The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The death of the individual.

People die in various ways. Most nowadays die of old age. Some, however, are killed, as children, by their education. I saw something recently that made me reflect how dangerous “education” can be. It was a simple thing really, something that most might overlook – but to me it was quite disturbing. It was a school art exhibition.

Now, you may be wondering why and how I could find a school art exhibition disturbing. It was, actually, more than disturbing – it was saddening too. What provoked me to feel so was the manner in which the works had been carried out, and the way in which the children had been taught. The works were all in the style of Paul Klee, the painter. There was, perhaps, the work of a dozen children, each absolutely indistinguishable from the next, because all sought to be imitations, as perfect as they could render, of the style of Paul Klee. There were other artists too, in this exhibit, who had been imitated and echoed. It was dispiriting. Each child had been taught to give up their instinctual creativity and in its stead, taught that they must copy to create art. Every child, in that school, under this particular teacher, had had their creativity extracted from them. Not a single piece had anything unique, special, or in fact, artistic about it. They were all slavish copies.

I should point out at this point, that this is not a criticism of Asian schooling, in particular, although Asian schools are just as guilty of this practice – for this school was an international school in Malaysia (I shall not name it). Thus, it is clear that the policy of encouraging students to copy, has crossed over into the international schools.

To teach a child that to create is to copy, is to kill something very fundamental to the mental health of the child. In a way, it kills all that is special about them. These children would be better off not having any art lessons at all. Being taught in this way, ensures, indeed absolutely guarantees that none of these children will become artists. True artists never copy – their art emerges from within them, and is not dependent on external models. None of these children had the outlook of an artist. They had the perspective of photocopiers.

It is hard to understand, for me, at least, how their teachers and their school can consider instruction in imitation, to be an art lesson. Art is not about imitation – true art, at least. Those who think art is about imitation haven’t really understood it.

I have some advice: if your child ever comes home with an artwork in the style of or manner of a famous artist, please withdraw them from the art class. They will learn nothing there, they will, in fact, unlearn their innate creativity. Art lessons like that, will turn your child into a derivative clone. They are better off with no art lessons at all, if all they are teaching is the art of the plagiarist.

Sometimes the best education, is no education at all. It might be hard to accept that, in this world of high pressure schooling and home tutors. However, it might be worth your time to have a good look at the way your children are being taught. Are they learning to copy or create? If the former, no school, would be better than that kind of school.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:40 AM 


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

And I am glad you stated the case so simply and so directly.

Paul Klee would not have been an artist I was particularly attracted to, except perhaps with some of his sculptures. (It is William de Kooning's sculptures I like so much: or rather the sculptural quality of many of his paintings, and Elaine's too).

I tend to be attracted to artists I cannot copy.

Would you consider fashion an art? That is very often and very much about copying.

On the other hand, if you do see an exemplary style or principle of art...

When I was a little girl I loved art because it was a sanctioned way of making a mess!

1:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I can see the attraction of a means to make a mess, without censure - as a child, anyway. It might have been an area in which you were totally in control - and that is good for a child.

Fashion. I think it can be an art but only for the true innovators - the ones who imitate are never artists.

Thanks for your kind words.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Pashupati said...

But is there no moment in the process of learning art where you imitate other persons, then modify what and how they did? Of course, this moment shouldn't be forced and teached as being art.
This is a very interesting post, by the way.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Pashupati,

I think it depends on the individual. Some people have a need to model their work on others - but others do not. I think it is preferable to find one's own path, independent of whatever it is other people do - especially in all media of the arts - whether it be art, writing, music etc.

It is certainly not inevitable that someone should need to model others. I know that I didn't when I was growing up and neither did Syahidah.

Thanks for your comment.

12:45 PM  

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