Observe, Observe, Observe

For a long time I gave children’s drawing and painting workshops. It was an incredible experience, I had many good memories and I think that I really learned more than children. I remember very well something that happened to me with almost all the children during the first drawing class. I asked them to bring a fruit for these classes, and they almost always chose an apple.

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In the majority of the occasions, the children immediately drew the apple in the form of a heart, with a branch and a leaf and painted it red although most of the times the fruit was green or yellow. Sometimes they added a smiling green worm that was not there either, besides it is necessary to mention that few of that apples had a piece of branch, and none had leaves. Many of these drawn apples even had smiling faces. Maybe we could think that it’s about children expressing their creativity, seeing things in a different way, letting their imagination fly. However, it was precisely the opposite.

When I asked them why they had made the apple in that way, they responded that it was because they had been taught in school that it should be that way. I invited them to observe the apple, to really see what it was like; they told me that this was not how they had been taught. I had to insist a lot on what they had to observe, they really had to see the fruit in front of them before they drew it, that there are no “formulas for drawing apples” or in fact for drawing anything, that the only process is to observe and to capture. As we more or less managed to assume what happened with the apples, I brought them a pineapple. The children did not dare to try to draw them since they said that “at school they had not been taught to draw pineapples”. I insisted again that the method we had applied to draw apples would help them draw what they wanted: people, landscapes, other fruits.

On another occasion I asked them to draw their house, my idea was to see if they were observers with the things they have around normally. Most of them drew a two-story house with a European-style roof very difficult to find in a most places on the American continent, and almost non-existent in Mexico. None of these children lived in a house with a roof like that, many even lived in apartments. At school however they were taught that this is how a house is drawn. We tried other forms of drawing and the same thing happened: they drew flowers as they had been taught at school, the winter with snow even though they had never seen snow, blue clouds and white sky because at school they were told that this was the fastest way. When asked for a “free drawing” the omnipresent “Sponge Bob” appeared. My answer was always the same “Observe, observe, observe”.

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It is incredible how most of the current educational systems teach us that everything happens through predefined formulas, that we simply have to memorize these recipes and we will succeed in everything that we aim for, if only we know the formula. Intuition, internalization and all these skills that the exercise of observation gives us are not important in these systems. We grow up in a self-centered bubble where things, people and situations are only problems that we must solve with formulas. We dehumanize people, isolate ourselves and end up not understanding life, nesting a void produced by a dissatisfaction that grows more with the frustration produced when life tries to show us that our formulas can´t solve everything. Although we simply think that we should have been wrong at some point in the process.

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Observing does not only serve us to draw, it also helps us to enjoy more of life and of people, to solve our most trivial and daily problems; as well as the most complex and extraordinary. Go for a walk; observe the animals, the people, the buildings, the landscapes. Jump out of life for a moment and become an observer of the world before re-entering it (because there is no point being only an observer, we have to apply what we learn with observation, and while applying it, continue observing). Do you have a problem that you think is terrible? Do you live a situation that seems to suffocate you? Have you lost the desire to do something? Do have trouble understanding a particular person or all people in general? Take some time to observe, breathe, forget your problem a bit and then approach it as an observer, think about how others look at it, think about the seriousness of your subject when comparing it in the immense canvas of the universe; and then confront it, or just forget it if you realized it was not worth it. And live! Be happy! Learn from your mistakes, but also from your triumphs. Give yourself another chance, and another, and another.

At the end of those workshops we achieved wonderful things with these children, perhaps most of them will not become artists, and maybe they will never ever draw something again. But I am sure that now they will observe more the things, the people and the situations, complications and joys that this life is presenting to them. Never forget to observe!

Santiago Belmonte Calderon

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