Lossing artistic experience for chlidren
In the art classes of the 50s and 60s, from the age of 6, children were taught the techniques of drawing in order to help them release their natural creative expression. They were experiencing, at their own level, an inner creative adventure, by exploring the purest form of creativity.
Nowadays, many “docile apprentices” obediently produce works “in the style of”. All the works are alike, only the name of the pupil, in a pale imitation of Miro, allows us to know who did what. It is a paradox to discover that the emblems of artistic freedom are being reproduced by those who are not allowed to make us of that freedom.
It is true that it is simpler for a teacher to train a child to copy slavishly than to help to develop and nurture his creative process. It is also easier to evaluate a child’s knowledge of the name and dates of a painter, than to judge his progress at that level.
“But”, said a teacher whose pupils produced dozens of pseudo Miro, year after year, ”it’s always good to know who Miro is!”
Isn’t it more important to develop self-expression than to learn by heart that Miro is a Spanish born painter born in Barcelona in 1893? That sort of learning can come later, during specific lessons about the history of Art, the development of imagery and human creativity.
“But the parents really appreciate it,” adds the teacher, as a final justification. We have to ask ourselves if it is not more important to give a child the pleasure of creating, than to please his parents. Of course, there are those who prefer to receive a fake Miro validated by the confines of cultural limitations than a real painting by their own child, not validated by anyone, not even the child himself. There is less risk in robotic copying than in attempting to be creative.
Many children don’t like what they have drawn. They are just not happy with it. In the name of theoretical content which has to be taught them at all cost, they thus lose all the pleasure and benefit from experiencing their spontaneous drawing, the oldest form of writing known to man.
At a time when creativity has become valued, and essential for survival in the world, it is strange to note that the fertile breeding ground of spontaneous expression, a catalyser for new neuronal channels, should be masked in favour of academic knowledge. If Pasteur had been a meticulous lab rat with no taste for play and experimentation, it is quite likely that he would have cleaned the dirty test tube and thus, through an excess of conscientious cleaning, never discovered penicillin.
At the end of a workshop dedicated to ‘pen wash’ (Indian ink and water), a pupil asked me to give him the correct proportions of ink and water, in order to reproduce the work we had just done. He didn’t realise that artists, just like chefs, are constantly experimenting and sampling and sometimes improvising, taking risks. They learn the correct proportions through trial and error. A baby doesn’t need to know the laws of physics to learn to walk.
I meet people who have given up creating for their own pleasure because they presumed that the better they knew the rules, the better they would create. Not knowing them, they gave up on their own desire to create. Without denying the importance of knowing the tools and techniques, let’s put them back in their proper place: that of the means rather than the end.
“Knowledge” or its avatar has taken the place of experimentation. Intuition, trial and playing have given up their place to the dictionary of painters and artistic movements. It’s alright to copy Miro but you mustn’t make meaningless marks. That is the new norm. What’s more, each work has to be able to be evaluated according to its respect of certain rules. Miro would never have created anything if he had respected those same rules.
We seem to prefer to train parrots rather than creative children. To hell with their right of expression! Their imagination is, in any case, too weird to be appreciated by the headmaster, the inspectors and the parents.
I regularly teach classes with adults who are afraid to draw a line, a curve, a wave, for fear of doing it badly. Nowadays, anxiety has replaced pleasure, the aim has wiped out all experimentation, and the desire to look pretty has imprisoned real feelings.
Let's rethink the way we teach creativity.
Serge Goldwicht, in collaboration with Cécile Minot