Each week on the New Emissary, art consultant and Tokyo art gallery owner Bob Tobin reports on the contemporary art scene in the Asia-Pacific, sharing his unique insights into some of the emerging trends and artists from around the region.
Today’s question: What should you get the kids in your life for special occasions? You want to find gifts that’ll teach them something, something they won’t easily get bored with, something they’ll remember. And it might help if you can order the gift easily—from the same computer you're using now. With that all in mind, here are five suggestions:
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1. Limited Edition Prints. You can find these anywhere—on-line, in department and stationery stores and of course, galleries. Don’t call them copies, as they’re usually printed by the artist, signed and numbered. Do you remember the leaf, linoleum and woodcut prints you made in elementary school art classes? You were so proud of them, right? For a reasonable amount of money, the kids on your gift list can get a beautiful piece of art using a similar technique that they can hang on the wall and be a source of inspiration and learning. I especially like the horoscope prints by Japanese master printer Yoshio Imamura. His very intricate prints have the imagery of many Japanese icons, from cherry blossoms to astrology. You can order these online at this link. I also like the monoprints of Yanawit Kunchaethong as they’re especially well-suited for young people who are concerned about the environment. He makes organic prints using the juice of fruits he grows from trees that he himself planted. The prints change over time—just like in real life. But be sure to get the prints framed so they go on the wall, not in the closet.
2. Ceramics They Can Use. One way for kids to develop an appreciation for art is to see it all around them. An easy gift to find is a hand-made ceramic item that they can use on a daily basis. These are gifts that won’t be tossed away. (I still have the ceramic bookends that I received from the Rabbi’s son for my bar mitzvah.) There’s nothing wrong with cups with a Mickey or Minnie Mouse image, but why not a cup from Japan’s star potter, Ryota Aoki? It’s about the same price. Such things will help children develop a sense of design and an appreciation for beauty. You can find these more mature cups in galleries, department stores and ceramic shops. I’ll tell you from personal experience that there’s nothing like ‘morning O.J.’ in one of these cups from Ryota Aoki. (Aoki cups can be purchased online here.)
For older kids, I recommend the cups from Koichi Uchida, another excellent Japanese ceramicist. I use mine to hold paper clips and elastics and it adds a touch of elegance to my desk. It can do the same for any student’s room.
3. Books by Artists. Artists usually express themselves on canvas, but some can also do it in print. I like the book, The Lonesome Puppy by famed Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. You can order it from Amazon.com at this link. This was Nara’s first book for children and he tells the story of a large puppy that no one notices until a young girl becomes his friend. It’s a real page turner for children and adults and the pictures are magnificent. I also like the books by Betty Reynolds, an artist who lived in Japan for many years. She is a gifted watercolorist who has an insatiable curiosity about people and culture. She has several books about Japan that she calls artist sketchbooks, but they are much more than that. They’re a visual introduction to food, festivals and more, and they help people appreciate cultures they are unfamiliar with. In her most recent book, An Artist's journey to Bali, Betty shares her knowledge of the daily rituals of Bali that give the island and its people a distinct aura of magic. You can learn more about this and her other books about Japan at this website.
4. Museum Membership. It doesn’t cost very much to give a membership to a museum, but you’ll open up a whole new world for kids. Your young friends and relatives can see the exhibits, participate in special programmes for children, see movies and hear lectures. Live in Singapore? You can give an annual individual membership for just 50 Singapore dollars. Here’s what the recipient gets: Unlimited free entry into all galleries and special exhibitions; advanced booking and discounts on programs; exclusive member viewing hours; discounts at museum retail and dining outlets; complimentary tickets on selected programs; and email updates so you’re the first to know what’s coming up at the museum. At the Whitney museum in NYC, you can ‘curate’ your own membership for just $85. More info can be found at this link.
5. Paints, Pencils, Paper and Brushes. Give the gifts of paint, paper, brushes, pencils and you’ll be helping young people create art. In our home, we have ‘refrigerator art’ that we received from our friend’s daughter. She created these masterpieces using a set of coloured pencils, and as she gets older, I'm sure we’ll receive more of these works of art—perhaps using finger paints, water colors or play dough. The adults in her life encourage her, and you can do the same for the children on your gift list. I like the 18-tube set of Reeve quality watercolours that you can order from Dick Blick Art Supplies at this website. These are perfect for junior and high-schoolers and each include watercolour tubes, a pencil, brush, paper and instructions. And it only costs about $10. Check out Dick Blick’s website for more ideas.
Give an artful gift this year, and you’ll be giving a gift that may change a young person’s life. And while these gifts won't necessarily guarantee your child will become an artist, they’ll still hopefully be able to develop their creativity and an appreciation for art that will stay with them throughout their lives. Please also keep in mind that these recommendations might not suit everyone, so please check carefully before making any decisions on what to buy, especially online.
Images: Till Westermayer (top), Nazareth College (2nd from bottom), ND Strupler (bottom).