Posts Tagged ‘Jean Cocteau’

Thinking Outside The Lines…

October 7, 2016

AlphaAngel-Sketch2.jpgAlphabetAngelRGB2.jpg

A few months ago, I began following posts (and occasionally commenting) at a Facebook forum called ‘Forgotten Art Supplies’. I became intrigued because while much of my work now relies on digital tooIs, I had used many of the required traditional tools mentioned there for drawing and preparing my illustrations for reproduction during my career as an illustrator and designer.

Last week, however, I was about to respond to a post by Donald Simpson, a well-known cartoonist but decided that his plaintive concern was worth a more substantive response.

This is what he said: “What I find disturbing is the trend toward coloring books and coloring stations — they are everywhere in the college campus {where} I teach, but no drawing classes! Sad.”

Based on my own history and observations, I have to agree with Mr. Simpson to a point; but this scenario may not be as dark as it seems.

As a young child, my parents noticed my passion and ability to draw and casually encouraged me to continue doing so. However, when birthdays and other occasions rolled around, coloring books and boxes of Crayolas were always among the gifts I received. I never had trouble coloring within the lines, but soon became bored with confining my abilities to them; until I reached the age of seven and began to receive coloring books that provided thin paper between each spread. These allowed me to trace the images and perhaps add my own arbitrary enhancements. I sometimes tore out these sheets and traced illustrations from my favorite picture books like the classic Grimm tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, beautifully illustrated in 1954 by Sheilah Beckett:

12dancingprincesses

ilene-tracing-12dancingprincesses2

This experience enhanced my enjoyment of the masterful works of others and though such features were an improvement in coloring books, I eventually lost interest when I realized my preference was for inventing and coloring images that I had created, an understanding that led me to become an illustrator.

Given the many comments I’ve heard over the years from those who bemoan a lack of artistic skills (‘I can’t even draw a straight line…’), I am not surprised that the need for adult coloring books has been recognized. A dazzling array of these have become ubiquitous in gift shops, the few remaining bookstores, even supermarkets and big box stores, not to mention everywhere online. Says a lot about the power of marketing, social media and profitability for publishers and creators. Here’s more on that from The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-adults-are-buying-coloring-books-for-themselves

Nevertheless, I don’t have a problem with coloring books per se or the profits they generate. Some of them are beautifully drawn and intricate such as those featuring Buddhist mandalas, optical illusions,  plants and animals or one with a Pittsburgh theme done by my friend and former CMU student, illustrator Rick Antolic. While they provide a therapeutic outlet and/or a much needed esthetic experience for many, they may also heighten appreciation for the talent and skills needed to create them.

Cover artImage result for adult coloring booksImage result for adult coloring booksPittsburgh: A Coloring Book

But like Mr. Simpson, I feel that the proliferation of adult coloring books underscores the need for more basic drawing skills to be offered in schools from K through college.

Though the ‘arts’ receive a modicum of funding from federal and private sources, those monies are more often directed at acquiring audio visual materials, computers and assorted electronic devices to be used for creative purposes. Tablets, 3-D printers and areas set aside for making things are a hot trend in schools right now. All of the above are fine. Still, passively watching videos often just fills classroom time unless follow-up interactive discussions or related project assignments that encourage personal exploration and experimentation are included. On that note, learning to master digital devices and the apps that empower them requires much more than navigating a mouse or keyboard.

Without learning to develop and challenge manual drawing skills to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the work  of masters through history, it is my opinion that students are inhibited from acquiring the inspiration necessary to express concepts, let alone create viable content so that art can continue to fulfill its purpose; to shed light on the time in which it is made and introduce new ideas for cultural understanding and growth.

Yet, how often do we hear of classes solely devoted to teaching young students classical academic drawing, painting, or sculptural skills? At the university level, catalogues from these institutions may typically offer art classes, even BA/MFA degrees, but many would-be artists can easily be discouraged by the implied emphasis on more hard core studies in math, science and technology that strongly suggest following careers in these fields rather than in the liberal arts. Having taught illustration in a university environment, I learned how difficult it would be to overcome this prejudice, yet happily a handful of my profoundly talented students prevailed and became quite successful illustrators.

In retrospect and with some irony, I understand that perhaps coloring books were created to teach and aid the development of manual skills in children but they do so with the risk of making their users dependent upon the visual structures and cues of others rather than encouraging them to mine their own imaginations.

All of the above said, I believe that by underestimating the importance of our desire and ability to make art, our society has discouraged development of a gift through which we can define and express our humanity.

Tangentially, I would imagine this idea as the raison d’être that motivates the prolific art of grafitti and the public intolerance of it.

What has happened in the course of time is that other forms of communication have largely conquered our need to express ourselves visually. The line that once flowed freely from our young hands to form images has been, according to French artist & filmmaker Jean Cocteau, ‘untied and re-tied in a different fashion’ to enable multilingual universal communication with words.

And therein lies the subtle promise of the current assortment of coloring books for their users. For those who may have forgotten how to reverse that process and unlock their flexible line, they can inspire us once again to tell meaningful stories without words.

The Demise Of Handwriting?

May 5, 2013

GarrulousGothicAn Op-Ed article in the April 27th New York Times addressed the idea that teaching children to write in cursive is outmoded and no longer necessary in our technologically-oriented society. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/us/28cursive.html?_r=0

While it was interesting to see this as a topic of discussion, I was not surprised at how the prevalence of mediocre thinking has made it one. Many arguments both pro and con followed this article and while I had to agree that each presented some valid points, I  remain in favor of retaining the practice in schools.

Of course, my communication method has changed to fit the times and social media. While I am saddened each time I scribble my mostly illegible ‘signature’ on a check or electronic payment device, yet I am still proud of the long, careful missives that I wrote to friends and family; notably an 18-page letter written to my parents that detailed my first trip with my husband to Europe and Israel in 1974. They and so many other recipients of my handwritten letters have made it clear over the years that these artifacts of an earlier age would be treasured and preserved.

Using a mouse and keyboard, tablet computer or smartphone requires different sets of muscles than writing or drawing with pen, pencil or brush. Sometimes, I will write reminders or shopping lists in longhand, or I’ll record thoughts in one of my tiny journals;  just so I don’t forget how to do so.

Imaginarius-FlaubertOnCreativity

It’s really part of my regimen as an illustrator to keep my hand and drawing skills flexible. Imaginarius-TheCreativeAct Which reminds me of the innovative, fearless French artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau who once referred to drawing as handwriting that has been untied and retied in a different fashion. If that is so, then in my opinion, without the disciplinary basis of handwriting, drawing might be less articulate. Without learning to discipline my own untamed line, I might never have become an illustrator nor would I have been able to create an alphabet like ‘Garrulous Gothic’ shown above this post. When we learn to write, we learn to do itprimarily in one language for efficient communication.

But what is truly lacking in standard education is the teaching of drawing alongside of handwriting so that one skill doesn’t quash the other.  Not only would this practice allow our handwriting to become more personal and creative, it would leave us with an important skill that lets us express ourselves in a universal language that everyone can understand.