Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seashells and Dragon Scales

My eldest wasn't thrilled with one of the projects proposed at art camp this summer, and this was unusual, so I set out to find the reason for his lack of enthusiasm.  For this particular project, the campers were asked to select an assortment of seashells and draw them, widely spaced, on a large piece of white paper.  Then, the remaining white space among the seashells was to be divided into smaller sections and the kids were asked to fill each section with a different pattern, anything they could imagine.  He had drawn the shells and divided the space, but then his interest sort of wandered and the instructor wondered if she was losing him ... Well, the cause of my child's reluctance was soon revealed when I picked him up early from camp one day and saw what the other kids were working on.  By chance my eldest was the lone boy among a group of girls in this camp session, and as I walked around the room I saw that the girls were filling their drawings with patterns of hearts and stars and rainbows, and I just knew ... 

It's like when you get an irritating-but-catchy tune in your head, and even though you don't want to think of it, it's all you can think of, you know?  I talked with him later that night, and it turned out that since artists (and campers) share their work with each other all the time, by the time he was ready to draw his patterns all he could think of was hearts, and stars, and rainbows, and he wasn't about to fill his drawing with all that dreck (no offense to the girls out there; it's just a boy-thing).  But he couldn't think of anything else, just like that annoying song! 

So we got to talking about the patterns in nature, like the ridges on a scallop shell or the scales of a snake, and soon my youngest joined us, and then we were talking all at once, rattling off examples - zebra stripes! spiderwebs! honeycombs! leopard spots!  And on and on.  We talked about how so many artists are inspired by nature, by the sights and sounds and textures of the natural world, and I wondered, had we never discussed this before?  I feel like we must have, but maybe this is the type of concept that must be brought up again and again before it takes root in their young minds?  The boys were still talking about it the next morning, and later on my eldest proudly showed me that he had completely filled in his drawing with all his favorite patterns, dragon scales, and spirals, and animal tracks arranged in stripes ... a visual triumph of self-expression!

In the past few weeks we've been to the zoo, the coast, the backyard, and now it seems everywhere we go we see patterns, especially my youngest.  I feel lucky that we found ourselves in this specific situation, a direct occasion to talk about patterns in nature, to wonder about them and go looking for them.   How often does such an occasion present itself in our hurried and stressed-out lives, or more to the point, how often do we recognize it when it does?  And how likely is it that our children are being given the chance to wonder about and explore these kinds of concepts in their hurried and stressed-out school days? 

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