People doubted it was created by a child, but his mother confirmed the talent is all his.
An important document recently arrived in the office of Italy’s Deputy Minister of Education, Anna Ascani. It wasn’t a report that needed to be read or a draft of a document to be revised. Instead, it was the work of a child named Francesco, 9 years old, who is a fourth grader at the Renato Sclarandi Institute in Turin. The “document” is a black and white pencil drawing depicting Francesco’s entire class.
The idea is simple and disarming: since current conditions have prevented him and his classmates from returning to class, it will be impossible to take the end-of-year class photo. Instead of making a collage of screenshots taken from videochats, Francesco took advantage of his passion for drawing, and drew a portrait of his entire class. Here’s the result:
What do we see? Definitely a budding talent with promise for an artist’s future. Among the many comments on social media there was no lack of those who insinuated that the child wasn’t really the one who had drawn it, but Francesco’s mother responded by confirming that Francesco was indeed the artist.
The choice of black and white is the first element that struck me as simple and suggestive. The color is missing, because the living presence of the protagonists is missing. This is only my own interpretation, and yet, this absence of color seems to me full of meaning. Many people hide the emptiness created by isolation and distance. They fill it with distractions so as not to reckon with the impotence we’ve all experienced in the face of the coronavirus. Black and white is “sincere,” because it doesn’t have any distracting fillers; it is severe, if you will. Yet, it is authentic in saying that what is on paper is only one essential aspect of the scene; it lacks the polychromy of a shared life.
That aside, the features of the drawing are very sweet and full of joy. It spontaneously makes you think that it was born from the memory of countless moments lived together, which guided the young draftsman’s hand.
Taking a picture takes little time, and with the tools we have today, it wouldn’t be hard to find a technical solution to make an amazing class portrait despite not being able to bring all the students together. Why not choose to rely on technical tools? Why fall back on a method that requires time and patience?
We are so bombarded with high-definition images and mobile phones with ever-better cameras, that thinking about a child carefully drawing a monochrome class portrait with a single pencil in hand cannot go unnoticed. His task must have taken a lot of time and work, and a lot of exercising his memory. It’s moving to notice the uniqueness of each face. Indeed, Francesco invited his companions to recognize themselves in the drawing. I’ve heard from various teachers that what their students miss most during these weeks of distance learning is having their name called out. They may have taken for granted before the opportunity to answer roll call with an enthusiastic, “Present!” They’re not taking it for granted any longer.
Remembering your friends one by one is a way of going through a roll call using the list of your memory. Francesco’s precision in sketching portraits that are stylized but not at all generic is an open-hearted confession: “Everyone is present. I haven’t forgotten you.”
Therefore, something more than a simple drawing has arrived on the Deputy Minister’s desk. It should make us stop and reflect. A school is not just a building, and it’s not just a place where a child enters ignorant and comes out with an education. There’s a lot of talk about relationships, now that so many students are experiencing school through the filter of a screen. “Relationship” is certainly a decisive word, but precisely because of what Francesco illustrated with this drawing: remembering a friend, striving to present an image that reflects your bond with him, is inextricably joined with reflecting on yourself. Our children do not need to “be together in class”; they need the journey of self-discovery not to be made alone.
How to start a children’s Holy Hour
How to decipher your children’s drawings