Finding tranquility and mediation through art for adults can be challenging…but so rewarding when you find the right outlet you’ve been searching for.
In 1982, anthropologist Adrienne Zihlman, now professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, published The Human Evolution Coloring Book. Students of biological anthropology were invited to learn about DNA, genes, monkeys and apes — and the fossils, tools and evolutionary relationships of our human ancestors — by coloring in pages rife with factual information presented visually, as well as in words.
A Ph.D. candidate back then, I had never encountered such an object before, with its mix of a children’s activity, as I then thought coloring to be, and an adult student’s science material. I learned from Zihlman’s presentation. Side-by-side skeletal comparisons of the australopithecine “Lucy” and a modern chimpanzee in one case, and robust (large-boned, thick-jawed) and gracile (more slender) australopithecines in another, helped me visualize facts and concepts. I didn’t color in the pictures, though. That seemed, well, just a little bit juvenile to me.
Now, 33 years later, I’ve joined the ranks of adult colorers. We represent a wide range of artistic abilities, including what could, in my case, kindly be called “minimal.” Some of us may prefer the science genre, perhaps marine biology; others steeped in the Game of Thrones novels or show await a coloring book by George R.R. Martin scheduled to be released in the fall. (Given what I hear of the show’s plot, you can bet this coloring book is for adults.)
Adult coloring is surging in popularity, and I’ve wondered why. Sure, it is engaging, relaxing and helps combat stress — and who doesn’t in our too-hectic lives need more of that terrific trio? Yet I can experience those things from my primary leisure activity, reading fiction. What coloring offers that reading does not is explained aptly by clinical psychologist Kimberly Wulfert for EverydayHealth.com:
“In coloring, you’ve got this physical sensation of the tool you’re using touching on the paper. You also have the feeling in your hands and fingers holding this tool, and moving in different rhythms as you fill in the space,” she says, adding that “you’re being mindful, and when you move in a rhythmic fashion for an extended period of time, that becomes a meditation.”
For me, after a day of writing and reading nonfiction for work, then reading a novel for pleasure, coloring brings a different kind of sensual engagement, one that perhaps echoes the embodied pleasures found in creative cooking, gardening and carpentry. But even that isn’t the full story.
Basford’s two coloring books (The Enchanted Forest is the other) are so popular that a long wait to obtain one is now commonplace. I waited for two months for The Secret Garden.
While I was waiting, my personal world shifted suddenly. On April 17, my mother died. Just in February, I had written admiringly of her enthusiasm for reading science books even while struggling with vascular dementia. Is it possible to say that an 88-year-old woman with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) died unexpectedly? Yes, I think so. On that Friday, I visited with her in the afternoon, saw her fatigue, and tucked her into bed. She expressed no physical complaints, and we parted lovingly at 4 p.m. with every expectation of another visit soon. By 7 p.m., she had died.
I’m grateful that my mother died in her bed, peacefully. And, yet, my grief is still fresh.
Perhaps coloring for me, right now, offers something more than the benefits I’ve already described. Maybe it offers me the very mix I wasn’t able to value in my 20s: the combination of remembering the comforts of being a child while incorporating the creativity of an adult.
Most evenings, I take out my pencils, savor the shades I choose — golden yellow, jade green, peach — and start coloring.
Barbara J. King, an anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, often writes about human evolution, primate behavior and the cognition and emotion of animals. Barbara’s most recent book on animals was released in paperback in April. You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape.
By comparing outcomes for students who had these art experiences—by chance—with the outcomes of those who did not, we can identify with confidence what the arts do for young people. The approach we took, which is typical in medical research, creates treatment and control groups that are, on average, identical in their backgrounds and prior interests, with only chance determining the distinction between the two groups. Therefore, any subsequent differences we observed in the students were caused by touring an art museum or seeing live theater, not a result of pre-existing differences among them.
We were also careful to focus on outcomes that could plausibly be altered by the arts. We didn’t look at math- and reading-test scores because we have no reason to expect that arts experiences would have an impact on them. Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner, who are affiliated with the education research group Project Zero at Harvard University, have conducted systematic reviews of the research literature and found little credible evidence that the benefits of the arts transfer to other academic subjects. We should no more expect the arts to boost math scores than expect math to enhance appreciation for the arts.
Instead, we looked at whether exposure to the arts affected students’ knowledge of the arts and altered their desire to consume the arts in the future. We also looked at whether art experiences had an effect on student values, such as tolerance and empathy. Finally, we looked at whether students’ ability to engage in critical thinking about the arts was affected by these experiences.
The results across our two experiments were remarkably consistent: These cultural experiences improve students’ knowledge about the arts, as well as their desire to become cultural consumers in the future. Exposure to the arts also affects the values of young people, making them more tolerant and empathetic. We suspect that their awareness of different people, places, and ideas through the arts helps them appreciate and accept the differences they find in the broader world. Arts experiences boost critical thinking, teaching students to take the time to be more careful and thorough in how they observe the world. Noticing details in paintings during a school tour, for example, helps train students to consider details in the future.
These improved outcomes may not boost scores on math and reading tests, but most parents, communities, and educators care about them. We don’t just want our students to learn vocationally useful skills in math and reading. We also want them to be knowledgeable and frequent patrons of the arts. We want them to be tolerant and empathetic human beings. And we want them to be astute observers of their surroundings. Some of these qualities may help students earn a living, but their importance has more to do with students’ development into cultured and humane people.
Our experiments suggest that rigorous study can document the additional effects of the arts on students, including the educational benefits of poetry, literature, music, film, and dance. Future studies could also consider other possible outcomes. Perhaps the arts encourage students to be more engaged in school, improve graduation rates, and increase college attendance, all of which tend to contribute to happiness and productivity.
None of this research will occur, however, until defenders of the arts recognize the need for it. Arts advocates can no longer rely on weak studies that simply compare students who participate in the arts with those who don’t. Such studies are pervasive, and the claims they make are likely overblown. Skeptics can correctly wonder whether the research truly demonstrates that the arts make people awesome, or if awesome people are simply attracted to the arts. To convince skeptics of how the arts can influence a student’s trajectory, future studies will have to adopt rigorous research designs that can isolate causal effects.
Art collectors are bidding up prices, and enormous fortunes are devoted to acquiring and displaying art. It makes little sense for arts patrons to spend a fortune acquiring and commissioning masterpieces, while failing to demonstrate the benefits of the arts with quality research. To determine whether there are important social benefits derived from arts activities, money should be invested in funding rigorous research, which can be expensive.
If the arts and culture are to remain a vibrant part of children’s education, arts patrons will need to step forward to help pay for the kind of quality research that shows not only what those benefits are, but just how significant they can be.
Czech artist Veronika Richterová creates new life from repurposed plastic PET bottles. For the last decade the artist has used various methods of cutting, heating, and assemblage to build colorfully translucent forms of everything from crocodiles to chandelier light fixtures to plants. Her obsession with plastic bottles doesn’t stop with creating artwork, Richterová has also collected over 3,000 PET plastic objects from 76 countriesand writes extensively about the history and usage of plastic in her article A Tribute to PET Bottles. You can see hundreds more sculptures in her online gallery. (via Mister Finch, Lustik)
Check out her beautiful artwork at the link below.
Remember when you were a child and you used to love coloring? There was nothing like a brand new coloring book and a fresh box of crayons. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “Coloring Isn’t Just For Kids. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress.”
Coloring is something we usually associate with kids. As we grow older, our crayons and colored pencils are replaced with pens, lead pencils and highlighters. As it turns out, coloring can be beneficial for adults, specifically for de-stressing.
Coloring is known to generate feelings of wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity. Carl G. Jüng was one of the fist psychologists to use coloring as a relaxation technique in the early 20th century. Jüng used mandalas: circular designs with concentric shapes that originated in India.
Coloring has a de-stressing effect because when we focus on a specific activity, we focus on it and not on our worries. It ignites our imagination and brings us back to our childhood, a time when we experienced a lot less stress.
The psychologist Luis Rojas Marcos says “coloring comforts us, gives us peace, and lets us enjoy ourselves – it even temporarily frees us from daily pressures. Although coloring a couple of hours does not eliminate all problems and worries, it takes us away and relieves us from the stress that overwhelms us.”
So make a New Years resolution to bring coloring back into your life in 2015! Go ahead and find that forgotten box of crayons. Or, treat yourself and buy a fresh box of crayons, a new coloring book, and let the de-stressing begin!
I am not a natural at writing. I am natural at talking and communicating verbally, but putting my thoughts on paper is another story. I have been trying to think of what to write since April, which was my last post. OK. The summer is always busy with summer camps, family and enjoying the outdoors but I truly have been thinking about this blog. So here I am. The more I think about what to write, the more I want to write about how hard this is. This leads me to thinking about being a beginner at something, which leads me to thinking about my love of teaching. Here is how this correlates. Me: beginner blogger = my love of teaching beginners. As some of you may know I have been teaching and running children’s art classes for 20+ years. I have taught a smattering of adults but most recently have had more adult classes held as paint and sip parties. Here’s the thing; I love teaching beginners. I love the ‘Aha’ moment when a student, no matter how old, figures out that creating a painting or drawing can be done with the right information. That drawing and painting can be taught from scratch. That after one class a student can go home with a representational piece of art with no previous experience. I love the planning of a lesson; breaking a drawing or painting down to its simplest form. Planning the step by step so my students can interpret these steps easily. And lastly, I love when the artwork is done and everyone is happy, when I know my students are going home feeling really good about what they have done. So here I am a beginner writer. I feel pretty good right now. How did I do?
By Elaine Dykman
One of my favorite memories of going to the art museum, is going with my daughter’s third grade class on a field trip to the Wadsworth Atheneum. I tried to remember what made that trip so successful, and in the process I came across several excellent blogs about going to art museums with children. I realized that many of the suggestions I came across were similar to my daughter’s trip and that’s why we must have had such a great time! The children were asked questions, challenged to look closely, and given an opportunity to provide feedback and share their opinions. What follows is a compilation of ideas I came across for taking your child to the museum and how to talk to them about what they see.
1) Planning – visit the Museum’s website ahead of time, learn what exhibits are being held, get an idea of the floor plan, and see if there is a restaurant or outdoor area for the kids to take a break.
2) Museum Manners – It’s important to let your kids know ahead of time what behavior is expected of them at the museum, especially if it is their first visit. On the way to the museum, tell them they’ll need to walk, not run, use their inside voices, and that in most cases they won’t be allowed to touch the artwork.
3) Keep it Short and Sweet – Museums can be visually overwhelming even for adults. You are bringing your kids to the museum in order to instill in them an appreciation for art. Your goal is for them to leave having had a positive experience and wanting to return. Take your kids’ ages into consideration and plan for rest breaks and snacks.
4) Enthusiasm – Think of your trip as an art adventure! If we are excited about visiting the museum and seeing great works of art, our kids will be, too.
5) Talking to children about art: become exhibition critics – Walk through the exhibition and ask questions. The key is to ask questions that are open-ended and have no right or wrong answers. Give your child time to think and respond—even if it seems like it is taking a while. Start by asking, “What do you notice?” This lets you build off of what catches their attention and helps guide them to think more critically about what they are seeing. Kids have an amazing capacity for seeing things and understanding them, if they are given help by adults. What follows are some helpful ideas from museum educators.
“Help your child focus on the artworks by asking questions that lead to critical viewing, such as: What title would you give this work, and why? And, If this artwork could talk, what would it say? The idea is to keep the conversation fun and engaging, and the child should feel that his or her ideas are accepted. Through discussions such as these, children will learn to see art as a visual language.” —Laura Hales, Associate Curator of Education, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
“Take a seat! Sitting on the floor in front of a work of art is a great strategy for families. By grounding themselves they can focus on looking at the art. And, it is hard to touch or accidentally run into a work of art while sitting! Expect some fidgeting with the feet, but that’s OK! Sitting on the ground also encourages spending more time with each work of art. (Just be sure not to block walkways or exits.)
Don’t try to see it all! Twenty minutes to one hour, depending on your family, is a good amount of time to look at art in the galleries. If your museum has an outdoor space, break up your visit by looking at art in the galleries then running off some of that wiggly energy outside then returning refreshed to the galleries.” —Karen Satzman, Education Manager, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
“Ask the child what he or she thinks is going on in the painting/work of art? Let him or her describe what they see and ask them what makes them say that? See where their imagination takes them. Your discussion can be about their interpretation rather than reading the label and lecturing to them. Act it out! Ask your child to act out the character illustrated in the work of art of ask them to use their body to mimic the lines and shapes if it is an abstract piece. This helps a child move from observation to truly understanding or engaging with the work. “—Lisa Abia-Smith, Director of Education, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon
I am teaching painting classes to beginners and constantly hear people express, ‘I am not an artist’, ‘I don’t know what I am doing’, and ‘this is terrible’. Each time I hear one of these comments, my heart breaks. After years of teaching drawing and illustration to children and watching their freedom, I am staggered by how hard adults are on themselves when it comes to being creative. Let’s first talk about the definition of these three words: create, art and artist. The Oxford Dictionary (OED) defines each of these words in this way:
1 [with object] bring (something) into existence: he created a thirty-acre lake
1 a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.
2 a person who practices or performs any of the creative arts, such as a sculptor, film-maker, actor, or dancer.
3 a person skilled at a particular task or occupation.
1 the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
So, to ‘create’, which means to bring into existence, can be practiced by anyone, any profession, any level. An artist may create but one does not need to be an artist to create. Now let’s explore the definition for artist, a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby and a person who practices any of the creative arts. In this modern culture we live in, where everyone is a specialist, the freedom to create is lost on the idea of what an artist is. I think my students are confusing creating with being a professional artist, therefore blocking the fun and freedom they may find through the process of painting, of learning how to paint and exploring their own ideas on the canvas.
Now lets look at the last word, art: ‘expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture and producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power’. Nowhere in this definition does it say ‘specializing in’, ‘to be sold, or showed’. Rather, it says, expression, application of creative skill or imagination, to be appreciated for beauty or emotional power. When my painting students get out of their own way, and when the critic in them is quieted and I see them smile, is this not appreciation? Can’t we all start there? This is my dream as an educator; to have all beginning painters come into class and pick up the brushes and go at their painting with gusto, allowing themselves the freedom to try new things without their inner critic. To have people who would like to try painting and other forms of art not get hung up on the over exaggerated perception of the words art and artist so they feel the freedom to try new things. And to have my beginning painters realize that when they smile at their work after a class, according to the OED, that they have just created art and therefore have just become artists.