Yesterday my favorite three-year old gifted me some drawings from pages of her “books.” These books of hers consist simply of a nine by twelve sheet of paper folded in half, then folded again, creating a four page book. Not bad work for a budding artist. I admit to some partiality.
I didn’t take the time to ask her about each drawing, which I should have done. I suspect one is a ghost and another a pumpkin since she’s been into Halloween stuff recently. I like that her people are smiling. That’s a good sign.
Do people really look like that when she sees them through her young eyes? I doubt it. Round orbs with sticks for legs and arms. No. I’m sure she sees what you and I see, a fully fleshed out body with nuances and structure and complexity. But with her raw young skills with crayon and pencil the translation of what she sees into what ends up on paper captures only the barest essentials. Eyes, a smile, stick limbs, a scratched scruff of hair convert successfully, for her anyway, into a person.
It struck me this morning as I looked over her drawings, that we all lose something in the translation of what we see and think and feel as we try to communicate it. We also stumble in translating and converting desires and dreams into reality.
I often have ideas I want to convey but try as I might the words fall short in giving skin, bones and muscles to an idea sufficiently so that anyone else can understand. Or I might get the gist of it, but not the whole as I thought of it. That can frustrate an artist, a writer, a musician, a human.
If as an adult I struggle with this translating process, imagine how frustrating it is for young children to try to convey thoughts and feelings into understandable ideas and words.
The secret, I would guess, lies in not giving up too soon. Not giving up in conveying the ideas, as well as not giving up in trying to understand them.
In fifteen years my favorite three-year old will look at these drawings of hers and scoff at their simplicity, and that’s a shame. She’ll compare it to her artistic abilities after years of practice and lessons and laugh at her young self. I would hope she’d also see the purity in her efforts.
We all struggle to translate what’s inside our heads and hearts into understandable terms that forge relationships and communicate ideas. We’re all at different ages and stages of skill at making sense of the world. We wrestle making tangible the visions of who we are or want to be.
A secret life-decoder ring would come in handy wouldn’t it? Dial a few codes in, and read an outcome, carry out the instructions and voilà. But, that’s not how it works. Ever.
We explain, puzzle out, infer, deduce, interpret all the time. And so often, so very often, the messages end up lost in translation.
My take on all this?
1. We’re all drawing the best we can, with what we have, where we are.
If that isn’t true, if we aren’t putting our best efforts into being and doing what’s before us then we sharpen our colored pencils, or peel back some paper on our crayons. Then we pull out a sheet of paper, and see what sort of drawing we can come up with when we try a little harder.
2. Everyone else’s drawing means something to them and probably something slightly different to us. Maybe I ought to ask what their drawing, words, music or actions mean so I can understand better.
It shouldn’t hurt to ask. It only takes a second. “So tell me about this,” you could say. Or maybe, “I like your color choice, any particular reason you picked that color?” A thousand other questions could clarify, untangle and help us understand better.
Maybe I’ve overthought this whole thing. That’s certainly a strong possibility.
Sometimes a stick person is just a stick person.
“Art is as natural as sunshine and as vital as nourishment.”
-MaryAnn F. Kohl