first day at university I always start the lecture telling them that potatoes are ticklish. "When you are at home and you go to the kitchen to cook potatoes, you pick them up, but you realise they have worms wriggling about in them. How do you react? Do you immediately think you've been unlucky? Digital people who analyse every possible situation to evaluate whether they gain or lose out have no right to become artists. Rather than going after technical perfection, it is important to have a poet's heart able to think how ticklish a poor potato can be!"
One of my teachings is to give up art if you are only interested in your bank statement. By the way, I'd like to point out that children are quite reluctant to say what the titles of their pictures are. In fact, children get fed up with the continuous corrections by their teachers and their parents who say the title's too long, or it has nothing to do with the picture, etc., etc.
But this oppressive adult behaviour is absolutely unforgivable. Just because adults are convinced of their superior knowledge and greater experience, they assume the right to trample their way wearing their clod-hopping shoes into the dream world of children. However, far from having all this experience, adults should realise that they have long forgotten the artistic sensitivity of the "ticklish potato". And this is where Master Sone comes back into the picture.
Even now, at over 80 years of age, Master Sone still dedicates his life to nursery school children, even though he has to travel a long way every time. When he asks the children what they are painting, they, who see him as an ordinary adult, answer "I'm not telling you", and they stare at him as if to say "Come on, you should be able to see what it is yourself without having to ask me the title, shouldn't you?" So Sone tries again: "Er, but I am a poor old man who didn't go to nursery school, and it's difficult for me to understand..." "What? You didn't go to nursery school? Ah!, well, if you're not very clever, I'll have to tell you", and that's how children usually start talking about their pictures.
That's why the nursery school teachers rely on Sone's method to get the titles out of the children, and even if a child's answer is strange or seems contradictory, in an attempt to admit that they, the adults have lost this extraordinary sensitivity, they don't make objections or corrections. Once when I was an adjudicator at a Dobiten, there was a big sheet of drawing paper with just one blue mark. I wondered what the title might be, and at the bottom it said: "(For me) it's enough'."
If a child says that's enough, it means that that's sufficient. There's no point in insisting that he do more. Another work that caught my attention was a box of sweets displayed without any additional decoration, not even a bit of colour. The title was: "This is Miyo's" [the name of the child]
The nursery school teacher had given it to her telling her to use it as a starting point for her work, but Miyo immediately liked the box as it was, and wanted to take it home with her after the show. In this case, the teacher was right to let her show the box at the exhibition.