A take on family estrangement

Building a collection such as CDIC’s often means bumping into difficult questions and hurdles. Children’s drawings have nearly all vanished for centuries, even millennia. There are basically two reasons for that. One is that there is little value attached to them, and by extension children, because of the temporary nature of childhood. Either they grow too fast, or we just cannot wait for them to grow up. The other reason is that even if great value is given to learning and art made by children, it is generally a personal value shared and enjoyed in private among family members, not with the community. It is for the family scrapbook only.

In our efforts to expand the conversation about preservation, we wonder what triggers some individuals and some parents to hang on to those fragile objects. We also ask ourselves, is there a best time for families to contribute items to the collection? It is hard to say. The best time is probably when both the parent and the child agree to let the original image leave home. That is in the case of a young child. If the child has become an adult and has childhood art, likely preserved by a parent, this person may have lost interest in the image, or may want to honor the parent who kept it safe.

When a family keeps child art pieces for a long time, it looks like a positive sign for their preservation. It likely means that the initial impulse sprung from a strong bond between the child and the parent. It could however turn out to be the opposite, and the longer a family keeps the art, the more endangered it becomes. This is because like any other relationships, family bonds can fluctuate over time.

Adult children sometime grow apart from their parents or their siblings. When this happens, physical objects that they shared in the past come to take different meanings. The value and meaning of any art from childhood change, and may become dispensable. Family estrangement, when it happens, can put conservation of children’s art at risk.

The decision to preserve or not children’s art is and will remain in the hands of individuals and parents. Our participatory approach to collection development aims to add a collective or community layer to the equation. Our hope is that this will stimulate dialogue between generations, and cultural awareness.

Family estrangement has been under the scrutiny of a small number of scholars over the past ten years. They inform us that several factors can bring family members to stop interacting with one another. Family members can keep their distances for various periods of time, from a few months, to years, or for life. They can sometime grow apart gradually, without even explicitly knowing why. A pioneer on the subject is Dr. Kylie Agllias, adjunct lecturer at the University of NewCastle, in Australia. Her book Family estrangement: A matter of perspective (Routledge, 2016) is a go to reference. Gerontologist Dr.Karl Pillemer of Cornell University also authored the book Fault lines: Fractured families and how to mend them (Penguin, 2022). His book has a significant portion on resilience and reconciliation. In 2015, the British organization Stand Alone conducted a groundbreaking survey. Over eight hundred people responded. Their findings were published in the report by psychologist Dr. Lucy Blake, of the Centre for Family Research at University of Cambridge: Hidden voices: Family estrangement in adulthood, and available online. It is most revealing of some aspects of modern life.

Family members. By Léo, c1969s. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

The sound of drawing

The visual depiction of sound and music has kept musicians and artists busy for a very long time. The evolution of music notation is one of many examples of this lasting connection between the two forms of expression. One could argue that music notation probably has more do to with writing than drawing. The graphic display of soundwaves seems a more direct way to show sound. However I have never seen or heard of a musician using an image of soundwaves as partition.

In illustrations, say of someone shouting or playing trumpet, we are used to see lines coming out of a mouth or an instrument. The illustrator will sometime accompany the lines with onomatopoeia, to specify what the viewer should hear. Another example is that of making voices visible in comic strips with the three basic balloons of thought, talk and scream, and their many variations in emotional tone.

With the advent of cinema, video, and audio recording, image and sound eventually came together in a such way that we tend to forget their independence. Cinema and video is about moving images, and artists have always shown interest in exploring their relation to sound and music.

One of them is Danny Clay, who takes music notation to new playful heights by inviting students to invent and draw their own music notation icons for composing. This is a sound to image to music process.

Other artists committed to explore sound and images, is the duo Heike Liss and Fred Frith who improvise the sound and the image that emerge as one, during a live performance. This may appear a simultaneous act of creation, but the sound leads the drawing in this artistic performance. It is a sound to image process.

The simultaneous production of sound and images  has become quite sophisticated with the aid of digital programs and devices. One prolific artist in this field is Benjamin Heim, who works both individually or with numerous collaborators on large scale projects. This is a simultaneous music-image process where the music determines the movement and duration of the image.

In this relation between audio and visual expression, the preoccupation with visually depicting sound seems the main concern. Only with moving images, do creators preoccupy themselves with what images sound like. But what about still images? Are they condemned to remain silent? The only sounds that are connected to still images are the ones made while the image is created. The only movements connected to fixed images are the past movements of its making, and the movements of the eyes of the viewer.

Luckily, artists never stop searching, and some are exploring sound as it emerges from images, movement, or movement making images. Anna Ridler is one of them. She uses traditional visual media with contemporary digital and audio devices, to created images out of movement and sound.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that there are now ways to draw on screen with movement and sounds without even touching the screen. Google partnered with CreateAbility Inc. to create Sound Canva. Go ahead and try it out. Tutorials are available too.

Below, André Franquin’s Gaston signs office documents with a deafening jackhammer.

Gaston. Ink on paper, by Léo Beaulieu, c1974. Source: CDIC-CIDE.
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