My daughter just started her second year at preschool, and she is already bringing home piles of artwork. (For any Battlestar Galactica geeks out there, she also appears to be channeling Starbuck. Should I be worried?) I love to see her at work, whether she is painting or stamping or making collages out of straws and masking tape and feathers.
She brought home this airplane after her first day at school, and has since made more at home out of minute bits of cut paper held together with tape. Her older brother told me “that doesn’t really look much like an airplane”. I reminded him that he used to make things just like that in preschool, and pointed out that maybe it is a super futuristic airplane, perhaps the airplane of the future!
I remember when he was younger he drew and created openly, until one day something changed. He stopped drawing and started uttering things like “I can’t draw flowers” and “when I draw people they don’t look right”. He was beginning to learn to write, to master control of the pencil, and with that skill he lost the thrill of just drawing for drawing’s sake. His world had turned concrete and representational, and if he couldn’t do it right he didn’t want to do it at all. No matter that he was willing to practice writing and accepted mistakes in his letters, drawing was apparently a whole different animal.
I’m sure many kids go through this, where they suddenly realize the smear of pink with the big fat line coming off of it doesn’t look as much like a flower as what they see outside, or they think their friend’s drawing is better. So they give up on drawing, on coloring, on choosing time at the easel over time doing a puzzle. What I need to know is how to make sure that they remember that in art, it doesn’t have to look like a perfect copy of a flower. A smear of pink with a streak of green below can most definitely be a flower, or a balloon, or a Phoenix. That art doesn’t have to always be about the outcome, but can be done just for the joy of pushing paint around on paper.
This seems like something people never shake, something that many adults never get past. I hear people tell me “you are so lucky, I can’t draw at all”. You want to know something? I’m not the world’s greatest sketch artist. Often when I roughly sketch something for someone I look at it and think “you are an artist, and that is the best you can do?” But I love to doodle, I make rough haphazard drawings in my sketchbooks, and when I’m getting ideas down on canvas or paper I take my time and then let the paint do the work.
When I was in college studying geography, I yearned to take some art classes, but was afraid of my own creativity (or potential lackthereof). So I ended up taking representational art classes, and spent hours using a tiny pen stippling excruciatingly exact images of seashells and butterflies from the local natural history museum. I was afraid to take watercolor or figure drawing, because I thought I didn’t have the whimsy or artistic sense to succeed. I know I missed out on a huge opportunity.
I hope my daughter never loses her desire to create, never finds herself lacking because her image of a pencil or caterpillar isn’t an exact representation of her subject. I hope my son can come to realize that not being able to draw a perfect flower isn’t a failure, that art can be fun and messy and imperfect and still be wonderful.