Sunday, September 16, 2007

In Japan, Official Money Funds My Daughter's Art Career

In Japan, Official Money Funds My Daughter's Art Career

On the morning of 16 September 2007, my wife told me that it had been arranged for the Yokohama Art Museum to open its facilities for the use of our three-year-old daughter Cornucopia, the budding artist in the family. So, bright and early, we headed for Minato Mirai station, three minutes walk from the museum.

To my dismay, when we got there about a billion kids and parents were lined up, all, apparently, trying to horn in on Cornucopia's art session. Fortunately, the museum is pretty roomy, and soon we were in a huge room jam-packed with the artistic, with modeling clay in our hands.

Since a rolling pin was provided with the clay, Cornucopia's natural inclination was to roll out the clay as if rolling out pastry for baking.

In an effort to stimulate a more sophisticated approach to the clay, I tried to set an example by creating a suite of art works which would show the transformation of an evolving trilobite which would arrive, by various stages, to its ultimate crowning glory, Man.

But I got muddled.

First, though I distinctly remember having seen a picture of a trilobite in a book back when I was a kid, I can no longer remember what a trilobite looks like. So my trilobite ended up looking more like a piece of squashed dog poop rather than anything else.

Second, I wasn't sure precisely how Man should be emblified. What should I be aiming for? Who is the ideal Man? Michael Jackson? Karl Rove?

Muddled by the complexities of this choice, all I was able to succeed in coming up with was a blobby figure which could equally as easily have been anyone from George W. Bush to Osama Bin Laden.

Then I hit a third problem. I realized I didn't know what intermediary forms the trilobite went through to reach its human destination. Dinosaurs? No, dinosaurs were a dead end. They didn't evolve into us.

Instead of the grand chain of ever-more-complex organisms that I had in mind, all that I could come up with was a rat. At least, I knew it was a rat, but whether anyone else would have understood that it was intended to be a rat is questionable.

Finally, Cornucopia demanded a fresh challenge, so my wife took her outside to do outdoor graffiti art, which involved painting a spare wall that the museum had available.

There is, if you tour Japan, distressingly little graffiti on view, and it is perhaps for this reason that the museum thought graffiti training to be situationally appropriate.

The only place in Japan that I've ever seen decent graffiti was years ago on a wall at what was then the terminal line of the Toyoko Line, Sakuragicho.

The Toyoko Line has been reengineered and no longer goes to Sakuragicho, so I have no idea whether the wall is still there.

Some years before I ever saw it, this wall had been painted in American-style ghetto graffiti. The day I showed up, there were photographers on hand, popping off snapshots of this unique repository of Americana in the Land of the Rising Sun.

When I went up close to the wall, I saw that graffiti had moss growing on it. In Japan, nobody would be so disrespectful as to spraypaint graffiti directly over the top of someone else's art, so these quasi-sacred wall paintings had been left untouched for years.

If I have the time, I will one day head for Sakuragicho to see whether the wall is still there.

My understanding is that, for the forseeable future, the Yokohama Art Museum will be opening up for Cornucopia every Sunday at ten in the morning, for free, and (for some reason that I don't quite understand) other kids will also be permitted to attend her art session.

Our other big cultural experience recently was attending the local festival here in our neck of the woods in Yokohama, where Cornucopia was particularly attracted by the little goldfish that you can always buy at such street festivals.

I have to admit that I wanted to buy one, too, but I told her, no, we aren't going to buy one, because these things are notorious for dying.

They get bought by people who have absolutely no background in looking after fish, and who take them home in a plastic bag containing water, and who, on arriving home, really have no idea what to do next. The result is, pretty much always, a dead fish.

Though I did once have, in one of my classes in which I was teaching English to Japanese students of English, one male student who had a street market goldfish which he'd bought on the spur of the moment and which was still alive years and years later.

He didn't know why it was alive. He'd just been lucky, it seems. All the other students were amazed. And so I was I.

I have every confidence that my daughter is the ultimate Magic Artist, but I don't conceive of her as being the Magic Goldfish Keeper, so I did an authoritative paternal "no" on the goldfish. But Cornucopia did work her wiles on me to the point where we came home with two little festival souvenirs, a gaudy red plastic strawberry and an equally gaudy ice cream cone, both hanging on elasticated strings from little itty bitty fishing rods.

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