Now you see it

15th September 2000 at 01:00
When the Children's Laureate, Quentin Blake, was told that he could draw on the walls of the National Gallery, his response was "Am I allowed?" If it helps the nation to learn to look at pictures, the answer is yes. Blake's favourite paintings will be hung without labels, experts' notes or pre-ordained interpretation: we will simply be expected to look at them alongside the visual cues Blake will draw. That won't happen till next spring, but until October 8 you can see the best in children's picture book art at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

But if children are taking over the galleries, the child's connection with the image is not yet a central concern n the outside world (certainly not in the National Literacy Strategy). "The verbal aspects of reading have been far better theorised and analysed than the visual," said Professor Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University at an international symposium on Reading Pictures held in Cambridge last week. Quoting Matisse, she added, "seeing is already a creative operation, one that demands a method".

An understanding of how text and image work together - highlighted throughout this issue of Read on - will help both children and adults find the method, with an increase in visual literacy leading to the other kind.

Geraldine Brennan, TES books editor


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