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Fighting Off the Insidious Effects of Coloring Books August 16, 2020

Posted by geoff in News.
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We will never reach peak ‘tard, and I will never stop clicking on the clickbait.

Case in point: a couple of days ago Emanuele Lugli, an instructor in art at Stanford, started worrying about the stultifying effects of coloring (link goes to Slate):

The Dark, Forgotten History of Coloring Books

A medium celebrated for its stress relief in quarantine has a more sinister side.

What if the recent popularity of coloring books comes not from the creativity they purportedly inspire, but from the submission they induce? This, after all, has been their mission from the start. It may be lost to the fans of coloring books that their success peaked in the 19th century, when such publications taught children how to behave. And obedience seems to be what many of us crave in these pandemic days.

To color is to inhabit a world designed by others, to dwell in an environment where you are left with no options but to memorize what is already there. But I am in no need to be reminded of what a small, limited life feels like: I live it and am tired of it. I am even more tired of the tamed fantasies that coloring books want me to make my own.

Newsflash for Mr. Lugli: coloring is a contract between you and the artist who drew the outlines. The artist promises that if you stay within the lines and pick halfway-decent colors, you’ll end up with something that looks pretty good without requiring much skill or effort.

The artist does not expect you to find inspiration or exercise much creativity – it’s a somewhat engaging, very short term project with a clear goal but no point. Like paint-by-numbers or the illustrious jigsaw puzzle, people with no artistic talent can make something that’s a little bit cool.

…something that’s usually discarded within a day because there was never any meaning or attachment to it.

The fact that someone who considers himself an artist finds the medium limiting or even confining is unsurprising. It’s like a race car driver feeling restricted by driving a minivan (though I personally feel like the thrills of driving a minivan on public roads far exceeds those from driving something that corners well and hugs the road).

What is surprising is that he found coloring to be worthy of comparison to art, which makes me suspect that his art credentials are not very impressive.

I don’t think he’s ready for Spirograph.

Comments»

1. Mark in NJ - August 17, 2020

I read this article in Slate because it’s a subject I’m interested in, but thought it was pretty lame, especially coming from a Stanford professor.

For me, the author’s most interesting quote was: “Historically, coloring has often been considered inferior to drawing.”…interesting because he doesn’t seem to get that coloring books represent neither coloring nor drawing in the way that that “historical” judgement has been framed. On the one hand, someone coloring in a coloring book is doing no drawing at all; and OTOH when Rafael, say, is adding paint to canvas or fresco, is that really no more than “coloring” inside the lines?

I think there’s actually a good article that could’ve been written using coloring books as a springboard to a discussion of one of the longstanding arguments in art history; i.e., which is the predominant element in the making of a great painting, drawing or color?

This argument reached its apotheosis in the “great debate” between 18th century French painters Delacroix (representing color) vs Ingres (who stood for drawing or, as he put it, “line”). Personally, I’m an Ingres guy — if you look up the pencil portraits he did as commissions (but grew to hate doing), you’ll see a complete mastery of drawing that, IMO, trumps any other drawings or paintings either artist produced.

Though, to be clear, both Delacroix and Ingres are both undeniably great artists.

But the Slate author missed all this, which brings me to my next point…that I’ve always felt Stanford is a vastly overrated institution, based both on the dorks from my high school who went there and the Stanford undergrads I met as a UC student during visits with my aunt in San Francisco.

2. Mark in NJ - August 17, 2020

oops, meant 19th century…I always mess that up 😀


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