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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

You can’t draw a straight line, and other falsehoods


“I’m not talented” is the most pernicious lie in the world. Science is slowly disproving it.
Under a milky sky (Hare Bay, Newfoundland), Carol L. Douglas. It’s exactly what today’s sky looks like.
Like Thomas Edison, I firmly believe that “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I have zero tolerance for the 18th century idea of the Cult of Genius or for Sigmund Freud's theories of poetic madness.

These ideas stripped rationality from the creation of art and the art market. They made it inevitable that art and music would be considered non-essential, meaning we could cut them from our schools. They removed the joy of making art from the everyday experiences of ordinary people. Early in our educations, some of us are labeled ‘talented’ and the rest are encouraged to do something else. That’s rigid and it limits everyone, artist and non-artist alike. 

Creativity is the one of the defining characteristics of mankind, after all, and it should flow through everything we do. That's especially important in our post-industrial society, where making stuff—canning, farming, woodworking, sewing, etc.—is now unnecessary.
Abstraction, by Carol L. Douglas. Drawing takes many forms, and all of them are helpful to the human mind.
Science is slowly returning us to a pre-Enlightenment understanding of art as part of the toolkit of the rational man. Drawing is not just a tool to communicate; it’s a tool to classify and learn.

Sadly, educators seem to be the last ones on board with this idea. Here’s another study which says what I told my kids’ principals in vain: if you want my son to learn, let him doodle it. Don’t just try to cram it into his brain.

The researchers in this recent study figure that drawing gives your brain different ways to engage with new material—imagining it, rendering it, and looking at your visual record. All those steps encode it in your memory. I’d add one more thing—doodling is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.
My late friend and student Gwendolyn Linn attracted a flock of kids eager to learn.
Adults can leave a work environment that discourages doodling. Kids aren’t so lucky.

Many of us were riveted by last week’s story of 40,000-year-old figurative cave drawings found in Borneo. "It now seems that two early cave art provinces arose at a similar time in remote corners of Paleolithic Eurasia: one in Europe, and one in Indonesia at the opposite end of this ice age world," wrote co-researcher Adam Brumm.

It actually means that scientists have only found these drawings in Europe and Indonesia. Not every cave has conditions to preserve art, of course. But reason tells us that if there’s cave art in two such distant places, it was probably practiced worldwide by paleolithic man.

There’s a connection between these two stories, and it comes from my pal, artist Diane Leifheit.
Adult students getting fresh air and intellectual exercise last summer near Spruce Head. We won't be so fortunate today; it's raining.
“When someone says, ‘Oh I can’t draw,’ I say, ‘We have been making art for thousands of years. It is in our DNA. We just have to scratch the surface to find it,’” she said.

Next time you tell me you aren’t talented, remember that. As for drawing straight lines, I carry a straight-edge in my painting kit. Works every time.

5 comments:

Mary Whitney said...

It’s sad that the administration and folks who are on school boards don’t understand how important the arts are. I used to have my teachers certification k-12 art and all subjects 7-8 grade. I believe that the main purpose of art class is not to produce great artists. It is to nurture creativity. What’s creativity? It is the ability to brain storm, to come up with new ideas and to not accept the status quo. It’s the ability to look at what is and has been for awhile and come up with something different, it’s innovation. It’s the ability to find a window, or a crevice to crawl out of when the door is shut. The great scientists and mathematitions were and are great because they have these abilities. The folks who do not are mediocre and contribute little new innovative ideas to the world. Art classes also teach kids to work together and to work as a team or nurtures socialization skills through projects like making murals. They can also develop their creativity by brainstorming together regarding their projects. They do all of this while having fun...and education should be fun!

Carol Douglas said...

Amen, Mary!

My husband and I once attended a teacher's conference where someone said something about our son being unprepared "for the real world." Well, if the real world was to grow up to work in a bureaucracy, they were right. But Doug and I were both working from home and doing very well financially and socially. The real world rewards those who think outside the box, so why are schools so hellbent on cramming kids back into the box?

Unknown said...

I love your ending! Nice article.

I think, at the same time, that some few people do have innate attributes that help them create in an exceptional way, for example, a “photographic” memory, or “perfect pitch”.

We all have the innate ability and natural instinct to create, but we are not all creative to the same extent or degree in any one particular way.

We are all talented, but in different ways. I think there is a bell curve that describes innate potential ability in any defined category.

And, then, to *apply* and “develop” that potential takes effort. Even Michangelo worked his ass off.

Unknown said...

I love your ending! Nice article.

I think, at the same time, that some few people do have innate attributes that help them create in an exceptional way, for example, a “photographic” memory, or “perfect pitch”.

We all have the innate ability and natural instinct to create, but we are not all creative to the same extent or degree in any one particular way.

We are all talented, but in different ways. I think there is a bell curve that describes innate potential ability in any defined category.

And, then, to *apply* and “develop” that potential takes effort. Even Michangelo worked his ass off.

Carol Douglas said...

I agree with you, although I think those differences may be as much about opportunity as they are about our innate (ie genetic) attributes.

Where I'm troubled is the idea that art is only for the talented. And as you say, we must work like devils to get ANY innate ability developed!