I've been thinking about how and why we learn to draw for a few years now. I started self-analazing my own drawing and character design thought process when I began writing my first art instruction book, "Creating Characters with Personality". It was harder than I thought to verbalize how I've learned and how I process drawing. This has led me to start looking back at my artistic life and how I learned art. What made me learn the most? What drove me to draw and stick with it? What led to others I knew as a child to stop drawing? I think I'm ready to present some of those thoughts here on DA and hear what you think. So, this is part 1 of three in a series. I'm not sure where this is leading, but step one is my establishing an online art instruction school called Taught ByA PRO (www.taughbyapro.com) that will (in phase one) concentrate on drawing instruction for all forms of media. Here we go:
I believe there are THREE major problems in the way we learn art instruction in the United States.
PROBLEM #1: Well-meaning adults kill a children's joy for drawing
Most of us have fond memories of drawing as a child. When you are a child, you draw for the joy associated with creating something out of nothing. Even at the most basic level, children learn they can communicate funny stories with their drawings. How many kids have waged wars with airplanes, tanks and legions of troops all on a piece of paper as they describe the action to their parents or friends? Drawing is a shared experience when we are very young. Just like talking or walking, we can all do it. Then, at a certain point- usually around ages 5 to 10, some of us start becoming VERY GOOD at drawing. Better than most. The great equalizer that drawing used to be is no more. Now, its competitive. This is the point where drawing becomes work for most kids. They loose their confidence and therefore loose their interest.
Simultaneously, around the age of 4 or 5, children begin getting more and more art instruction from well- meaning adults. Some of it comes from parents: “Jimmy, grass is green, not blue.” Or from teachers: “HOW many legs does a dog have?” The pursuit of “reality” or realism in your drawings starts to make drawing something to get frustrated over. I believe the pursuit of realism in drawing at an early age is something that is pushed on children much too soon. Later in life, there is nothing wrong with trying to obtain realism in your artwork, because it is an advanced artistic lesson. It is a pursuit of perfection. If you can create something that looks exactly like a photo or someone you have seen before, for many, that is the pinnacle of artistic talent. Why is this? Because many parents, grandparents, or other adults in the life of a child artist can’t explain how to improve the art they are looking at. They look at it (and because they themselves stopped drawing as a child) can’t find the words to describe what is missing in the artwork they are being shown. The easiest thing they can do is instruct the child to draw a picture in a magazine, a comic book, newspaper, or the vase on the table. Children artists soon figure out that the closer they get to copying what they see in front of them, the better the compliment from the non-artistic adult. What also comes with this is non-artistic rules. When non-artistic adults, who don’t know how to explain concepts like perspective, lighting, or shape-based construction of figures and elements, they say vague terms like “that doesn’t look quite right” or “something is wrong with that picture, it doesn’t look like the photo”.
Suddenly, there is a right and wrong way to draw. Before this, it was pure joy and free-form expressions of whatever popped into your head. Once there is a “wrong” way to do something, there is automatically a displeasureable outcome associated with not getting it “right”. These (unwanted) art lessons begin and some children adapt and rise to the occasion to start applying them to their drawings, which leads to the above point of some children getting better than others. For other children, this shuts them down and they slowly stop drawing.
Some would say that this “culling” of children that just enjoy doodling and those that will one day become professional artists is natural; maybe even necessary. I agree with that point to a degree, but I have met too many talented artists that feel they missed the boat early in their childhood development and turned away from an art ability/desire that they loved to pursue something more “practical.” Teachers or parents instructed those young artists that they would not have a future in art, so they stopped pursing it. Most of us know someone who has told that sad story. This leaves me to believe that this early childhood discouragement is more of an epidemic than we know.
I believe that, just like our schools have done for math, reading, and writing, we need to have a curriculum in the schools that progresses students throughout their childhood and into adulthood (or high school graduation, at least). Not all students would stay with the curriculum, but those that want to should be able to grown beyond elementary artistic basics and repetitive concepts. The Masters where taught to draw very early in their lives and grew in that knowledge of drawing until, later, they started painting. We give children paintbrushes as children without telling them how to use them. We tell them to paint a tree before they know how to draw one. We are setting them up to fail.
Thoughts? (Part 2 and 3 will come shortly)
You said it perfectly. I was lucky enough that my mom was more encouraging with me and my siblings talents (my brother is a musician) and my dad was happy with anything I did. My grandfather is also an artist so I guess I had more encouragement overall.
I still remember though, no matter how good an artist I was there was always someone better than me. My best friend when I was young always drew better horses. In college my fine art teacher actually said I should draw more like my friend Amy, that my work wasn't right.
When I have kids I'd like to think, and hope, that I'll encourage them in whatever talent they have.