The role of children in Western society has undergone great change over the centuries. From being perceived as
subsumed within the family structure, children are now perceived as individuals in their own right, and modern culture
has adopted children as potent symbols of creativity.
Beginning with the Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century, the nature of children was starting to take shape as
distinct from that of adults. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one advocate of educational reform. In Emile, he urged mothers
to oversee the upbringing of their own children and create a protective environment in which children could thrive and
mature naturally. The succeeding Romantic movement further looked upon children as their muse.
Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century culture continued the Romanticists adoration of childrens naturalism and
creativity. Sigmund Freud closely examined what he perceived as childrens belief in animism, and his theories made up
the foundation of early twentieth-century child psychology. Jean Piaget, who studied cognitive development in children,
made the important determination that the perceptions of children differed widely from those of adults.
Children have also played an important role in modern art. In 1863, French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire said
of artists that they must maintain the qualities of a child in perceiving the world around them, regarding the phenomena
and colors of the outisde world with sensitivity and depth. The closest adherents to this philosophy were the
Impressionists, whose bright colors and pure visuality were an exploration of the phenomenal world preceding even the
philosophers of the age.
Around 1903, Paul Cezanne proposed a return to the state of a
newborn infant in his pure perception of phenomena. The Abstract
movement of the early twentieth century turned to primitivism and
childrens art as inspiration. In 1912, Swiss painter Paul Klee
encouraged looking to the art produced by children, the uncivilized
and lunatics as a way to transcend the boundaries of European
culture and express individualism.
The works chosen from the collection of modern Western art in
the Chi Mei Museum present lively portrayals of children. These
works range in period from the early Renaissance to the early
twentieth entury, and each is historically and artistically significant.
The concept of childhood has been defined in this exhibit quite
broadly as the period from infancy to adolescence.
Meanwhile, the various themes of childhood covered in the
exhibit have taken the lives of modern children as a point of
reference. The exhibit has therefore been divided accordingly into
four sections: family, play, quiet time and work; with attention to