Teaching our children: To conform or create?
“Stay within the lines!” It’s one of the first instructions we hear as soon as we are old enough to color. And the implications can extend throughout the rest of our lives. Thinking she is a “good girl” by listening to teacher, a child may “strive to please” thereby limiting her sense of self-expression.
I get that she needs to learn how to follow direction, but what about teaching them more? Offering an alternative to the norm? International superstar artist Ai Weiwei once said, “Creativity is part of human nature — it can only be untaught.” So if he’s right, it’s actually more natural for a child to “explore” than “obey.”
In my case, in Kindergarten, I became so obsessed with neatness — over inventiveness — that around age six I would constantly ask my best friend Tana Klugherz if she could see the white spaces I left in-between the strokes of color on the pages of my Venus Paradise (color by number) Coloring set. In other words, was I filling in the blanks between the lines completely? It was my top priority — because I was taught that was important. If Tana saw white, I saw red. I knew I had more work to do.
Ultimately, I discovered the artistic rebel inside. But it took years to let her out.
Finding fearlessness in beleaguered South Central LA:
This weekend at our annual Easter art workshop, I was shocked — and stoked — to see dozens of inner-city children create unplanned masterpieces in their own way. I can’t explain it, but they didn’t seem to care about the lines — they just wanted to splash paint around with reckless abandon. They were so free. Yet so focused. So unaware of any rules they might have heard before. Check out the work at the top of the page and the artist who created it (Pic #3). We handed him a black and white line drawing of a cross with flowers and he decided to basically ignore the constraint of the pre-made image on the page, and make his mark another way. Bold, loose, uninhibited. And notice how the painting matches his black, white, and red shirt. That kid got it. And he wasn’t the only one. (Pics #2 and #4) It renewed my faith.
Real working artists have one predictable shared quality: they cannot be contained. In practice, this means they are always experimenting, pushing the envelope, and focused on the fresh and new. Their daily mantra: “Reject the status quo.” Thank God. Or we would have some pathetically lame or boring art emerging from painters’ and sculptors’ studios.
My hope is we can show kids the excitement in unleashing imagination, and the sense of accomplishment in making something out of nothing. So let’s just get the heck out of their way.
Special thanks to Lucindy Jeter and the staff of Algin Sutton Recreation Center in South Central Los Angeles.