Monday, April 12, 2010

Outside The Lines

When I said that I have major issues with the art projects at Dylan's preschool, I wasn't kidding. Yes, they did dress the boys up like girls, but that's not even my biggest complaint. At least they only did that once.

I told you before that they only focus on one color a month. What I didn't tell you is that every morning they put a coloring book sheet on the easel, and let them paint it with that ONE COLOR.

Do you see how he is trying to paint inside the lines? Do you understand how CRAZY that makes me? Now, I am probably going to make myself very unpopular with my next statement. I HATE coloring books. HATE THEM.

Children are born creative little beings. Give them some sticks or a big cardboard box (or both), and you can witness their creativity. Telling them to "color inside the lines"? Praising them for being "a good colorer"? Telling them to color a picture that someone else drew? All that does is stifle their creativity in my opinion.

Coloring books impose an adult standard of draftmanship, setting kids up for frustration. It feeds the myth that you have to be a "good drawer" to be "artistic". You don't! There are many forms of art that aren't dependent upon realistic rendering.

If kids are born creative, how do they lose that? The answer, I feel, is that the adults in their life squash it. It doesn't have to be "adults", either. Just one can damage it. Those of you who say, "I'm not an artist", or "I can't even draw a stick figure"? I'm willing to bet there is a moment/a person that stands out in your mind that gave you that feeling about your creative self.

I will never forget being given an assignment in art school, to illustrate the cover of our hypothetical autobiography. I drew a self portrait that was made of of many different pieces. The pieces symbolized the way people seem to want to put you in a certain box, or role - mother, artist, teacher, etc - and look no further than that. I was saying that to truly understand me, you need to look at ALL the pieces and how they fit together to make me the person I am.

We were to each meet with the professor with a rough idea, before finishing the project. I explained the above to her, and also told her that the title was going to be "Outside The Lines". I told her I planned to splatter paint in random areas of the drawing to symbolize "outside the lines". She told me that would look "sloppy". She basically told me to "color inside the lines". I lost all desire to try in her class after that. She just didn't get it. She just didn't get me.

Do you understand how it must make our children feel when we tell them to color inside the lines? When they show us their art and we ask "What is that?" (Why does it have to be anything?) When we grab their picture to "help them" draw something, when they didn't ask for our help? When we show them a craft that an adult made, and ask them to recreate it?

Someone said to me, in rebuttal to my argument, "Well, don't they need to learn to follow the rules?" That's just it. In art, there are no rules. Art is subjective. It is open and free, and the process is more important than the end product.

Giving a three year old a small paper with a picture someone else drew, ONE color of paint, and a giant paintbrush, and telling them to paint inside the lines is absurd.

Every child is an artist.
The problem is how to remain
an artist once he grows up.
-Pablo Picasso


Mary said...

Great post. And I couldn't agree with you more!

And I thoroughly enjoy the abstract art far more than the "standardized art the my son comes up with. I like nothing more than watching him build stuff from random things around the house and trying to guess what it is.

My husband is an engineer and is quite creative. He is a firm believer that "school" sqaushes creativeness because they force your mind in one direction. How do you get around it though?

Again, loved this post.

The Girls' Mommy said...

His mommy will have more influence over him than his preschool, he's very lucky :)

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

But, the one good thing about coloring books is you add color to an already created image and can be creative in the coloring. Like I tell Jonathan that it doesn't matter what color he wants to make something because it is his page to color and his imagination can make the horse blue or red or whatever he wants it.

I do agree that we sometimes stifle our children's creativity. Hmm...I think tonight I may slap a piece of paper down and tell Jonathan to draw what he wants and see what comes up. He hasn't been in to art much lately....I wonder if that is my fault?

Anonymous said...

Jen! I LOVE this post! I am appaled that preschool gives Dylan ONE color and tells him to color inside the lines! SERIOUSLY?!

I too am not a big fan of coloring books, and would much rather see what my kids create with their own will and imaginiation. And I once read that instead of asking kids what their pictures are of that we should instead ask them to tell us about their pictures.

And I love the concept that you designed for your autobiography! I can't believe the instructor didn't get it. What an awesome idea - and a book I would totally read!

Lindsay said...

I love what you said about the rules in art. There are none. period. Restrictions like coloring book, the use of one color per month, etc. are CRAZY.
Your portrait is amazing...wonderful post.:)