Thursday, January 17, 2008


Okay now that I've blathered on about art awhile, here is some.

It's a little early for Valentine's, but here's what mine's going to look like this year.

Art and Emotions

Okay I promise I'll get back to the cartoons pronto. However, this is important stuff. Darn it.

When my daughter was 3 or so, she was being really cranky. Especially at her dad. So one day, I handed her a piece of paper and asked her to draw something about how she felt.

She drew a picture of Daddy, going off to work - complete with his suit and briefcase - walking into a giant erupting volcano. I said, "It looks like you're worried that when Daddy leaves he's not coming back." She nodded. After that, I was able to reassure her because I knew what was on her mind.

Could she have explained that abstract feeling in words? Probably not. Anyone who is around kids a fair amount knows that the relationship between what words they say and what is actually going on is tenuous at best. Is it because they are liars? No, it's because talking is just one tool in the whole box and sometimes it just doesn't do the job.

Yesterday I spent some time drawing with Kindergarteners. Now, you don't teach Kindergarteners how to draw a horse or how to do animation. But when you give them a pencil and some paper, something great happens. They turn into storytellers. "This is the rocket, and this is my cat, and the dog fell out the window, and the rocket is on fire." This is all explained along with various pencil marks. Lots of back and forth scribbles can mean something is on fire. When something goes fast, they take the pencil and zoom it across the paper, and make the appropriate sound effects. A lot of my job is to listen and ask questions.

Kids can tell stories with a pencil in their hands that they wouldn't otherwise tell. They can offer insights into what is on their minds. They can describe their inner world. It is not important whether their drawing is accurate, just that it is expressive. I often take their marks and tape them up on the wall to show that they are important.

So if you know a child who is struggling with expressing something, or you suspect that what's coming out isn't telling the whole story, or you're just having a hard time connecting, get a pencil and some paper. Watch and ask questions. And let the story unfold.

There's a difference between reproducing something in art and representing something in art. Even the realistic religious paintings of the Renaissance were not just there to reproduce what things looked like. They represented what was important to the people of that time, what was on their minds. So even a realistic painting isn't just a literal reproduction of something. It has feelings and priorities.

More recently art has been showing more literally how things feel, by way of Cubism or Impressionism or Expressionism. In filmmaking, we've done the same thing. "The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind" is a great example. So is "Fight Club." Graphic novels put both things together, kind of like movies in book form.

So, let that inner world out. As Dr. Seuss said, "Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air."

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