Year 1 and 2 at my school. Making paintings with Chinese ink and colors on traditional paper.
On Monday they came in to find a piece of rice paper folded in half, into a square on the tables. I poured a tiny bit of ink into a paper cup for each one telling them that it would never come out of their clothes so treat it as poison. I told them not to look at it, smell it, touch it or even think about it. There were lots of questions about why the couldn't look or think about it. These I answered with the eternally useful "because I said so".
Then I handed them each a brush and told them to draw exactly what I told them to. The first was a circle with a thin line. Most drew a circle with a thin line, but some drew a circle with a thin line, literally adding a random thin line to it. Go figure. Then there was a circle with a thicker line which most got but some screwed up in the similar fashion. When I drilled them on why they had added a line when I said "a circle with a thin line" they looked puzzled which is ok. It's like when I have this repeated conversation with Yoyo, a half Chinese, half Japanese boy.
Me: Yoyo, do you know what you're doing?
Yoyo in a very funny aquired British accent: No.
Me: You're looking like your sister.
He is at a loss for words.
His sister, Julie, doesn't have an aquired british accent by the way. But when Zhang Yang climbed into the garbage can to stamp down some paper scraps and Julie started to giggle uncontrollably and that was madness.
When they had 4 shapes on their paper I told them to turn the shapes into anything they wanted. When they had finished I handed out more paper to them and let them paint in ink for the full lesson.
On Wednesday I made them sit in the corridor while I told them what we were going to do in class. I told them how we were going to color the ink drawings from Monday, but we didn't have very many colors, just one box of Chinese paints. But, I insisted, it was enough.
So, we went into class and I began squirting the colors that pairs of students wanted to use into small plastic plates. Hannah came up and said she wanted light blue so I gave her a dab in the plate and said, "add lots and lots of water". She came back about 8 times for more light blue paint. Others wanted red, some wanted pink which I said I didn't have, though I could have mixed it like they suggested using red and white. I said I didn't have white.
Lily went right away into a small tantrum because in the previous class Cherry had tried to sign her name to Lily's painting painting only the "C" before Lily started screaming "what are you doing?" and rightly so. The "c" was somewhat broken so I changed it to an "Li" and added another "l" and a "y" making Lily, but it went up the side of the paper and she didn't like this. So, while I was running around trying to squirt colors on plastic paint she was over sulking saying, "I want a new paper." So I gave her a new paper but said we weren't using ink today so her new painting was just going to have to be with color. Well, that wasn't good enough. So she continued sulking.
A little while later i heard her lecturing Cherry in the most annoying,pretentious ramble of psycho-babble that she could have only picked up from an adult. I can't even remember what she was saying, but she was questioning Cherry's true motivation for putting her name and I do remember her saying, "Is it because you hate me and..." something something.
So, I switched to Chinese and told Lily that she had a lot of nerve lecturing Cherry when it was her that was constantly telling us who she hated most. "What qualifications do you have to lecture another student about what was obviously a thoughtless, meaningless mistake. Are you so perfect?" At which point one of the twins piped in "Yeah, are you so perfect?" I told him to be quiet and do his painting.
While scolding them I realised where they had picked up on the psycho-babble.
A few minutes later I gave Lily some ink in a cup and a little while after that her and Cherry were working together on the painting. Weirdos.
And it is in this way that they did what they did. Now if I can just get some clay for next year.
Recently I road from Zhaotong City in Northern Yunnan to Huize, a county to the south. The ride started along the Zhaodai Highway, a "level 2" asphault road, straight and level, cutting through rusty, terraced, rolling hills dotted with small villages each with a mosque or two, prayers sounding from loudspeakers echoing between noon hillsides. Where a large sign reading "steep grade next 20 kilometers" hung over the road, the highway split into separate 2 lane roads and entered into a long curved tunnel. At the other end we could see the wide, smooth highway gently snaking it's way downward across long bridges spanning deep gorges. The next 7 kilometers passed in minutes. With more downhill riding ahead, we got off the highway at dusty Hui village called Tianba and ate lunch. From there we proceeded down a steep winding dirt path down through barren terraces, past a middle school to the old asphault highway 213. The scent of pear and peach blossums followed us along a turquoise and white water river down towards our 1600 meter destination. This was what I had been longing for: solitude.
This bicycle ride didn't show me what I might be painting this summer in Yunnan Province. I didn't really discover subject matter. In fact I found myself looking at the exact same subject matter that I had been working on last year at this time: fir trees, bare spring hardwoods, pine woods, hills painted with a palette of orange and red earthtones. Blue skies. What I felt, however, was the creative power that comes with isolation. Relaxing at the edge of a stream, basking in the sun, far away from other people, far away from things that people make, far away from ideas, information, away from society. It is this distance that clears the mind, that allows the eyes to see simple things, that allows original feelings to flow.
Below are a list of quotes on solitude. I thought it would be interesting to see what others have to say about this thing that we are so fearful of.
A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Converse with men makes sharp the glittering wit, but God to man doth speak in solitude.
John Stuart Blackie
Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.
But the delights of solitude don't only consist of dreaming. Next in enjoyment, I think, comes planning.
Books support us in our solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves.
Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.
solitude is the audience-chamber of God.
Walter Savage Landor
Alone let him constantly meditate in solitude on that which is salutary for his soul, for he who meditates in solitude attains supreme bliss.
A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.
Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.
Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.
Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.
As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.
Henry David Thoreau
The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.
I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.
Only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves, we find in ourselves all our brothers in solitude.
Miguel de Unamuno