Inner Creativity & Formulation

Arno Stern's philosophy

Why most adults don’t like to draw and are convinced they can’t do it… despite loving it when they were little. . .

When children draw they are immersed – as if playing – in the pleasure of a concentrated and serious activity, which allows them to experiment with emerging skills.  Following their inner rhythm, drawing gives shape to their creativity, transforming reality by bringing it to life on a white sheet. This experience strengthens and reassures them.

When I was a child, my parents used to bring me to a place called Closlieu, a room where I was free to paint and express myself as I wanted, for at least 2 hours a week. Some of you may have had the privilege of experiencing this yourselves.  For those that haven’t, the Closlieu is a an invention of Arno Stern, a pedagogue and researcher, famous for having been the first to talk about “formulation”. Formulation – what a strange word! Arno Stern coined it when he realised that there is a universal code, governed by very specific laws, which is inside every human being. He discovered that if we are in a state free from conditioning, we are able to manifest patterns that are universally accessible to all the people of the world, regardless of culture, sex, age, character, experience. . .

Have you ever wondered why so many adults doodle when on the phone or at a conference? Does it have to do with art or with a much deeper need – “the act of tracing”? And why do children all draw a house in the same way? What if someone had discovered that the process of drawing need have nothing to do with art or with a stereotype, and that no one need copy from anyone, but that this mode of expression needs to flow – like a spring from the earth or lava from a volcano?

Here is Stern’s great discovery: human beings need to trace and this has nothing to do with conforming to expected norms, but arises instead from a spontaneous act, both intense and profound.  This can be wonderful and full of harmony (rhythm, color, space , …). But it is wonderful only when there is no observer for whom it is intended, when there is no goal to be achieved, when there is no limit on the time and space needed to achieve it, when there is no fear or insecurity to hinder the pure act (“Is it correct?” “Was I good?” “Do you like it?”).
It can only gush out if the human being is free from everything that can disturb his focus, and has the best possibility of manifesting itself fully in a protected place: this is the Closlieu, the Atelier of the Game of Painting, developed over 70 years of experience by Arno Stern.

oekaki, drawing, children
drawing, kids, education

Every adult has a duty to make this experience available to children, the kind of experience which we, alas, are taking away from them -day by day – without realizing it; because we have no proper appreciation of what they draw, we often can’t help ourselves intervening and sabotaging this natural and spontaneous process that would otherwise evolve all through our child’s life.

How, you may be wondering, do we sabotage this natural process? Well, by confusing a spontaneous gesture, a universal phenomenon, an intense game, with a mimetic craft, that is something, the form of which must reflect something recognisable.  This confusion can lead to a number of counterproductive dynamics:

1) asking the children to identify what they have drawn in their very first precious scribbles;
2) correcting the things they draw instead of respecting the spontaneous paths that emerge;
3) making them believe that what is being born on the sheet is a work of art and therefore shifting their attention from the pleasure of doing to a fixation on the result, from the spontaneity of a game to a work to be admired – for example, by presenting their drawing as an artefact (to hang on the fridge door or in the classroom. . .)to be submitted to everyone’s judgment.  By evaluating or praising  – “what a good. . .”, “what a beautiful. . .”, “what a great artist you are!” – every drawing they make, a parent or teacher can trigger delicate dynamics of dependence between what they draw and an adult’s approval.

All these dynamics we put in place, albeit with the best of intentions, are linked to a very particular approach to art education. But is this approach really the beset way to encourage our children’s unfettered expression?  After all, were you happy as a child when an adult gave you a theme to develop, commented on the progress of your drawing, or gave you a mark, which suggested that you didn’t know how to draw. . ?

I believe, like Stern, that we should try to resist intervening in our children’s drawings. Telling children that the sun is not green, or that a hand has five fingers, or that a house has a straight chimney, is rather like saying: “This is not soup” when children enthusiastically offer you some sand and ask you to taste “the soup they just made” – it is undermining their inner creativity.