The ‘cosmetic ideal in contemporary culture’ was the theme of the recent edition of the annual ‘Children’s Art Factory’ and was launched under the telling title ‘Sweet Little Lies’. In this concept, the artists – contrary to what one might think – do not act as the artistic instructors of children but the ’great masters’ are, themselves, guided and influenced by the stimuli transmitted by these 8 to 12-year-olds. Ten professional artists, assisted by five hundred Genk primary schoolchildren, got cracking on keywords related to the essence of the chosen topic or which were situated on the fringe of the central idea. The result was fascinating and diverse.
On this journey of exploration into the nature and meaning of the ‘cosmetic ideal’, questions, naturally, were asked about what we associate with ‘beautiful’ and, almost spontaneously, about what constitutes ‘ugly’. The displayed creations of the toddler-accompanied artists underline the fact that such questions can yield diverse and surprising answers. People, today, are usually guided or seduced by images of a cosmetic ideal which, not infrequently, are stripped of their natural qualities. These models are, through their artificiality, scarcely approachable (or not at all) and, moreover, rarely give satisfaction. The artists, and their respective teams, stressed the meaning of nakedness and how it’s rendered trite, considered the ‘true content’ of that ‘physical beauty’ and examined whether that was purely a present-day phenomenon. And because they were conscious of the central idea – namely, that not only nudity triggers a perception of beauty, leading to temptation and showing-off – they looked, just as hard, at the significance of what people wear. The latter implies that they were not able to get round the world of fashion nor round the industry related thereto, with its arsenal of subtle advertising tricks to get people to day-dream, have ideas above their station,... to deceive them or to tell ‘sweet little lies’, as stated earlier in the project theme. The participants were uneasy too about their own bodies and about the ‘societal acceptability’ thereof, especially when they were less than perfect. Can a person not just be who he (or she) is, must he perforce think much of another person and constantly - depending on changing trends – transform his image and/or artificially remodel it?
What are the qualities of that which deviates from the prevailing norms of appearance, what are the qualities of a person’s minor irregularities and what are the
qualities of each individual’s own charm and expression, etc.? The answers to all these questions were – as stated above – often surprising, to both the children and to the artists and, in that sense, they acted as a reciprocal cross-fertilizer or catalyst, resulting in some astonishing creations. And the latter... the capacity to surprise and astonish... is, after all, a pre-eminent and prominent quality to have in a work of art.
The whole business of creative art was also reported on, throughout the workshop, by little, would-be reporters, who dashed from one studio to the next. The ten artists who gladly let themselves be led by that enthusiastic gang of kids were: Alexandra Crouwers, Sarah Corynen, Greet De Gendt, Nathalie Vanheule, Beatrijs Lauwaert, Manor Grunewald, Karin Peulen, Sara Bomans, Arno Roncada and Wim Rombouts.