Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
The title of this article might suggest that I__™ll be exploring some kind of compelling Freudian doctrine concerning moral phobias. I__™m afraid, however, that my topic is nowhere near as intriguing and will entirely circumvent discussing either the id or the ego. This is a blog about teaching kids art, and thus the values of which I speak are the light and dark variants of tone. Admittedly, the concepts of tint and shade appear rather innocuous, but it has been my experience that these artistic principles unsettle the nerves of a vast majority of beginning drawers. While this fear may be more pronounced in some students, it often manifests itself in the same predictable behavior. In fact, it is the frequency in which I observe this tonal apprehension that provided me with the motivation to try and understand it. No doubt, Freud would have his own ideas about this irrational fear of values. But I__™ve often wondered, as did Rene Margritte, about Sigmund__™s iconic cigar. (Ceci n'est pas une cigare.)
Beginning drawers are exceedingly timid creatures who often only make their initial progress in the tiniest of steps. I find that in the early weeks of a class I must choose my words ever so carefully when providing constructive criticism. For many students it__™s almost more than they can bear to just have a piece of paper in public view that displays their first clumsy attempts at mark-making. And so when I come hovering around behind them you can almost see their shoulders tense up in anticipation of what I might say. Often times constructive criticism can be misconstrued as a commentary on them as a person, instead of the lines they__™ve drawn on the page. So I handle them, at first, as delicately as possible and slather them with as much sincere praise as I think they can tolerate.
However, once they start to recognize actual improvement in their own work, the pace of progress takes on a more confident stride. They begin sharing their work and asking the opinion of their peers. They perform ten foot tests without me having to pester them into it. They start assertively taking sight measurements, not worrying about if they look silly with one eye closed and elbow locked. In short, they begin not only acting like drawers, but they actually start believing that drawing is something they can do. However, despite this self-assured growth, there is always one area that consistently remains behind the learning curve: the development of values.
Interestingly enough, this trend of latent shading is even more specific in that most students are surprisingly resistant to dark values. It is not uncommon for a student to become nearly paralyzed when I dare to suggest that they should begin to add some dark values into their beautifully crafted contour drawing. In fact, I__™ve encountered this exact scenario with such regularity, that I have dubbed this behavior ___darkaphobia___ (a curable condition marked by a pronounced and irrational fear of heavy pencil shading) This mind set is nothing short of an epidemic in a beginning drawing class, with confident shaders comprising a very slim minority. I have come to accept the fact that this is simply another hurdle that new drawers must learn to overcome. But in order to do this, my gentle words of encouragement and affirmation must become a little more firm and persistent. And sometimes, we need to touch a raw nerve or two.
Over the years I__™ve had my assumptions about what might fuel this illogical fear of dark values. And by interviewing a number of chronic darkaphobiacs I__™ve discovered my assumptions were correct. Like all drawing related anxiety, this fear is perpetuated by concern that the student will ___ruin___ their drawing. More specifically though, in context to dark values, there is a sort of safety zone in the range of lighter values in that can be easily erased. That is to say, that on the scale of light to dark, there is a point-of-no-return. There is a certain level of darkness with graphite that once achieved, cannot be undone. And if a mistake is made in this particular value range, it cannot be corrected, and thus, the drawing is ruined.
The ___I__™ll ruin it___ fear has always struck me as being a very rudimentary concern, and one I should be able to deftly wipe from the minds of my students. However, it is instead a pervasive and persistent nag not easily ignored in the back of nearly every drawing students mind, including, at times, my own. Fear is a strong emotion and is not one to go down without a fight. Often times these anxieties include completely unrelated emotional baggage into the irrational source of the fear. Failure can be a terrifying thought to many, especially if it is a regular occurrence in someone__™s life. They don__™t need a piece of paper reminding them of all the other instances in which they did not experience success.
So I try to be mindful of this when I remind my students that there is quite possible nothing more boring than a blank sheet of paper, and thus, anything that they do to it is an improvement. I implore them to understand that a drawing cannot be ruined, it can only be underdeveloped. (You can imagine the ensuing debate over semantics!) And I assault them with the mantra that every drawing simply must include a dramatic range of values. It is this range of values that really breathes life into a drawing and transforms it from marks made on a page into something capable of touching a soul.