Daniel Benshana

We have a lovely article in this issue on several artists who made toys for the children in their lives. It had us thinking about toys, and how they affect the aesthetic development of children. By development you may read ‘taste’, a word no one seems to like any more, but not using it doesn’t mean what it describes goes away or is less of an influence. For the purposes of this editorial we are dealing with seven-year-olds and downwards.
The pragmatic philosopher John Dewey believed that children learn best by forming their own views and can enhance their education through their own experiences and interactions. We don’t leave children to their own devices but when we do, we do it within a context of play (unless it is sleep when many of us are very glad to leave them alone). Pre-school and primary school have large elements of play. But as to forming their own views we skew history to ensure a high degree of patriotism, and we demand certain skills such as mathematics to ensure employability.
Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy movement on aesthetic development suggests that children need intellectual, creative, moral and spiritual development. He understood that children to the age of seven learn everything they can learn from their environment, in which, imitation plays a key role. While he states something of the obvious as all learning is now ruled by state laws, his use of the word imitation is essentially the motivational element in learning that interests the visual arts.
There was a time when a piece of string was all a child might have to play with, or a hand-made ball or corn doll – whatever their parents could make themselves. In this world imagination was king. The string had to serve as everything and, tied to various bits of wood, everything else. Today the majority of children are subject to colourful plastics based on TV shows and entrancing video games. This is a vastly different kind of aesthetic and if children are learning from it, then the taste of the coming generations is changing. These kinds of changes have always happened as we have evolved society and materials, so the question has to be, does this observation on what we give children to play with, matter?
In as much as what children are learning today will create the visual arts of tomorrow it is worth noting, but in as much as limiting the imagination of children to the creations of mercantile people, this is worrying. It is the same as letting someone else do your thinking for you and it eventually degrades their own imagination which will degrade their ability to think independently within the visual arts. Just as the physicality of the spaces we grow-up in inform our perceptions of the world around us, so the manufacturing of toys limits while pretending to liberate. It is the perfect example of more is less.


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