Paul Klee’s ‘Burdened Children’

I teach music to about 400 children each week, aged 5-17. I am sadened daily by the weight that we load on their shoulders each day. I see children crushed with a negative image of adulthood and the world. From year 5 onwards (age 9-10), children are relenentlessly oppressed with exams, and fear of the results. Barely any are encouraged to have any original thought. Jealous of the freedom of children, we adults crush a child’s hopes with our own unfulfilled expectations. 

Deleuze discusses in ‘The Intensive Reduction’ that an artist should ‘render [life] visible’, and that Klee is the master of this. Never have I seen this image of childhood better expressed than in Klee’s picture ‘Belastete Kinder’, that was on display in the Tate a few years ago. 

Klee’s ‘Burdened Children’


Klee’s strength is always, for me, in his simplicity. It requires no further comment. One can stare at it for hours.

What is the answer? There are hundreds of teachers out there who work against this trend of preparing children for ‘real life’. Who let them run around, be weird, sing, shout, cry and imagine. Creative schools, painting academies, youth theatre and opera, dance. The budgets for these organisations are being cut. Head teachers have so much pressure to keep up the mark schemes of STEM subjects, that music, art and dance are sidelined or omitted entirely in our state primary schools. Bright, creative people who could be amazing teachers avoid schools, chasing money in offices instead. Would the country be healthier and happier if we encouraged our children to be funnier and more imaginative than us? Or shall we just clone ourselves, perpetuating this drudgery ad infinitum? Providing children with limitations? 

Let’s preserve innocence! Long live fantasy! Campfires! Imaginary best friends! Quirkiness! 

Grades are not the answer. Surely. Let’s sing and dance. 

Gainsborough’s Daughters. Can be seen for free in the National Gallery.

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