While the museum is closed to the public, CMA’s inaugural cohort of Artist-Educators in Residence are turning the museum into their individual art studios as they develop The Look Make Show, the first digital commons of child-centered on-demand arts education. Below, meet Tati Nguyen, whose multicultural experiences have helped her develop a variety of arts curricula that span cultures, ages, and mediums.
What attracted you to CMA’s new Artist-Educator in Residence program?
I was attracted to CMA’s residency program both as an educator and artist. As an educator, the residency’s appeal was the innovative approach and openness of possibilities of art education, providing children with an expansive learning tool to engage in new ways; and to look at the world through the lens of creativity. As an artist, I’m excited by the possibilities of experimentation and the intrepid spirit of CMA’s new vision. Plus, I am always inspired by the energy and fresh eyes that children bring to their art practice and approach to self expression (their immediate embrace of an all-in immersive giving of themselves over to art-making). They often take a simple prompt and run off with the ideas to wild places; the rules of engagement in art has no limitations for a child. It was an opportunity too wonderful to pass up.
Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?
I have always tried to pull inspiration from my own childhood and the power of observations, undiluted by the dictates of external logic — the world where children’s sense of play and experimentation without rules and dictums are freeing. There are no external art metrics to compare against personal vision — for a viewer, perhaps, some messages are more immediate, and others more elusive, but to the child, their art is a world complete in itself: a stand-alone holistic visual universe, which is perfect. I am inspired to draw upon this, and can endlessly revisit again and again in art making.
Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?
As a young Vietnamese girl arriving in America, I remember the first time I was able to communicate, not through language but visually with my schoolmates through my drawings. We were copying pictures of penguins (which was fascinating to me as we don’t have penguins in South East Asia). I drew the same animal over and over again to understand this animal, and to communicate and connect with the children that I didn’t share a common language with.
What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?
All children are artists — all have a need to express, to share, to communicate; it’s a natural inclination as the children begin their academic careers. Perhaps, some focus may change into learning systems: reading, math, etc., but it’s essential to always nurture curiosity and never stop art practices for themselves. Creativity may be applied in all aspects of our lives, whether it is problem-solving, drawing, writing, dancing, or making music — creativity is magic. Just doing something for yourself, and the world may come to appreciate it or not, but art will enrich life no matter how you engage with it; making it a part of who you are. Treasure the relationship with your art, and nurture the creative impulse in yourself.
Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?
Art is a participatory activity that has the power to engage the entire family; a bonding experience in art making can facilitate communication. Art as a topic can beautify and facilitate conversations to share ideas with one another; to trigger a deep dive into life’s journey. Introducing art as a branch of creative child development is to not just let brain activity thrive, but to cultivate balanced creativity in children. Art is what gives children the power to express themselves!
If you could choose any artist to create a portrait of yourself, who would it be and why?
What an interesting question — for myself, this question gets into a whole new conversation about what a portrayal of an artist would be. Essentially, our artworks are fragments and glimpses of the self; as artists share various forms of their work through their art and narratives … add upon this layer an external gaze to define a portrayal …it is an interesting concept.
There are so many answers because it’s difficult to choose just one — a portrait can be expressed in any form — it can be a piece of music, photo, poem, book, painting, or sculpture … in painting form, I would pick Jean Dubuffet. Dubuffet in his approach to portraiture and art practice was to preserve the inner child and innocence of visual expression. It’s the essence of a childlike outlook not weighing down a portrait in formal constructs.