Monday, 29 September 2008

Purple cows

I hope my kids colour their cows purple.

I was at our Early Years Centre the other day and a four year old girl proudly displayed her beautifully coloured picture of a cow - bright purple. Her mother took the paper and looked over it, then commented kindly: "You silly, silly girl. Cows are supposed to be brown! Next time you'll have to make sure you colour it brown."

And you know what? Next time she probably will colour it brown, just like cows are in real life.

Is it important for her to know cows are brown? Sure - if she looked out on a field and thought the cows were actually purple, there might be a problem. But personally I think art is a time for unlimited creativity. What if someone told Jackson Pollock that painting is for portraits? Or John Cage that you can only play the 88 notes on the piano? What if the Wright brothers were told that wheels are only for the ground and not to help launch themselves into the air?

As I watch Colin and other children grow, I'm starting to believe that most people's creativity peaks around the age of 4 or 5 years. Up until this age, children are free from inhibitions and the rules imposed from outside forces. They see absolutely nothing wrong with colouring a cow purple - in fact, they probably don't even consciously decide whether or not it's an appropriate colour choice. Some burning flame of creativity chose a crayon and simply created.

Too often I hear of stories where children and youth are discouraged from thinking outside the box. Too often teachers simply want a regurgitation of what they put into their pupils minds.

James tells a story of reading "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in high school. He posed the question in class "What if McMurphy really was crazy?" "No, he wasn't," the teacher replied. "But what if he was?" James persisted, perhaps on the brink of opening up an entirely different conversation about the book. "No, he wasn't. That's the point - he wasn't crazy." "But what-" "You're wrong," the teacher insisted and shut the door on the possibility. Now the author may very well have never intended the character to be perceived of as crazy - but what if he was? Let me tell you - a paper on "why McMurphy wasn't crazy and what is incarceration in the mental hospital says about society at the time" might get an A from the teacher, but would probably not have an original thought in it. But a paper on the idea that McMurphy really had mental issues and how the other characters aided in his demise - now that is something new and might even be read by more than one high school English teacher!

I'm an artist, and so I obviously have tendencies to nurture the artistic aspects in my children. But creativity is about so much more than purple cows. It's about free, independent thought, thinking outside the box, and societal revolution! In my books, purple cows breed the new, unheard of inventions and ideas of tomorrow.

Pass the green crayon, please.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's crazy, who tells a 4 year old how to colour?