My life at almost seventy seems to be an endless stream of thoughts and memories that appear on the horizon of my mind’s eye and then fade to the credits without so much as a ripple in the ocean of my existence. The days and weeks skim and skip over hill and dale and more often than not, I have to wonder what is real and what is not.
And if we are not making new memories are we destined to live in the blurry past and as T. S. Eliot said, “…measure out our lives in coffee spoons.”
As most of you know, I have worked for an art supply company for the past 30 years. During that time my wife has taught art and written 4 books for children about making art in its various forms. We started our family in 1980 (first of four kids) and have utilized our refrigerator as an art gallery for most of the past 37 plus years.
I have had periods during my life where I have painted, drawn and collaged and am surprised by the many sketch books I have filled.
Sandi and I have been to the Metropolitan Museum, the MOMA and the Guggenheim during our frequent visits to NYC. In other words, art has been and continues to be an important part of our lives.
As to what prompted this missive is some research that I did last week about the stages of artistic development. Since we sponsor at least 25 art workshops per year at work I get to talk with many of the participants about their art journey. I am always interested in what motivates people to take classes and spend money in order to develop their skills when in comes to drawing and painting. And I believe that art has the power to transform a persons life in a positive way.
Several years ago a researcher named Viktor Lowenfeld compiled a study on the stages of artistic development and not unlike Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, has become the industry standard on this area of investigation.
Like most developmental studies, there is a little wiggle room around each category and age, but by and large, what I have read, seems to resonate true.
The first stage (2-4 years) is called “Scribbling”. It is Pre-Representational and mark making and includes mandalas, slash marks, bang dots and open shapes. And not to be funny, but on point as to the nature of this post and the conclusions I have arrived at, we probably know some adults who never went past this stage. But more on that later.
The period for 4-7 years of age is the Pre-Schematic stage or first visual symbols and includes nature, filling the paper, floating shapes and transitions into tadpole people.
During the 7-9 year period, art is used for communication and includes facial features and improved representation of figures.
Dawning Realism is the title for the 9-11 year olds and art is a creative outlet and includes details, clothing to identity, receding space and world making.
11 to 13 years is the Age of Reason or ideas in search of forms and this artwork includes proportions and three-dimensional space and realistic colors.
Art motivated by meaning is the 14-17 years or Period of Decision. This art will include inspiration by emotion, social issues and improved skill level.
And lastly, 17 years and up, the Adult phase which includes a focus on individual goals and a continuous improvement upon prior knowledge.
I have purposely simplified this to at least present the graphical nature of artistic development in order to make a few observations.
In another blog that I read while researching, it was mentioned that children 11- to 13 years of age are becoming more critical of their success or lack and need encouragement.
But it is the next level that resonated most within me.
The Decision Stage (13-16 years old) when a person will decide to continue drawing or will quit based on perception that they lack the necessary skill. There is a high level of self criticism at this point which leads to this decision. Some will decide to continue making art and will continue to grow and it appears this stage is the most critical in the development of an artist.
As a youngster I was an avid fan of comics and would draw the characters that I liked most. I got pretty good at copying stuff from them and the funny papers that came with the Sunday paper. I guess it was at this point that my mother enrolled me in a Saturday morning art class because of my interest in drawing.
As I remember (it’s been a long time) the class was held in a classroom and was full of future artists. Though things are a little fuzzy at this point, I think we drew shapes and learned to create 3-dimensional stuff using shading, etc. I sat next to a boy who I think was a little older than me and when we moved on to still life’s and portraits, his ability to make life-like representations was amazing. In other words, he was so much better than anyone in the class and, I thought, especially me, that I grew frustrated in my ability and quit going to class. After that, I don’t remember drawing again until I was in high school and art was an easy class to take for credit.
All this was before I had read in the bible (Galatians 6:4) that it is unwise to compare yourselves to one another. We need to find happiness in what we have created, irregardless of what others have accomplished.
As I mentioned earlier, I am surprised by the amount of sketchbooks and portfolios that I have filled over the years. Looking back at some of this stuff (art) I am surprised at the quality of some of it and have to wonder why I didn’t follow through with this or that inspiration. One of the points here is that I have created art not to be shown to others, but rather, to fulfill a longing within myself. I approach playing music in much the same way. I like getting together with others and jamming but am mostly content to just sit in my living room and fill that space with whatever sound seems pleasing at the time.
As Sandi and I were wondering through Central Park this past September, we came across many entertainers doing their thing. Most of them, if not all, were doing what they did in order to be seen by others and, according to the open guitar cases and hats full of money, had a desire to be rewarded for their effort. Nothing wrong in this scenario except for the fact that it brought to my mind the idea of wanting to be seen, be famous, be recognized for something outside of myself.
I realized that within the desire to be known as an artist or a musician or actor, etc. there is an implied set of rules as to how this ideal is to be accomplished. And therein lies the rub to my sensibility: I have always chosen to participate in many areas of interest rather than confine myself to becoming famous or well known in one. To become good at anything we must be single-minded about that pursuit and, like the horse with blinders on, stay focused in order to excel.
The conclusion that I came to, while walking in the park with my wife, is that even though the thought of being famous as an artist, writer or musician is indeed intriguing, I was just not wired in that direction and have no regrets in the fact that I am only a bit above average in many of the “arts” that I have pursued.
And that ride, for me, is about as good as it gets.