Saturday, 6 October 2012

Symmetry in graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is mirror. I have a bad habit of saying "this is a quick doodle...", but this one really is. Not at all obvious, I know. The fact is, I wasn't really in the mood for drawing this evening. I did, however, have something I wanted to say in regards to mirror.

When I was a kid, I drew. Just about every kid does. You draw, you explain to people what you drew, and you're happy. There came a point as I grew older, though, when that wasn't good enough. I started to hate drawing faces.

I never seemed to get them to come out right, you see. I'd start out great, but then they'd go all lopsided and uneven and my (even back then) slightly OCD self would get frustrated. In desperation, and since I hadn't yet been introduced to tracing paper, I used to draw half a face, fold the paper, do my best to trace what I could see of what I'd already drawn, and then unfold the paper and try to follow those traced lines to get my "perfect" face.

Is this sounding familiar to anyone else out there? If so, you know that faces done that way generally turn out worse than anything. The proportions usually aren't right. Eyes are too far apart. Chins are too wide. And for me, for whatever reason, mouths were often too small. Frustration on frustration, so I stopped drawing faces.

I've since learned through taking Early Childhood Development courses that pretty much every child goes through the perfectionist stage. Just drawing isn't good enough; the drawings have to be right. In the same vein (and I notice this at work particularly), children in that same stage will be very bothered if something they've written is written wrong and there's no way to erase it. Trust me, "just cross it out" doesn't work for kids who need everything to be perfect.

It's the stage, by the way, where a lot of people stop drawing all together. I can't draw this good enough becomes I can't draw, and there's the end of it.

For me, I didn't stop drawing. I wasn't as enthusiastic about it, maybe, but the drawing didn't stop. I didn't draw faces, however. Come to it, I still don't. Nowadays it's because I really don't have any interest in drawing people, but I'm sure that the disinterest started with my failed mirrored faces.

Now, the irony in all of this is that faces aren't mirrored. One of my little biological fascinations is symmetry. It's come up here before, so for anyone who actually reads this stuff I'll skip the diatribe and say that, for the most part (and we're talking about the so-called higher animals here), symmetry is bollocks. It's "apparent". Superficial. Our apparently symmetrical bodies are only apparently symmetrical on the outside. Cut us open, and things are shifted all over the place. You couldn't sew the left side of a body together with a created mirror image and expect it to function. And even on the outside the whole symmetry thing breaks down. Noses are crooked. One eye may be slightly higher than the other. One breast is very likely bigger than the other. And testes?

Well, ok, you get my point. The sad thing, though, from the kids' art side of view, is that telling a child that a lopsided face drawing is ok because faces really are lopsided probably isn't going to stop most children from getting bad face frustration.

So what to do? Well, I'm no expert and there's plenty of expert (or sometimes "expert") sources out there, so I think I'll let you look them up if you're interested in the subject. One suggestion, though. If you have a child who's hit the frustration stage there is NOTHING WRONG with letting them trace and copy things. Sure, it's not creative. Yes, we've been brought up to believe that stifling childhood creativity by telling kids the right way to do things is wrong. It would be wonderful if every child out there could make it through the perfectionist stage by figuring things out on their own, but most of us don't. If a musical kid gets frustrated by plinking away at the piano without being able to figure out how to make his or her fingers work right, we send the kid to piano lessons. Why do we seem to expect that a kid who likes to draw but is getting frustrated for lack of technique will eventually just blunder some way to success?

Um, yeah. Obviously it's something that matters to me, and I've blathered away too long about it. For anyone still reading, well, thanks.

Maybe I'll draw a face for you someday.

A happily lopsided face.

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