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9th June 2006 at 01:00
MAGIC MOMENTS: Collaborations Between Artists and Young People. Edited by Anna Harding, Black Dog. Publishers pound;19.95

IN THE SPIRIT OF THE STUDIO: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia. Edited by Lella Gandini, Lynn Hill, Louise Cadwell and Charles Schwall. Teachers' College Press pound;21.50

At their core, both these books speak about collaboration and communication. The "magic moments" of the first refer to that catalytic moment of awakening which occurs when young people interact with practising artists: the "joy of the unexpected", the gestalt effect which propels co-operative work to another level.

This book is a collection of essays, interviews and conversations which document such moments over time and place. Arenas for these interactions include schools, galleries and community venues.

The famed Room 13 at Caol Primary School in Fort William, set up by local artist Rob Fairley, is the subject of the only chapter where children speak from their own perspective. Here a sort of utopia has been achieved. As the precocious young interviewee says: "In room 13 there is no difference between adult and young artists. We are all just artists."

The editors of In the Spirit of the Studio agree and dedicate their work to "the great collaborative community of educators all over the world". This book celebrates, through a series of personal case studies and interviews, the revolutionary approach to early years teaching and learning pioneered in Reggio Emilia by Loris Malaguzzi. This, known as the "atelier" method, involves organising classrooms around an experimental laboratory for visual and material exploration which serves all subjects and which is architecturally and spiritually the hub of the school; a place which conforms very much to Maria Montessori's notion of a "Children's House".

Central to the atelier philosophy is an interdisciplinary methodology where self-realisation occurs through independent activity and a blurring of the traditional boundaries between subjects. The book documents the pioneering years in Italy and the subsequent influence this Platonic approach has had on some schools in North America.

Louise Cadwell reflects that, as we have moved from an industrial society, where the many carry out the ideas of the few, to an industrial community based far more on a matrix of creative collaborators, society must therefore nurture skills of exploration, experimentation and the experience of creative discovery in all. With the atelier method, this is achieved through what Eisner calls "the exploitation of the adventitious". As Cadwell goes on to say: "Children are protagonists; teachers are researchers; the school classroom environment is a third teacher; parents are partners; and all four parts are dynamically connected."

Both books offer views of creative relationships but the second is written with infectious passion which I found inspiring, motivating a magic moment of my own.

Tom Hardy is head of art at North London Collegiate School

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