Thursday, December 16, 2010

with pencil and paper, 1897

Love Of The Child For Drawing.
      In reality it is well to teach every child certain of the rudiments of the various arts, and the very effort may burst the shell inclosing the germ of some capacity for them, especially in this very matter of drawing, since an impulse toward the imitation of shapes, the representation of outlines, and the expression of thoughts by means of a picture, is instinctive with us all, and an inheritance from the primitive man, whose only writing it was; and it is a further whim of our that, strange as it may at first appear, a great deal of preliminary instruction may be given by the mother or teacher who can not herself, perhaps, draw either straight line or circle. Every child has some inclination in this direction; the margins of all his school books are scratched over with his favorite designs, and if he has been so fortunate as to posses a shilling box of colors, the pages of his atlas and of his history bear witness to his aspiration, and perhaps not only to his aspiration, for it is to be doubted if Turner's "Carthage" ever gave the artist such joy as the well daubed prints of the "Landing of the Pilgrams," or "Georgian Girls in the Slave Market," in the geography book, have given to most of us in our childhood. It is no instruction, now, to take the pencil and paper and draw the line for the child to see and then to copy; he would be copying the line, not representing the object to be drawn. But it is real instruction to make the child actually see the object, and then set down on paper the lines that answer to what he sees. William Hunt used to say that the reason we do not draw an object correctly is because we do not see it correctly, or see it but partially; we think we see it, and see the whole of it; but if we do, there is nothing in the world to hinder our setting down its fac-simile. And thus the first thing to do is to teach the child to see, to see shape, relation of lines, shadow, mass, relief, dwelling first upon proportions and not till afterward on details. All that can be done before the child has taken a pencil in hand, and his eye may be in process of training a long time first, and a long time afterward on details. All that can be done before the child has taken a pencil in hand, and his eye may be in process of training a long time first, and a long time afterward, even while he is practicing on simple strokes and free lines before an object is put up for him to copy; but when his eye is somewhat trained, and one is satisfied that he has seen the shape of a thing, its projection and its proportion, and its light and shade, there is no reason why he should not represent it if there is any skill in his fingers, and he then will learn by his mistakes, each one of which to the right gazer is a step on the upward ladder. There are some, it is to be acknowledged, who have no finger knack, who can but copy, and that laboriously, by line and rule, for whom form has no attraction, who can not interpret color in black and white, and can not be drilled into the appreciation of masses and values; who, caught early, may be enlightened to some extent only sufficient to show the futility of the effort so far as any great results are concerned, yet doubtless the instruction relative to shape, proportion, and shade has opened their eyes to what would never have been seen by them without it, while within a limited degree the effort to do more has been of real benefit.
      Whether or not one is going to make pictures that will stir the heart with dreams of beauty, and live when the hand that created them is dust, it is exceedingly desirable from a utilitarian point of view, that one should be led to look carefully and see clearly, leaving imagination out of the question. A drawing is but a report of what one sees, hand and eye working together; if one can execute it, so much the better; but if that is not to be, even the verbal report will be the more accurate for any such early training as may have been given the eye. Just as a matter of business the advantage of the instruction is easily seen; the traveler, whose eye has been early taught its functions and who would write the story of his sight-seeing, needing no other hand than his own to illustrate his work, doubles his profits; and if unable to do so much as that, is yet able to write with a sharpness of outlines that bites into the memory, while the report of the traveler who sees all things but vaguely and pleasantly is blurred and forgotten; and so of the mechanician who needs no duller brain with apter fingers to stand between him and the model of his machine, and is able to sketch his own ideas as they come to him; of the naturalist whose specimens can not evade his pencil and vanish altogether, and of countless others. Thus in the light of the relations of money-getting, of science, of convenience, apart from any considerations of a possible genius to be developed, of a talent not to be wrapped in a napkin, it were well to give every child instruction in the art of drawing, encouragement to his endeavors, and praise to his success; not that unjust and indiscriminate praise which, not being deserved, makes a fool of one, but that praise which obligates a person to live up to its standard, remembering that while if the talent really exists, it is there for a purpose and to be fostered toward an end, and that, not existing, it would be a forgery upon nature to pretend that it was there. By Harriet Prescott Spofford.