As part of my “Picture Perfect” class that I’m teaching this term, I recently rolled out an interesting activity to help my students understand the creative process.
The focus of the program is to find inspiration for creative writing through a study of art history. During our unit on Impressionism, I asked my students (ranging in age from 9-13) to choose a personal photograph and then produce a painting in the style of Impressionism. I was surprised to see that they found this difficult. Many of them love Impressionist art, but their instinct and desire was to paint realistically. I kept asking them to break free from this constraint and to stop painting what they saw, but what they felt.
This caused a lot of frustration and more than one student completely painted over the canvases they had just spent a long time labouring over. Personally, I loved witnessing this. It reminded me of the writing process, of ripping a page out of notebook and throwing it away (unfortunately, hitting the “delete” button on a keyboard these days isn’t quite as satisfying). The point is this: Just because you spend a long time on something doesn’t mean you should keep it. For younger students, this is a difficult concept to grasp. Mostly, I find they assume that you achieve success in writing by spending an allotted amount of time on a piece. But, of course, when it comes to art—whether it be writing, painting, acting (you name it)—this isn’t true. There is not magical equation of time for achieving artistic greatness.
As an illustrator, I’ve completely scrapped drawings and done them over from scratch. As a writer, I’ve written entire scenes, chapters, and sections of a book that must be deleted because, even after all those hours of work, they just don’t flow with the overall narrative. I’ve learned to detach myself from the time part of the equation. I just worry about making sure I’m satisfied with the end result. (Though, I suppose, I’m never completely satisfied—but that is a subject best pondered later, at another time).
The other interesting aspect of this painting activity is that it allowed my students to write an interesting story in which a character is described in the act of painting. Having the experience of painting themselves, my students could describe the act with more truthful description and emotion.
And, of course, the paintings turned out well too, as you can see below.