Paint Schoodic

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Those darn kids

Kids usually stop drawing when they hit puberty. That might be preventable.

12-year-old Cora Pahucki and her painting from Ellicott City Plein Air.
It’s the season when plein air painters hit the road. I expect to see Chrissy Pahucki twice this summer, first at Castine Plein Air next week, and then at Adirondack Plein Air in August.

Chrissy has three kids. Usually, she has one or more of them with her. As they’ve gotten older they’ve started painting alongside her, sometimes even entering open-to-the-public quickdraw events with her. “Ben calls dibs on Castine every year,” she told me. “Cora will be at Morristown, NY, with me. Samantha will do the Adirondacks.”

During the off-season (meaning the other ten months of the year), Chrissy teaches art at CJ Hooker Middle School in Goshen, NY. She’s an award-winning teacher as well as painter, and she must have nerves of steel, since she has been known to take her class plein air painting.

One of Chrissy Pahucki's paintings (unfinished) from Ellicott City Plein Air
This weekend, she was at the Ellicott City (MD) Plein Air Festival. Her daughter Cora, age 12, was with her. Kids painting in these events are so unusual that Cora scored a mention in the Baltimore Sun, here.

Each time I see their work, I wonder what kind of adult artists Ben, Samantha and Cora will end up being.

Meanwhile, I have houseguests. My three nephews range in age from 17 to 11. All of them carry sketchbooks with them when they travel, but Gabriel, who’s going into the 11th grade, is a marked man. He has that book in his hand everywhere he goes, and he uses it.

People often tell us artists about kids or grandkids who love art and show great promise at it. Sadly, most of them will stop drawing when they hit adolescence. Only a few will continue to express themselves with pencil or brush.

Another painting of Cora's from Ellicott City Plein Air.
Cartoonist Lynda Barry has speculated that paper ceases to be the same thing for adults that it was for kids: “[W]ith kids, a piece of paper is a place for something to happen. And for adults, it's a thing.”

Very little study has been done on the question of why kids stop drawing. What we know suggests that at puberty kids suddenly realize their efforts are unsatisfactory. Young children don’t care about proportion and perspective; they are working expressively. Older school-age kids want realistic results. If they can’t solve drafting problems to their satisfaction, they give up.

Another painting by Chrissy Pahucki from Ellicott City Plein Air.
Of course, drafting skills aren’t intuitive; they must be taught. Our western tradition has by and large abandoned teaching the discipline of drawing in favor of fostering genius and self-expression. It’s the rare child who perseveres through that, or has an art teacher who understands the importance of drawing.

In every class, there are one or two kids who’ve reasoned out how to draw. The rest of their class believe that these kids are blessed with some mysterious “talent” that sets them apart, but what they really had was the opportunity to see how drawing is supposed to work. 

I’ll bring Gabriel along with me for my last regular class of this session. “Hey!” said his younger brother when I announced this. “I like to draw, too!” But I know that lad. He’ll be off collecting seashells and I’ll be thinking up ways to stop him from slipping into the ocean, rather than concentrating on my class. Unlike Chrissy Pahucki, I can’t do two things at once.

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