Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Coloring between the lines? Not very creative of you, I’m afraid.

I haven’t picked up one for myself yet, but I know a number of folks who are coloring in adult coloring books. They find it relaxing, and their decisions on color and on their choice of crayon, marker, gel pen, or colored pencil provide an element of creativity. The coloring books they work on have pictures with intlittle lulueresting and elaborate designs – not the simple, pedestrian outlines of the coloring books of our childhood (c.f., Little Lulu), so the end products can be quite beautiful (c.f., green wolf).

coloring book

Wendy Woon is the Deputy Director of Education at the Museum of Modern Art, and an adjunct professor at NYU. She 
“gets” why someone would enjoy their coloring books.

There's a kind of pleasure in slow, methodical coloring within the lines. I get that. But what worries me most is the lack of willingness to color outside the lines, to make a mark of one's own. (Source: Daily News)

She then talks about a kindergarten classmate who, after coloring his squirrel orange, then purple – and scribbled outside the lines – was pressured into conforming. The kid caved and brought in a neatly colored brown squirrel that everyone knew his mother had colored in for him.

This recalled incident hit a nerve with me, as I had been a boring, non-creative color-er in my day. I’m embarrassed to admit that when my non-boring, creative color-er cousin Ellen made Santa Claus wear a blue cap, and ignored me when I called her on it, I reported her deviance to my Aunt Mary. To my six-year old annoyance and shock, my aunt defended her renegade daughter.

I admit I was wrong to have tried to force Ellen, and that she was right to think outside the Crayola box. But I’m thinking that the kindergarten teacher giving kids a coloring assignment may be trying to develop skills rather than focus on unbridling a kid’s creativity. Maybe coloring inside the lines helps with small motor control. Maybe telling the kids to color a squirrel brown helps teach them colors. Maybe giving them homework helps kids learn to be organized and get something done.

Hey, I’m all for fostering creativity, so maybe a better approach would be to have the kiddoes drawn an outline for themselves, and then pick whatever color they want and color their outline in, trying to do it as neatly as possible. But the truth is that a lot of real life involves following rules. Stop at the STOP sign. Don’t exceed the dosage. No smoking in the airplane toilet. The numbers need to add up.

Not everything is a creativity-fest.

But where Woon really lost me was when she wrote about “some inspiring young students at Black Mountain School in North Carolina.”

We started talking about graffiti, the coded nature of each artist's tags and how they become a kind of visual language recognized by others, in essence creating a "community.”

One student told the story of a friend that became ever more isolated and lonely in the city. But when he got out of his apartment, he began to see the marks and messages of people he knew and it made him feel less lonely and more part of the city, something bigger than himself.

Gee, I’m sorry to hear about a kid who felt isolated and lonely in the city, but it seems to me there are ways to find a community that don’t involve defacing the public sphere with “marks and messages” that are, to many folks, the antithesis of community. These are the people who find them ugly and threatening.

Boston, fortunately, was never as blighted by graffiti as NYC, and it’s mostly died down around here. But when I saw lovely buildings in my neighborhood tagged with graffiti, I was heartsick. I was always delighted when they caught the miscreant and made them clean up after themselves.Hey, I always wanted to say, if you want to express yourself, do it on your own house. I’d be okay with parks like the skateboarding parks where kids could go spray away, but I’m definitely NIMBY on graffiti. And I don’t want to see it on my subway cars or commuter trains, either.

My sister Trish lived in NYC in the 1980’s, and she remembers when both the inside and outside of subway cars were covered with graffiti. She found it depressing, disturbing, and tension inducing, which is I’m guessing a pretty standard reaction. (It sure was mine.) Us boring, color-between-the-line folks would rather see a nicely rendered coloring-book picture of a squirrel (purple, orange, or brown) than someone’s creative graffiti “art.”

And you have to ask why a Chico 147’s desire to find community via this type of creative expression trumps a commuter’s need to commute in a subway car that’s not graffiti-ridden. 

Last December, one of my client’s invited me to a team holiday party at one of those places where they set everyone up with an easel, a canvas, a bit of paint and a couple of brushes – and coach them through 20160619_195838the process of copying a painting. (In our case, a Van Gogh.) It was amazingly fun, but one of the most interesting part was seeing how different everyone’s “oeurvre” turned out. This is mine. (I was one of the ones who wasn’t that great at perfectly following instructions, and one of the first to give up on trying to exactly replicate the original.)

Tremendous fun. Enough fun that I’ve put taking a painting or drawing course on my bucket list.

Am I going to turn into an artist? No, not really. That wouldn’t be my intent. And, thanks to Pink Slip, I already have my Sunday Painter (Word Edition) outlet.

But I also have getting a coloring book and some markers on my bucket list, and I’m guessing I’ll get to this item first. 

I don’t believe in stifling anyone’s creativity. But sometimes you really do just want to color between the lines.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Was I ever a kid who painted Santa's hat blue? Hurray for me, the quintessential rule follower, for being so avant-garde at age six! You're spot on about graffiti artists. NIMBY for sure, or anywhere else.