Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ever Dream Land

When the Norton Museum of Art had its Dinotopia exhibition last year, students involved with the Museum’s PACE program (Progressive Afterschool Arts Community Education) at local community sites worked together to create their own utopias. These expressions of collective dreaming were exhibited in the museum near my own paintings and models.

The students of My Choice Community Development, a center in Riviera Beach, created a land inhabited by a marvelous menagerie of animals and plants, which they shaped out of clay. Students at Gaines Park, a West Palm Beach Parks and Recreation site, created an island called “Ever Dream Land.” The name was a reaction to the limits implied by the name “Never Never Land” of Peter Pan. Ever Dream Land is inhabited by a marvelous menagerie of humans, animals and plants, which they shaped out of clay. 


They drew a map and invented up their own set of alphabetic symbols. They pictured themselves floating up on balloons over ice cream mountains and candy rivers, with soft round homes made of discarded packing foam.

9 comments:

MrCachet said...

J.R.R. Tolkien once argued that the Fantasy World that he created (and others (like C.S. Lewis) was primarily meant for adults. How do you view Dinotopia? Is it for children or for adults, or both?

James Gurney said...

It's a good question. I have always resisted the narrow age categories in publishing. Those categories don't exist in computer animation, so why should they in books? The adventure books I like best, such as those by Mark Twain and Jules Verne were conceived before the age of market segmentation.

So when I write a story like Dinotopia, I try to write to please my own imagination, and include words and concepts that would not normally be included in a children's book. Kids get much of the difficult stuff, of course, as they always do. I know I've succeeded if bookstores have a hard time placing it. (Borders has always put Dinotopia books in the adult science fiction section.) Because of the pictures and the dinosaurs, it is usually thought of by others as a children's book, and I understand that.

I think a book should be like a swimming pool, with a shallow end and a deep end. Readers who can't "swim" yet appreciate being able to wade in the shallows, but they like the feeling of knowing that there are (hopefully) greater depths to explore.

T Arthur Smith said...

James Gurney, if you were an art teacher, how would you organize a course? Think of this as two questions, for elementary, and high school.

James Gurney said...

I would have them write and illustrate stories. And I would teach them how to draw what they see. I did a high school workshop where students drew a street in their home town as a backdrop for a dinosaur, and then they drew the dinosaur into the scene.

Someone with a lot more ideas on this than me is Andy Wales of Pennsylvania, who has taught K-5 and is now teaching the upper grades. Check out his blog http://andrewwales.blogspot.com/. I've visited his school and he has gotten the students fired up both with creating comics, making maquettes, and drawing what they see.

MrCachet said...

Great answer! I appreciate the honesty. My sister has contemplated writing a childrens' book which she is hoping we can work on - together. I'm sure she'd be interested in your observations on pleasing YOURSELF!

J.J.*Jolanta Jasiulionyte* said...

Sincerest thanks for your book Color and Light. It is even more that what was loong in look for .

Steve said...

I love the simile of a book like a swimming pool.

In regard to having kids draw what they see...one of my most fun and fulfilling teaching experiences was a summer class I taught for several years at our local river. The kids (6th -8th grade) learned how to net macroinvertebrates; the nymph forms of dragonfly, damselfly, mayfly, etc. They then looked at the critters under binocular microscopes at 5x. These little animals look like alien space creatures. The kids carefully drew each body part, counting how many segments or elements in each appendage. On the third day of class, I gave the kids identification keys with drawings done by professional illustrators. They were thrilled as their closely observed, carefully drawn nymphs matched the key. An added thrill for the kids was they had no idea these life forms even existed, quietly clinging to undersides of river rocks. Withholding the key until the kids had spent a couple mornings drawing was an essential aspect of the class; they were drawing something they'd never seen before, strictly relying on observation rather than a predigested image.

T Arthur Smith said...

James & Steve, thank you for the great answers! I'll check out that blog right away.

James Gurney said...

Steve, thanks for explaining that lesson. I wish more teachers taught the skill of drawing as a tool of scientific and historical inquiry. That's how it was taught in the schools in the 19th century. I think modern schools get overly caught up in thinking of art solely as an expressive aesthetic pursuit. It would be as if we taught writing solely for the purpose of poetry.