Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Portrait of the Artists?

Many, many parents think their kids are geniuses. Some of them are right, some of them are dead-wrong and some of them work hard to deceive themselves that Einstein eats Cinnamon Toast Crunch at their breakfast table: "I know he fails everything, but I believe this happens because he is not challenged enough. So he needs to be in all the top classes, even though he has a test average of 6."

The bottom line is, we parents all want our kids to succeed and we tend to project possible glorious futures for them. I have my own opinions about my own kids, but I am not going to write a proud dad piece here. But I do think it is interesting that, for the first time with both of them, I saw real evidence that they might carry on in their dad's creative footsteps. (Let's face it -- I can't completely avoid the proud dad thing, here [puts thumbs behind suspenders; bounces up and down on toes].)

Objectively speaking (by that I mean without my bragging about how brilliant I think they are) this presents a really interesing opportunity to study the growth of two little creative minds. Assuming I am right that they are enough like me (and their creative mom) that they will eventually be artists of some kind, it could reveal a lot about the creative mind, in general, if I keep an eye on the progression. (Although, I admit, it is a tad disconcerting to think of them as little lab-rats in an artistic experiment, so I don't know how far I will take this.)

My younger son -- seven -- created the picture below in art class. He has drawn things before, of course, but this copy of the famous Jaws poster (that hangs in my studio) came from memory. His art teacher said they could draw anything they wanted to. He has always been fascinated by (and, oddly, never scared of) this picture. (Even as a baby, he loved to stare at it -- it always made him laugh.) Here is his drawing, next to the original poster, in case you don't remember it:

No, I am not saying it is the work of a prodigy. It's pretty good, but what do I know? But what struck me is that, for the first time, I see him trying to capture a feeling in his work -- the menace of the shark; the dramatic water proportions. (Actually, if there is any real sign of talent, it might just be the nearly exact proportions he captured from memory . . . doh! Sorry.) It is the first time I have seen him try to go beyond merely depicting. Yeah, it is a copy of something he knows, so that helps. But he needed to recall that feeling. Is this the first evidence of real artistic expression? I must watch carefully . . .

Only a few days later, my older son, nine years old, wrote his first complete story in school. Here it is (exactly as he wrote it):

The Mystery of the Moving Treasure Chest

Rich looked behind the box. It was a Goblin!!!!!!!! Rich and Jeff (his dad) were chasing the thing all over town. They saw him crying. "What the heck?" said Jeff. "I want . . . my . . . my . . . my . . ." "Your what?" they both exclaimed. "My riches!" shouted the goblin as he sprung up to get his riches. "Riches?" said Dad, confused. "But, what riches?" said Rich.

When they woke up the next morning, they saw gold! But guess who had it . . . "You again," screamed Rich. Zoom! "You pesky goblin!" yelled Rich. They made it end quite violently. "Violence solves nothing," said the goblin. "Shut u-- " but he was off.

"Now what," exclaimed Rich. "Fire," whispered Dad. "Fire?" asked Jeff. So they made fake gold, a bow and arrow, and some fire. "Hey, goblin?" asked Rich. "Got some gold . . ." said Rich. "What?" "Now Dad!" Dad shot that burning arrow . . . but it was just a dream. "Phew," sighed Jeff.

Of course, to me it is fascinating to see this happening. As a writer, I see his attempts to capture action -- the sort of action he sees in movies -- and to harness the power of words that he sees in books. He also clearly recognizes the power of dialogue. And, like all young writers, he finds the ending one of the hardest things to write. (Though, it makes for a cool little P.O.V revelation, in a way . . .)

Whatever it all shows about the two of them in terms of their potential, this is the start of a journey; at least, I think so. I'm glad I recognize it as such. What was, just a month ago, simply that wonderful, unbridled childhood imagination is finally being shaped into something. It has finally become an attempt to get the world (whether the two of them realize it or not) to understand what is going on inside their heads and hearts.

Fortunately, I know something of that struggle and I will be here to guide them if they need it. Between you and me, I hope they need it.


  1. This was enjoyable to read! I am always amazed at what can come from the same gene pool! I have produced four boys from the same gene pool and the differences among them still amaze me. In the last six years, you have now met three of the four boys. Evan is almost pure creativity in thinking, writing, and music composition. Spencer is mathematical with sketching talents with some musical abilities. Seth is strictly logical with creative thinking. Having just turned ten, Grant is still a work in progress but draws amazingly well. I might be completely inaccurate, but between you and me, the creative ones always need more guidance. Brace yourself for a challenging but fun experience.

  2. I'm belted in for the ride. It'll be cool.

  3. I don't have kids, but I see what you're getting at here. In November, I sat in a park in Louisiana and narrated the story of Beowulf to my seven-year-old nephew. He responded by racing back to the house to draw the entire cast of characters. I was stunned by some of the details he put into the picture even though I'd never said a word about them: that a king and a hero were likely to carry a sword while a henchman would have only a spear, that Germanic warriors wore bowl-like helmets with straight little nose-guards, etc. I don't know where he got that stuff, but it was a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a kid, and surprising confirmation that the story he'd heard wasn't too different from the story I'd told him.

  4. It will be interesting indeed to see what unfolds...time will tell. :)

  5. Jeff -- that's fascinating. Maybe I should experiment with my little lab rats. Several years ago, I told them THE ODYSSEY at bed time for about three weeks. They were completely in love with the story, but the results were play-acting, as they were a little young to express themselves in any artistic way. I wonder what would happen if I started the tale again . . .

    On another note, your nephew's clear perceptions of the historicity of Beowulf's (or, at least, the later scribe's) time is one heck of a subject for study. The long argument over whether BEOWULF'S value lies more in its impact as an historical document or as a work of literature certainly gets some more fuel from your nephew's seemingly instinctual, accurate, reaction to it in its true form: the oral tradition. Wow -- you really got the gears turning for me . . .

    Gina -- time will, indeed, tell, but I have a pretty good idea what the story will be. Here's hopin'.

  6. Your nine-year-old writes better dialogue than I do! Ha.

    I love watching children embrace their creativity. I substituted a sixth grade class a while ago and this one girl had a whole stack of index cards with drawings on them. They were all dresses she had designed - a seeweed dress, a party dress, all kinds of variances. It was amazing to see that she wasn't just copying fashion out of a magazine. She was using her imagination to create wardrobes out of unusual materials. And they were good! It must be a real pleasure to watch creativity develop in your own children...

  7. It sure is -- I just can't wait to see how far it acautly does develop . . .

  8. Hmm...did Blogger lose the comment I left during this week's outage, or did I just dream leaving it? :)

  9. Wow -- yes it did drop that really interesting comment, Jeff -- in fact, I left a long reply to it, covering such hefty literary topics as the oral tradition and my own experiences with telling THE ODYSSEY to my kids, that also got lost . . .

    Blogger was down most of the day yesterday -- didn't think if would affect comments, though. That's frustrating. My apologies.

  10. No worries! It's amazing, though, what one Blogger outage can do to tens of thousands of conversations.