Monday, August 11, 2008

Picture Perfect

When my brother and I were old enough to hold a crayon, my mother started to show us how to color, draw, paint, and throw clay.

As a youngster, the simple joy you find in making a mess, making colorful designs, and creating things from your own head, is bliss.

But, there comes a time in every youngsters life that they realize they have limited potential as an artist. You realize that you're pretty much not going to progress past stick figures holding flimsy flowers.

Not only this, you might have a sibling who you look up to, and with whom you've shared your joy for art. Perhaps you've taken turns coloring the same page of a brown-paper coloring book where the colors always look grayer, and the lines always look like chalk on sidewalk.

For me, this happened in the first grade when I was just seven years young. My brother and I went to the University of Houston's summer program for young artists. My mother enrolled us both in the camp.

It was there that I watched my brother put dots in random order on a page of white. Certainly, I was a better artist than my brother's mass of dots. I began at the potter's wheel, drawing a gray mass of damp into an ash tray fit for a two-pack-a-day grandmother.

Yes, I was that kid. Honestly, who teaches kids to make ashtrays? Actually, today we call them "pinch pots." And if you're interested in making them with your kids, use Crayola's Model Magic because it is easy as dirt...or clay.

Yes, my ashtray was rainbow colored with random clay "balls" added to the edges for beading decoration.

Of course, the mass of dots that my brother was creating, a seeming swarm of black ants tracking across the page, took shape into something magical - a dragon.

I'm not talking about your kid type of dragon that looks more like a phallus, a slug with circle wings, or a fish with dolphin flippers. No, this was a full-fledged Chinese style water dragon. Complete with beard, claws, scales, tail, and snarling nostrils that sent ashes into the heart of my ashtray, crazing the lovely rainbow hue into splinters of light.

How does a seven year old even know what a dragon looks like?

Books. Yes, we had lots and lots of books on art, culture, literature and the like. Not to mention monthly subscriptions to National Geographic which fulfilled our childhood fantasies of nakedness with pictures of globulous flesh and carnivorous animals that make Blake's Tyger have no fearful symmetry.

And so, the only explanation I have of this image being regurgitated onto the paper of my brother, is that he saw it somewhere else and remembered it vividly.

Today, he's taken it one step further and become an incredible artist with sell-out gallery openings in San Fran, Orange County, Belgium, Netherlands, NYC, and Philly.

And today, I'm a writer. Albeit not hugely successful, but having published, won awards and such, and now being a Rice Daddy, the feeling is that I'm getting my stuff out there.

So my mom did a good job exposing us to the arts. My brother and I are both MFA-ers.

So imagine my pleasant surprise that Noodle has the art bug. Or so I think. I mean, don't we all imagine that our child is gifted in some way...violin (how typically Asian of me), math (another stereotype - although i do have a pocket abacus), or reading (yes, she's ahead of the curve with the other Asian kids in her class).

As one blogger commented to me, I am slowly becoming a typical Korean dad. What that means, I have yet to figure out, but what I've done is exposed Noodle to everything I can, to allow her to make decisions herself. I try not to pressure her into anything, although she broke my heart when she said she didn't want to run track, my favorite sport that I coach, and instead, play volleyball. Well, at least she's going to be tall, I hope...knock on wood. Damn, that's laminate or veneer. Does that count?

But, Noodle having the art bug began when she was young, almost one and I gave her things to color with on big sheets of paper. Why not? Get her started early.

I'd take her to museums in DC because they were free, and air conditioned during the hot summer months of July. I took her to see paintings, and sculptures. I bought her books on Frida, took her to pottery painting places, and bought her countless markers, crayons, paints, and papers.

And all I got was this lousy brown. It was a t-shirt slogan.

I mean, mud brown sometimes. Poop brown other times. Then it became blobs of color on a page. Then, shapes on the page. And it wasn't until last year that she really started drawing things that looked like, well, actual things. Butterflies, rainbows, houses, trees, flowers.

However, nothing prepared me for the horrors of when she started drawing people with enormous hands and hair below their knees, and feet that looked like basketballs. I'll chalk it off to her expressionistic phase.

Next came the fingers that would give Edward Scissorhands nightmares. Then, the eyelashes that make Bratz dolls look tame. Of course, all this as continued to morph into figures that now resemble Giacometti sculptures. Oh, she's a modernist.

I'm not saying she's the next Modigliani, but what happened next was totally surprising.

She colored within the lines.

Yes, colored within the lines, with a single color, and began to fill the pages, and finish them, and share them with even more joy than the earlier scribbles she had. In fact, she takes them to g-parents, to my brother, to anyone who will share her passion for coloring.

Trust me, this is huge. I'm already seeing her outselling painting elephants.

Of course, I'm taking this all in stride. As you can see from the painting above, she has a long way to go before she's Van Gogh. Picasso? Probably so, but not Miro.

And what about her brush skills? Well, assuming her vigorous house painting skills she exhibited last week, I'm pretty sure she'll be able to duplicate a Pollock with little trouble.

But, the biggest moment for me came when I realized that my earlier fears and disappointments in her lack of artistic sensibility resurfaced when she finished a coloring for Uncle C, and my brother said it was awesome. I suddenly flashed back to all those moments where I had to grin and smile and say that her coloring was the most beautiful thing bestest drawing ever I'd seen, when I knew it was in large part, resembling a black hole in a sea of glitter.

I have stacks of her paintings, drawings, and scraps of papers she's made for me. And I do love them because she made them. But, I didn't always find them beautiful. Until now, when I realized that the beauty behind them wasn't in the presentation of the drawing, but the act of creating.

We as father's make mistakes, share our joys with our children, have fears for them, and fears for ourselves. But, one fear we should never let grip us, is the fear that our children will fail to become something, or fail to do something for which we can be proud. And yes, we all live a bit vicariously through our children, and want in some small way for them to become something we could not. A better painter, runner, writer, parent.

So now, I realize that every day, Noodle does something that makes me proud. Whether go to a new summer camp with new friends, or trying something new on her plate, or making a new picture for someone she loves, who is sitting there, hoping she won't go outside the lines.

And when she is finished, I tell her that her coloring is awesome. Just perfect. Just like my daughter.

(posted simultaneously at Noraebang)


Anonymous said...

my son's not as "good" an artist as his sister, but he's more creative. it's taking these situations and learning from them i find most challenging about being a parent. though it's harder to tell what he's drawn, i am almost always amused by the story he tells that goes with it. =)

Asianmommy said...

I know, even simple things they do make me so proud.

thisislarry said...

My two definitely have different styles of visual expression.

Rabbit Dragon likes to draw. He draws features. Monsters with horns, lasers, spearguns, whatever. Each stroke of the pen is meant to communicate. Everything is a symbol. There are no wasted lines, and no coloring in is needed, because the lines define what's there.

Princess Pony likes to put down color. Everything is colored in, and has been ever since she first put shapes on paper. For her, the shapes are there just to hold buckets of color. rainbows, mermaids, hearts, they're always full of color.

Very interesting to see how differently they approach something as 'simple' as art.

Anonymous said...

Oh BabyGirl just drew her first people at home -who knows how long she's been doing it at preschool. Just this summer she broke out of her "color with every single marker on the paper and cover it all up like some crazy lady" and began drawing the slide and swings she'd ask us to draw for her. Then she graduated to drawing houses with doors and gigantic door knobs and mid century inspired roof lines and now people. Granted the people have big lollipop heads, no body but just legs from the heads, with bubble feet, arms protruding from the side of the head by the eyes, a straight line for a mouth and two dots for eyes, and a couple of lines by each side of the head with on small straight line on the top of the head like an exclamation point for hair.

We love it! I have already framed it.

Ricky said...

You guys should send these kiddos to iD Tech Camps. In one week they get to draw their own characters and put them into a video game...Dolphins Collecting Pizza Underwater...whatever they want! Creative as they want!