|Aelita Andre - Four Year Old Prodigy (not mine!)|
"Do not spill your thimble-full of finger paint!". Say that ten times, I dare you. With tongue-twisting skills like these, little wonder I birthed a prodigy of my own, of the existential philosopher variety.
Tonight's dinner time question was "What does it feel like to be dead?", but Little Bear's most common question is "Does that exist?". He's trying to figure out where the line is drawn between reality and fantasy, and asks this in relation to anything from monsters, angels, knights in armour, the Easter story, jellyfish and fairies to ghosts. These things have pretty straightforward answers - they either definitively do, definitively don't or nobody knows so you can just decide (and I'll let you decide which falls into which category). But things start to get complicated when he points to representations (or misrepresentations) of things in photographs, magazines, billboard ads, films, TV programs and illustrations. I find myself embarking on lengthy attempts to demystify the film industry ("That's an actor darling, pretending to be someone else, telling an imaginary story that was written by a writer, filmed by a cameraman" etc) or the advertising industry ("That's a photo of something real, photo-shopped by a graphic designer and made into something pretty unreal" etc), but my responses always fall short of his complete satisfaction.
We went to the Instituto Moreira Salles recently (our default rainy day in Rio routine) to see an exhibition of video portraits by Robert Wilson. We're talking high-res flat screens with what appear to be stills of celebrities, until you notice that parts of the picture change. Little Bear was completely entranced (so was I by the way, especially by the work featuring Brad Pitt in his underpants ) and of course he asked 'Do they really exist?". My explanation was that yes, it was a real person who really exists, and this was a video of them. When little bear wondered 'How do they eat?' I realised that he thought the people were actually stuck in a box up on the wall, behind a glass screen. And why not?
That's what is so genius about all four year old kids; their total ignorance. They haven't got a clue about what is likely to be real, what is clearly not, or any of the practical reasons why Brad Pitt wouldn't really be stuck in a box in the gallery. They don't know how things should or shouldn't be done, and no concept of any of the boundaries that separate their imaginations from the world around them. It must be magical living in a world where everything seems possible - including four year olds having their own gallery shows. Prodigies or not, they have a lot to teach us...not least that it's okay to for them to get paint all over their pretty clothes.