Friday, October 07, 2005

Let Creativity Bloom

Our Educational Psychology text, in its discussion on creativity, cites animator Chuck Jones and psychologist Teresa Amabile, both of whom have something to say on the stifling of creativity. Amabile remembered how her early love of art was destroyed by an art teacher whose idea of instruction was asking children to copy masterpieces (something they don't have the skill to do), and Jones noted how the seemingly harmless but unthinking comment from an adult (like "why is the flower bigger than you?") can turn a child off of artistic expression.

I have always been good at drawing. At some things, like simple inanimate objects or people, I'm very good. At other things, like animals or technology, not so much. But I sketch cleanly and quickly, I have some skill in rendering things into their archetypical cartoon form, and I can make people laugh with my drawings. But I've never seriously considered cartooning as a job, or even as a freelance gig, though many people asked me about it as I grew old enough to start thinking about jobs.

When I was very young, my pragmatic, materialistic uncle told me that the odds of making it as a cartoonist were as slim as a high school footballer making it as a pro athlete, that only a small fraction of the very best ever make any money at it. In his own limited way, I suppose he was trying to set me on the road to success, but was it that conversation that made me think I could never be an illustrator or cartoonist?

Another memory pops up. Someone else --- or my uncle, again? I don't know --- looked at a picture of a horse I drew and told me that horses' tails don't shoot our horizontally while they're running. Maybe they don't, but I was a very young child! (Chuck Jones might say that I was admirably expressing the speed of the horse.) Is it because of this offhand comment that I have always felt that I'm weakest at drawing animals' bodies?

I don't want to indulge in autobiography or wallow in self-pity here. But I read the text, and I thought of those old, old memories, and I thought:

As a teacher, never, never will I "correct" a young child's art (unless explicitly asked for help on a detail, for example).

I will always, always strive to find out the idea behind, and say something positive about, a picture a child shows me, even if it seems to me just a series of scribbled lines.

The flower is bigger than the person because the flower is important. The girls' legs are drawn impossbly long because she knows she's growing. The sky is red because the person in the picture is angry. That black, unidentifiable mass of circular lines is a very fast car.

The picture looks that way because the child is saying something that way.

What is it?

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