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Gutai and Children's Art | Yozo Ukita: "It's better to be childlike"

A project evolving the digitized archive of the book, “GUTAI STILL ALIVE 2015 vol.1”. The 31st edition introduces Yozo Ukita, an artist who was vital in deepening the relationship between Gutai and children's art. He was the editor of the "Kirin" children's poetry magazine, and he also served as a juror for the "Dobiten" children's creative art exhibition for many years. Painting lecturer at Gojigaoka Kindergarten Fukiko Kanagawa talks about Ukita's approach towards children's art while sharing some stories about the Dobiten.


Yozo Ukita Understood the Very Essence of Children

Fukiko Kanagawa
Researcher at Hoiku Zokei no Kai, painting lecturer at Gojigaoka Kindergarten


I met Dr. Yozo Ukita at the “Dobiten (children’s creative arts exhibition).” He was a member of the exhibition’s jury.

Dobiten was a competition of formative arts for children held annually since 1950 in the city of Ashiya. It was started for the purpose of nurturing free and vivid imagination that children intrinsically possess. At the beginning, Dr. Jiro Yoshihara, leader of the Gutai group, was leading Dobiten.

In terms of material, no restrictions were put on the works at the exhibition. Pictures measuring up to 2 meters were admitted, as well as sculptures and clay works. By its policy of evaluating children’s unconventional creativity, the exhibition was well known nationally as a very unique attempt.

Some 10 years ago, at the Dobiten of that year, I asked Dr. Ukita, “What kind of children’s works do you value?”

“I’ve long been thinking that candid words of children are wonderful and can be good poems. Having played candidly, children can make good works, I guess. Anything candid can get into your heart,” he replied with a smile.

He also said, “I found many words that I can’t forget in poems in the monthly 'Kirin (giraffe)’ magazine. I was engaged in its publication at that time. What do you think of the words, ‘Tears are crying in my heart …,’ in a poem written by a child in a very sad mood? It’s a sort of expression that only children can do. It impressed me. It’s not logic, right? So, as I judge works now, I’m looking for works that are candid and childlike.”

I had long studied children’s pictures, but these words of Dr. Ukita left a strong impression on my mind, and I thought he could even change my career.

Kirin is associated with Dr. Ukita. My mentor (the late Dr. Yasumasa Sone) also told me about the magazine, but I hadn’t talked with Dr. Ukita, who had long been in charge of the magazine’s publication. The conversation we had lasted only a few minutes, but I felt as if I had had a long journey to a faraway town before I finally encountered the right person, Dr. Ukita. Although he didn’t talk much, such his words as “Tears are crying in my heart” and “I like candid expressions” conveyed to me the depths of the essence and philosophy of children’s works, I think.

Since then I started to write down the words of children I heard as I was teaching formative arts (painting) at kindergartens, not only at my own but at other institutions as well. That taught me the way everyday education should be, the merits and problems of kindergarten staff.

Kirin consistently had liberalism and philosophical egoism. I came to think that Dr. Ukita, as a jury member of Dobiten, always knew the quintessence of children, and was such a great person. Although it had a long history, Dobiten finished in 2008 with its 58th edition, for various reasons and being missed by many. Children’s candid works are always being made. An institution to replace Dobiten was really necessary in order to continue what’s essentially important in preschool education for the future. Therefore kindergartens sharing the same idea founded “Hoiku Zokei no Kai (preschool educational formative arts association).” It retains the concept of Dobiten, and former Dobiten jury members, including Dr. Ukita, took over as the jury of new “Hoiku Zokei Ten (preschool educational formative arts exhibition).” Thanks to that, we have a place where we can accept children’s heart, even time has passed.

Dr. Ukita looked very excited whenever he was judging works at Hoiku Zokei Ten. He used to come in to the exhibition room with walking sticks in his hands, but as soon as he began to judge, he started walking briskly along the works without the sticks.

“I like the way this is crushed.”
“Although it looks dirty, it’s good, because it’s given the whole soul.”
“This work looks like junk, but it’s childlike.”
“The kid is playing about with the hand. It’s good.”
“This is the kind of work I like!”
“It’s done very neatly.”
“It’s really good!”

He always looked at each work as if to caress it, as he judged. “This is so good! Even a child can be a great artist” – Dr. Ukita was really serious while judging. His loud voice gave power to teachers from the kindergartens participating in Hoiku Zokei no Kai.

Before judging at Hoiku Zokei Ten, Dr. Ukita often visited children’s painting classes, and when some children talked to him, “Look at my work,” he used to say, “Oh! This is nice,” and such scenes were repeated. Sometimes he even helped children make works – which I still remember. Dr. Ukita was a person who can mingle with children in a natural manner.

In December this year, at a gallery in the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in the city of Kobe, Hoiku Zokei Ten will take place (Dec. 10-14). Dr. Ukita will certainly shout, “Oh! That’s good!” from heavens. He always looked at children’s works seriously, valued children’s flexible ideas and knew the quintessence of children. He was a great mentor.

(Mothly Gallery, May 2014)

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