EXPLOITS: The Fine Art of Childhood


John Singleton Copley “Watson and the Shark” 1778

When my wife Michele Bledsoe and I co-authored “The Secret Kingdom” together, I was pleased to know it was intended for children. What we did for the book was write poetry inspired by Michele’s existing body of paintings.

The art came first, and was not created specifically for kids. These are just the paintings Michele makes naturally, her visions made visible. The works just have such a mysterious fairy tale atmosphere about them which makes them accessible to all ages.


Michele Bledsoe “Salvation and Desire” acrylic on canvas 18″ x 24″

I love the idea of presenting such wonderful works to kids. Art is for everyone, even children. We are doing a real disservice to youth today by assuming that doodles and cartoons are good enough illustrations for children’s books.

Why not give the kids something intense, beautiful and mysterious? Why not present them with real art?

I speak as someone who grew up with some pretty serious fine art reproductions decorating my room and our house. I’m sure having them around at an early age fed into the artist I’ve become as an adult.

I’ve already written about my dinosaur fascination and its connection to my art. I also gained inspiration from some more traditional masterpieces.

I grew up outside of Washington DC. I must have been in second or third grade when we made a school trip to the National Gallery of Art. I came away with some souvenirs-some beautiful art prints I picked out myself. My mother hung them up in my bedroom; for many years afterwards, as I grew up, I contemplated these images.

I had the taste of a little boy. The lurid “Watson and the Shark” was one of the pictures. There was also a Raphael painting of St. George and the Dragon, and a spooky dungeon scene by Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

I don’t know what ever happened to the actual prints I used to have, but thanks to the magic of the internet, it was easy to find the images.


Raphael “Saint George”

Piranesi_carceri XIV

Giovanni Battista Piranesi “Carceri XIV”

My parents also had a nice framed reproduction which hung over the fireplace in the family room: “The Haywain” by John Constable. As I spent countless hours in that room watching TV, I also would stare at the picture over the mantle.


John Constable “The Haywain” 1821

Being exposed to truly great works from a young age enriched my life, and gave me the sense of the action and beauty art is capable of. I see echos of these images I grew up with in the art I make to this day.

9 thoughts on “EXPLOITS: The Fine Art of Childhood

  1. Do not cast off the cartoons and doodles as if they are lesser forms. Raphael’s painting of St. George is a cartoon wearing extra layers. Art is for everyone, and even adults deserve something more stirring, breathtaking and exciting than Bingham’s “Fur Traders” or Constable’s “The Haywain”.

  2. Though both cartoons/doodles and art are forms of visual communication, they are not comparable. They are as different as a limerick and a novel. Cartoons and doodles aim for simplification to the obvious for a quick hit of comprehension. Art evokes a wordless state of consideration through the elaborate application of skillful expression of vision. Like most things in life, the more effort you put into something, the more you get out of it. When the extra layers applied to visual communication are layers of virtuosity, achievement, subtlety, and ambition brought to successful resolution, the piece has transcended to a different level of experience. The leveling attitude of post modernism would hold everything is relative; this worldview has failed, because not all efforts are capable of delivering the same quality of experience, and people know this instinctively.
    There is nothing wrong with cartoons and doodles. But we are capable of so much more.

  3. Excellent wording, friend, the literary metaphor is true and just. I guess, I was just born more of a limerick guy, though I do take in a fine novel on occasion. I’m finding that I am a man of simplicity more and more as I travel through life. I’m not saying that I dislike paintings or any art form for that matter. I think there is a spark in my soul that lights up for the zany doodles of Harvey Kurtzman’s “Hey Look”, but somehow that spark fails to light up for Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees”. That does make me feel out of place at the art teacher meetings…

    Also, I wish to second First Night Design’s sentiments. Michele’s work is indeed spectacular, it has no equal. Her work does make the spark of my soul light up.

  4. Different forms of expression speak to us in different ways, and all instruments are vital to the overall sound of the symphony, All parts contribute to the richness of life. Simplicity is a virtue. Michele’s art does light up the soul indeed!

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