When kids are little, they all know they can draw. Then at some point something silly starts to happen – art becomes reserved for the ‘artistic’ and for the select few who are technically able to draw “well”. At which point the paint is put away and alternative extra murals are explored. That’s why I really love the book “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds – which is a wonderful story about how you don’t need to be able to draw perfectly to think of yourself as artistic.
A beautiful book that thinks differently about art-making
In Peter H. Reynold’s beloved children’s book ‘Ish’ Ramon loves to draw. And so he draws all day every day. Until that is, his older brother teases him for getting the exact likeness of a picture wrong. This devastates Ramon, prompting him to crumple up all his drawings and give up drawing once and for all. But his younger sister Marisol sees things quite differently: She secretly gathers up all of Ramon’s discarded drawings and creates a ‘crumpled gallery’ in her room. Celebrating that although not perfect, his ‘ish’ drawings (vase-ish, sun-ish, flower-ish) have a unique beauty all of their own. This inspires Ramon to embrace his own ish-ness, to give up perfection and paint another day.
What if art wasn’t just reserved for the artistic?
Ramon and Marisol invite us adults to reconsider what art is and what deems someone with the title of ‘artist’. Because actually, maybe we have gotten it all wrong! What if, the true sign of an artist wasn’t how well you drew, but how deeply you think and if you are able to explore these ideas in other dimensions. What if the marks on a page were about expressing something inside in the form of line, ink, shape and form, rather than reproducing the exact likeness of what we can all see anyway. What if the picture wasn’t only dubbed important because it was placed on the fridge at the end of the day, but rather was celebrated because it’s true value lay in how cathartic the process was for the child while they were making it? When my daughter cries because she gets the exact likeness of the thing she is copying wrong, I try to console her that if we wanted an exact replica of the thing, we could just take a photo of it. Rather, I am interested in how she sees the object, how she interprets it, where the act of drawing takes her mind and if it sparks new thoughts or calms difficult things from the day. So my advice is that the next time your child comes to you with an artwork, instead of complimenting them on how perfect it is, rather celebrate their passion and ask lots of questions about what it was like making it.
The bottom line
I realise I am presenting more questions than answers here, but I really worry that us adults have gotten it horribly wrong. Art classes shouldn’t be assessed on technical merit alone, but rather on participation, critical thinking and ideas. In other words, how the act of making something, takes the mind to other places and the usefulness of that experience. This is my wISH.