Saturday, 18 July 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

This is a strange post today. Not because it is my customary valedictory address prior to taking my annual summer sabbatical but because it contains a request. A request I would like you all to respect and to follow to the letter.

At the end of this post there will be an image. This image is actually a sketch I drew a few days ago of me. That is my face you will see. Or maybe not. Perhaps for the people who know me in the flesh the sketch will have no similarity to my real self. That is all right. That is what this column is about today.

Please, do not comment on the drawing. That is the request. A simple one. Do not tell me whether the eyes staring at you are well painted. I have no interest whatsoever in what you think about the sketch. That is why I am asking you not to comment on it. About the post? Please, do, I am all ears.

Why the strange request? Because that image that ends my article (in reality it is the clip that follows after the one that brings matters to a close but let’s not push it, shall we? I am already asking you a favour) is not a drawing. It might look like one and you could even aver that it was done using a set of pencils and a sketch book, but, believe you me, the image you are all scrolling down to see is a couple of bunched up towels, a cracked wall, a branch on a tree. What it is not is a drawing.

It is not a drawing, not because I have decided that it is not, but because it has taken on a life of its own and gone on to become a toy. It is a toy. This drawing which is not a drawing is a toy. It is the toy I was told not to play with when I was six years old, in Year 1, in Havana, Cuba. Like all children at that age I liked drawing. Stick figures with round bellies made up chiefly my “artist’s portfolio”. One day my teacher approached me from behind and told me: I’m sorry to tell that you will never be good at maths and art. Singing? Yes, stick to that one. Ah, and also reciting poems, you’re good at that too. But do not waste your time with drawing.

Whilst not quoting her words verbatim I have transposed faithfully the sense of her sentences. The impact was not felt immediately, I can tell you, but I just gave up. There and then I told myself that the only function of a pencil in my hand was to write with it.

In the intervening years I fell in love with the visual arts. I still remember the excitement I felt when confronted with my first impressionistic painting. In college I started hanging out with a guy who was a superb artist. It was around that time that my former teacher’s words began to haunt me.

You see, what that teacher had done was not so much to kill any future artistic ambition, which always has an “if” attached to it. What she had really done was to eliminate the possibility of playing with colour pencils and brushes. By the way, I did take part in art classes in the years following that encounter, yet I always felt apprehensive and exposed to the rest of my peers. I discovered later on that when it came to art I had an inferiority complex.

Going back to the “play” component, though, this is what I noticed had been missing from my early years in the area of visual arts. I had a wild imagination as a child, but where I was capable of using towels as mountains, jungles and ridges and deploy my toy soldiers on them, I could not bring myself to do the same with water colours.

That is one of the reasons why I am writing this post today. Because eventually, after many years reasoning out my teacher’s words and my later mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development, I came to the conclusion that the big gap in my life had been an absence of opportunities to play with a sketchbook and pencils.

This is also the reason why I asked you at the beginning not to comment on the image at the end of this post. Because if you were to do it you would be according my “toy” a space in which to see it under the heading “artistic quality”. You would have to switch off all unnecessary “noise” and focus on the “work of art” (they would be your words, not mine) on the screen. What I want is the opposite: chaos. Art, when intended, is normally detached from our all-invading reality. Play, on the other hand, incorporates disruption, spontaneity and disorder. The reason why I call the “sketch” below a “toy” is because it is the equivalent of the train set that starts on the small table in the lounge and soon takes over the whole living-room. Have you not seen a six-year-old doing that?

The second reason why I wrote this post was that as adults play is normally determined by and arbitrated by society. I know that there are grown-ups who do not give two monkeys about what people think of them. Good for them, I say! But the majority of us become self-conscious whenever we are caught doing something that is not appropriate for our age and which does not fall under any of the categories we have been given, for instance, jobs and hobbies, to mention two.

A couple of years ago we went to Shropshire. It was there that I bought a sketchbook and decided to return to that six-year-old boy who had had his playing wings clipped by this narrow-minded teacher. As I dipped my toes in the ever-confusing world of HB pencils I confess to having felt afraid at first but technology has changed so much in the last decade that I gained a sense of confidence in no time. Youtube is full of do-it-yourself tutorials and the more clips I clicked on, the happier I felt. It was not the same feeling of exhilaration I have when I go out running or play football. Those are hobbies. This other sentiment was one of unbridled fun, namely, the sensation of being a small child again.

Our society and more specifically our education system tends to sideline subjects it sees as “non-vital” or “unimportant”. The stress is on English, Maths and Science. Drama, art, history, foreign languages, philosophy and others do not have the same weight as the triumvirate I mentioned before. This has the undesired effect of churning out students with poor transferable skills. The irony is that if you look around you will see that some of the more important politicians in recent years have dabbled in an art form at some point in their lives: Barack Obama sang with the recently-deceased BB King, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair plays guitar and was even part of a band in the past and Bill Clinton loves nothing more than blowing on his sax every now and then. I have no idea how they discovered their instruments, but I am sure that “play” had something to do with it when they were little.

So, there you have it. What is this post about? About play as the possibility of discovering a long-held, self-denied activity that has lain dormant inside us. Who knows? You might even write about it on your blog, upload an image and call it “toy” like I did. Ah, and you might also ask readers not to comment on it. Thanks, see you in September.


Remember, I am a "toy" not to be commented upon. Thanks.



© 2015

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 12th September at 6pm (GMT)

36 comments:

  1. I teach voice and sing classical music for a living--maybe it is not drawing, but it can feel maybe just so exposed--as adults, if we are lucky, we find the emotional room to play and discover parts of ourrselves that have sometimes gone unattended. Play, enjoy, discover--

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  2. Que tengas un feliz verano y que el calor no apriete demasiado.
    Creo que un lápiz en tu mano hace maravillas ya que nos lo demuestras con tus escritos con lo cual deja también que disfrute con tus dibujos, lo importante es pasárselo bien.
    Un abrazo.

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  3. One can turned off/intimidated/put down so easily, especially as a child when adults seem to know all. I found this a very touching post. Agree with you how important arts education is for all--and glad you have been able to analyze these experiences so cogently. Thanks. And have a good vacation. k.

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  4. I hope you enjoy some wonerful time off. I had a similar experience regarding drawing and coloring. I am know, like you, playing once again. And I love to draw.

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  5. Out of respect for you, I will not comment on the toy - though my entire being is screaming to do so in defiance of your teacher. Ack. I just wrote a 15 page paper on differentiated instruction and how education should be individualized to the students needs, academic level and interests. See I am making lots of work for myself because to know the interests of 30 kids in each class and 5 classes (150 kids) and tailor education to each one is insanity - but...what is important. Each student has strengths and interests that can be capitalized on - and unless there was a morality issue - I can not imagine ever poo poo-ing on a students desire to pursue an art.

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  6. wishing you a nice summer holiday :)

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  7. Stupid for a teacher to frown upon anything good for a young kid. And yep, definitely one of those who does not give a crap at my sea haha

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  8. I had a similar experience, but with sort of different results. At age eleven while attending a symposium to help us discover our musical talents/interests/abilities, a music teacher's remark stung me to the core. Without going into detail, suffice to say that since the experience I have never opened my mouth to sing anywhere another person is present. But, at some point along the way, I realized the woman whose comment shattered a boy's feelings was right. A croaking frog "sings" better than I do. The message was correct; the problem was that the messenger who delivered it was an unthinking idiot.

    The message now should be that it is never too late to experiment, to explore, to learn. I have a friend in her forties who is an accomplished artist, but recently decided to add to her repertoire by taking jewelry-making classes. She has discovered that she loves it, and what could be more fascinating to a woman than turning silver and gold and gems into jewelry of her own design?

    Enjoy your sabbatical, CiL, and use the time well.

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  9. Whew, that is quite a challenge! What an intriguing last post before your summer holiday... See you when you return!

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  10. What a fabulous post. It's disheartening to think of all the children who have had their dreams crushed by a thoughtless adult Young minds are so vulnerable that impact of harsh words can last well into adulthood. Discovering the self-denied activity is a great way to undo that damage. Thanks so much for sharing your toy and enjoy your time off.

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  11. Enjoy your summer - I hope there is plenty of playing.

    When I was working I led a workshop for foster carers on the therapeutic value of play for traumatised children. Play, I explained, was something we need all our lives. But one man insisted that the children in his care (aged 10 and 11) were too old to play and the workshop was therefore irrelevant for him. Then came the experiential component and we all moved into the playroom. This man had a wonderful time with the clay, making nothing particular but just loving all its possibilities - he had such a lovely time he was the last to leave, still picking clay from under his fingernails. And his feedback - the workshop was irrelevant as his children had grown out of playing!! I still wonder what more I could have done to show him just how wrong he was!

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  12. Encouragement is something that teacher should have learned. As for toys... I am in the middle of playing with the new hobby of colouring. And loving it, no matter what others think.
    I know about self consciousness... have suffered and still do deep down. Fortunately it doesn't seem to show. Hope you have a great summer break. Take care.

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  13. Play is vital for everyone. It's also vital for children and young people to be respected for their skills and encouraged in their creativity. I had a friend at school who was excellent at art, brilliant in fact but for some reason he was failed in his art O level exam.

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  14. Hello,

    Teachers are more concerned about academic achievements and anything else is not their priority and tend to believe that other activities will impair excellence in academic success.

    Having said that, if any one has an inner desire to excel in any form of art, they will do so whether the teacher, parents or anyone else tries to dissuade them.

    I wanted to learn key board but I gave it up after some practice because suddenly that inner fire vanished.

    However, there are many who are school drop outs but excelled in many activities and achieved greatness which others would envy.

    Excellent post. I enjoyed reading it.

    Wish you and your family a wonderful holiday.

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  15. Adults have no idea how a comment, tossed off thoughtlessly and likely forgotten, can impact a child for years and years. I am glad you returned to the arts and to self-expression in many forms. I am so sorry that teacher delayed the years of joy you might have had exploring art, with her unkind and unthinking words.

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  16. I had a teacher like that too - one that burst dreams. I hope you and I and all of us never lose the gift of play and passion!

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  17. Adults who butcher dreams should be put on a year-long time out. Maybe some time to think will clear their heads and minds of nonsense, and fill them with the things that matter instead.

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    1. It's nice to meet you, by the way. See you when you get back. ♥

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  18. Since you already commented on my most recent post, you know how I feel about the joys of playing... at any age. It's wretched that your teacher squashed your delight in drawing and made you feel self-conscious and inferior about it. In the end, one's talent in any particular artistic pursuit isn't nearly as important as the enjoyment one derives from it. It's like a former pastor used to say about his inability to carry a tune. He said he made a "joyful noise." Isn't that a wonderful outlook?

    Enjoy your break!

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  19. I admire you for returning to what you really love to do and find play and fun while doing so ~ I still have to go back to my sketching and painting too but that will be some years from now when I have more time to really get lost in the creative pool hidden inside me ~

    Thanks for the personal share & wishing you happy week ~

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  20. smiles - i re-discovered sketching and painting just a bit ago and there is def. no wrong or right when it comes to art - it's just a matter of taste - and that is freeing

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  21. I'm very disappointed in your teacher. The whole point of the arts is exploration and discovery, another method of learning to learn. When we focus on results and skills, we turn art into the antithesis of what it is meant to be. Go ahead and play. Not that you need my permission, but you have my full hearted support. Enjoy your vacation and bring that sketch pad with you. Splurge on colored pencils and messy charcoal. Buy another set for the kids so you don't have to share. Go wild! I look forward to seeing the results if you want to share them....

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  22. I can't sketch or draw for the life of me. So I really admire people who are good at it.

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  23. Tu profesor no estuvo nada bien, saludos amigo.

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  24. This is certainly a challenge.

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  25. Enjoy your sabbatical, it is a healthy practice!

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  26. Yes...enjoy your sabbatical...and I will be eagerly waiting to hear all about it when you return!

    Have a great time! :))

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  27. Have a great time. Looking forward to your posts!

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  28. I discovered the sketchbook and pen(s) over a year ago and am so glad I did. I do not sketch or/and paint as much as I would like but I would not go back to my 'prior to sketching' days. Art is indeed undervalued in too many school curricula, to the detriment of the youngsters and the adults they will become alike. Good luck with your endeavors. See you soon!

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  29. I came to the conclusion that the big gap in my life had been an
    absence of opportunities to play with a sketchbook and pencils.

    Appreciate your request and Hank will not comment on the sketch. But Hank is also somewhat in the same predicament. Will comment generally on being an artist not the sketch, ok? There were opportunities to draw before but somehow it fizzled away. But when Hank had his book launched recently Hank decided to hang some paintings at the hall. This was appreciating guests who took the trouble to come. So feverishly Hank painted 15 or so acrylics (never touched them for so long) and hung them up. The point is when the occasion demands the motivation works itself. If you include a sketch with every posting after this then the 'occasion demands' that you'll draw again! Good kuck to you Un Cubano!

    Hank

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  30. hola Cubano, I read your post word for word and loved it, enjoy your holidays

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  31. This is a well-written and informative blog. I look forward to more visits here.

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  32. Love it! Bravo for embracing your inner child and what makes you happy! I love Ana Tijoux, thanks so much for including that wonderful video!

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  33. People don't realize the impact of their words on a child. Good for you that you returned to it and are enjoying drawing and the arts again. Now that future is in your hands.

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  34. Your post kept reminding me of John Cage. Not only because of what you say about play and art but because, the discussion he had with his composition teacher, Schoenberg, who implied, I think that he had no feeling for harmony. Cage wrote: “After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, “In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.” I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, “In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.”

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  35. Not going to comment on the sketch but I thought of Picasso and his strong graphic pieces. I have a little pin that says "Art Saves Lives." Believe it!

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