Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Arty Adventure

An Arty Adventure: A Young Girl’s Journey Toward Abstraction

Author and Illustrator: Sherry Linger Kaier

Publisher: The Artists’ Orchard

Ages : 9 +

Give a toddler a crayon and watch how instinctively she knows what to draw. Lines and squiggles appear effortlessly; the crayon becomes a toy, a pet, a snack even. Young children don’t think about what to draw, or how to… they just draw. Now offer the same crayon to a teenager or adult and, chances are, all you will get is self conscious laughter, confusion and an apologetic ‘I can’t draw’. And yet, we all CAN draw, and all of us DID draw quite unselfconsciously for the first few years of our lives. So what changed?

In her famous pictorial essay “Two Questions”, noted graphic novelist, writer and teacher Lynda Barry, talks about the reasons children stifle their creative instincts – shame, fear, peer pressure – by turning away from drawing, or learning how to draw the ‘right’ way. Held hostage by her own doubts about the worth of her drawings, Lynda discovers she has lost the fun of drawing, even as she churns out stuff that is ‘good’ …until one day she connects again with the sheer delight of it all. “All the kids who quit drawing”, she says at the end of her pictorial essay, “come back!”

I’ve been teaching myself to draw for a while now, and trying to pass on the excitement , the sense of adventure (and, occasionally, the frustration) that is art, to my daughter. We draw – or find pictures - everywhere – out in the park, in our food, on the walls, even in the shower with great clouds of soap lather. Yet, despite our many fun sessions, I still find the Imp prone to occasional bouts of the “I-can’t-draw” blues and ‘the-colours-aren’t-behaving-themselves’ mopes. So reading ‘An Arty Adventure’ together has been useful in explaining to her not just that art is its own adventure, but also that her frustrations with her supposed inabilities pretty much par for the course.

With simple text and charming illustrations that innovatively reinterpret some of the world’s greatest artists, author and illustrator Sherry Linger Kaier demystifies abstract art for her young readers . Her protagonist , Ava Noodlenicker faces a problem familiar to anyone – and I don’t mean just children - who has felt at once enthralled and intimidated by the great masters . She attempts to mimic their styles as a way to improve her own art, but her frustration when she fails begins to affect her love for the craft. Worse, her teacher expects her to create a drawing in her own unique style. How, Ava wonders, can she ever find her own style , when she can’t even copy the masters?

But help is at hand, for a dream soon leads her on a journey into a world where art grows on trees, and some of the most significant schools of thought in modern art. Through pictures, verse and prose, she explores the concepts that inspired some of the world’s most famous artists, from the Impressionists to the Abstract Expressionists. By the end of this colourful journey, Ava overcomes her fears regarding art. But more importantly, she realizes the need to experiment and find her original style. “To yourself you must be true”, Kaier gently points out. “Pursue the dreams that live in you.” And sure enough, Ava does find her dreams and her style , with a picture for her class assignment that is both unique and inspired.

Author and illustrator Kaier does a commendable job here – she takes a complex subject and breaks it down for readers of all ages. She uses a simple but remarkably innovative technique to demonstrate the basic principles of each style ; the same image – a girl with a bunch of sunflowers, standing before a rhododendron bush- is drawn in each of the styles discussed. So the Impressionist version focuses on the play of light on the objects in the frame; the Post Impressionist features a swirling Van Gogh sky; and the Surrealist version is a cheerful swirl of eyes and jaunty surfing sunflowers that even Dali would approve of. Kaier doffs her hat at Seurat , Gaugin and even Picasso, with the cheeky Cubist study that graces the cover of this book. In addition, simple verses highlight the salient features of each style – the Fauvists’ use of patterns and startlingly vivid colours, for instance, (‘The Fauves’ colors, so bright and unreal, give us patterns with striking appeal.”) or the Impressionist preoccupation with light ( “Observing shades from dawn ‘til night, Impressionists paint spots of light.")

Arty Adventure is a good teaching aid , both as a primer on art and its reminder that art is about self expression and experimentation , not predefined rules. The Imp and I read it alongside a large book full of reproductions of famous paintings, and had a lot of fun trying to identify the various styles we encountered in it. I look forward to sequels that cover other schools of thought, from across the world.

Thanks to Sherry Linger Kaier for sending me a copy of the book to review.


Unknown said...

Niceeeeeeeeeee!!! :)

artnavy said...

Sounds like a really good book. Will have to check flipkart soon

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