I went as a chaperone today to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with our Spanish classes. The students were there to see paintings by Spanish masters: Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, and Dali. At each painting, I tried to make a quick sketch of each painting in order to keep it in mind. They only let you bring pencil into the museum with your paper, so I brought my iPad instead. I used a new program called Paper, by 53 (fiftythree.com?) to make this and other sketches in the museum.
I think we do a massive disservice to kids and adults by not teaching students to make visual records of paintings and photographs. We let them do by machine — cameras — what humans used to do by hand.
I worried that doing digital drawings would impair my ability to do handmade drawings, but in fact I find the opposite is true — digital drawing skills transfer to paper and vice versa. A lot of e skill is about knowing what tool one should use: is this an occasion for a pen or a pencil? Should I use a colored pen or a watercolor wash or acrylic paint? (I’m not insane enough to paint with oils. Yet).
But it’s clear that visual literacy, and visual competence, is a critical part of a modern education. Does a kid learn how to use typography to his/her advantage? How about graphic design? Do they use templates, or develop their own themes? Can they record a painting in quick sketches, or must they relying Google Fu to find the correct information?
I got an object lesson in the power of visual images to affect modern kids. We had great trouble reaching the museum this morning, because the kids were walking so slowly from Grand Central Terminal. As I watched them, it became clear that they were moving so slowly because they were utterly overwhelmed by how much advertising bombarded them at every step. Window displays. Posters. Photography. Color. Paintings. Photoshopped displays of hard bodies. Photographs of gleaming wristwatches. None of these kids even WEAR watches, and yet these images conveyed status and power, and thus fascinated them. Enchanted them, literally.
We didn’t start moving quickly until we reached Central Park. Then they started talking to each other, instead of practically drooling at the degree to which their minds had been drained by the advertising barrage.
As Douglas Coupland says, you can learn to program, or be programmed. And advertising, let’s be honest, is programming. Are we going to teach kids to program themselves by words and images? Or let Madison Avenue do it for them?
Some people may object to me posting sketches rather than completed paintings. Yet I see these as demonstrations of developing a range of concomitant skills. Picasso’s drawings show he didn’t leap, fully formed, from the head of the muse, but evolved into cubism from a genuinely realist art education.
What are you doing to train yourself, and your students, to be visually literate and skilled at understanding the visual world around them?
Made with Paper
My school took the eighth grade to the Metropolitan Museum to look at works by four Spanish Masters: Goya, Velasquez, El Greco, and Dali. I tried to keep up by doing a quick sketch of each painting. I didn’t always succeed, but I made some interesting efforts. This is one of them.