I subscribe to Taos Magazine. It’s a tourist magazine, really, which is disappointing. It showcases artists, craftspeople, galleries and restaurants. This month there is an article on coloring “outside the lines.” This is a thing I’ve noticed for a while, that there is a perceived virtue in coloring “outside the lines.” It’s a metaphor for originality and non-conformity. But…
I remember coloring books. It was not easy to learn to color inside the lines. I remember a friend — Susan Cobb — who lived up the street and she had taken this to a higher level. Once she’d colored inside the lines, she outlined the shape in question with the same color, pressing harder on the crayon. It had a lovely effect. I imitated her, but I took it a little farther. If the shape were light green, I might outline it in dark green. She, in her turn, imitated me.
It takes discipline, a well-trained hand and eye to color inside the lines. It doesn’t take much to color outside the lines. A two-year-old who doesn’t know how to hold a crayon can do it. Yeah, I hear you, “How do YOU know the two-year-old doesn’t know how to hold the crayon? He’s holding it HIS way!” I’m sorry, but you need to teach that kid when he’s ready or he’s going to be VERY frustrated that he never makes progress and that his crayons keep breaking.
“See Picasso’s work?” said my dad one day. “He couldn’t have done this,” he pointed to an abstract woman’s face that I later learned was a linoleum cut, “without being able to do this.” He showed me a very realistic portrait of a woman. “An artist needs the discipline and ability before he can make the choice. Picasso was so good, he could choose.”
People argue endlessly about what makes good art. I honestly believe that I know good art but really what I know for sure is what I like. But as a writer and a painter, I know that discipline is a big piece of the puzzle in coming up with something really good. My dad was completely right. Only a master can choose.