THE STEM CELLS OF ART

Psychologists tell us that children's drawings exaggerate shapes in ways that reveal the child's inner feelings about their subject. For example, this drawing shows the importance of hands to a child reaching out to pick flowers.


In this and other ways, children's art reveals our first pure perceptions of a world unconstrained by logic or physical appearance.

This world is sealed off forever to adults. Mature brains process visual information and spatial relationships differently. Our neurological systems have learned to mediate between vision and perception, and it is hard to unlearn what we know.

Of course, artists still recognize that pictures can be more effective when feelings alter physical appearance. They ain't exactly picking flowers here, but Jack Kirby and Hokusai both show that they remember how to enhance a picture by exaggerating body parts:





But going beyond mere exaggeration, it's interesting that the artists who strain the hardest to return to the purity of childhood drawings-- the ones who try to capture that early, pre-rational essence in a meaningful way-- are often the most intellectual. Paul Klee, Saul Steinberg, Kandinsky and Dubuffet all worked with simplified child-like forms.


copyright The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

They were all highly cerebral artists renowned for writing long, erudite treatises on art theory. I find it especially interesting that when they abandoned rationality to delve into the simple world of the child, the visual result was often frightening.




copyright The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Scientists study embryonic stem cells because, unlike adult stem cells which have hardened into specific applications with limited adaptability, embryonic stem cells have unlimited potential to develop into any of the cell types of the human body, and to regenerate indefinitely. I think artists tend to return to early childhood drawings in the same spirit. They are looking for a place before our patterns of perception have hardened, to seek fundamental and powerful building blocks for new art.

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