Sunday, July 12, 2009

Love the Brown Blobs

by Sophie

It astonishes me that there are people in this world who believe they are not creative.

“I can’t draw,” they insist. Not so. Anyone can pick up a pencil and make marks on paper. What they mean is “I can’t draw well,” where “well” represents what they think drawings ought to look like based on drawings other people make and assumptions about what drawings ought to represent.

If you believe that drawings ought to be photorealistic, then you might be out of luck unless you’re willing to devote a lot of time to developing that skill. If you have a vision in your head of what you want your drawing to look like, but you can’t match it with your efforts, you’ll end up frustrated.

But if your expectation is only that you’ll create an image that reflects what is going on in your head in some way, odds are you’ll be able to achieve it. I used to help with art in elementary school, and as my children got older I saw firsthand how the joyful renderings of kindergarden turned into the fraught and competitive and frustrating efforts of fourth grade, when kids were comparing their work to each other’s and finding it lacking.

In kindergarden, you can give kids a watercolor palette, let them mix all the colors until they have an unappealing brown, and watch them apply it until they’ve got a solid mass of paint on curling paper and you’ll still have a satisfied child who self-identifies as an artist. If you accept brown blobs without judgment – if you celebrate the brown blobs – then a child is free to keep making art with the confidence that there is value in the process, not just the outcome.

There are lessons here for the writer. A fear of the blank page is not native to us. We build it up over time as we develop judgment and expectations of our own work. Much of this is necessary – without discernment we can’t hone and improve our craft. But allowing judgment to interfere with the act of creating – not editing, not cutting, not revising, but sheer thought-to-keyboard creating – is a very good way to convince ourselves that we lack the magic. And without the magic we deprive ourselves of the joy.

Exercises like free-writing and morning pages are good ways to coax the mind out of its lair, but wouldn’t it be better if we never went into the lair in the first place? We have to train ourselves to keep judgment out of that early process. Much as telling a child to color in the lines or keep the red paint away from the green paint will introduce uncertainty and self-censoring into his work, demanding polished prose of ourselves in a first draft will kill our ability to take our story in fresh and imaginative directions.

Every artist starts by making brown blobs. Love the blobs and there is no limit to what you can create.


Rachael Herron said...

I love that and I needed that. Thanks.

Hailey.Juliet said...

When I teach art to kids, I tell them that adults spend years trying to "unlearn" technique, hoping to paint (and see the world) like children do.

I'm all for brown blobs. Especially the ones people pay millions of dollars for at Sotheby's!

Camille Minichino said...

OK so who's the hunk? Did you post something meant for RT??

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Lovely post, Sophie, makes my inner editor a little more willing to back off during first draft time!

A friend of mine once told me that she could do math in her head as a kid because she experienced the numbers as columns. I'm not sure how it worked, but Oliver Sacks says it's real. Anyway, a third grade teacher told her that "you can't do that," and the gift up and vanished. My friend has since found multiple outlets for her unique talents, but still!

Your post reminds me to be as kind to my imagination as we would want all teachers to be to all children. THANKS!!!!


Lisa Hughey said...

jeez, you're so freaking smart.

although at least with words i get to a finished product that i like, sometimes love whereas art, it never looks on paper the way it does in my mind :)