I was amazed, and frankly a little embarrassed, when I realized some of the amazing accomplishments that were achieved when we were encouraged to isolate ourselves during the pandemic. Entrepreneurs continued to build successful businesses while volunteers stepped up to help those in need. Whole books were written, TV series and movies were filmed; musicals ready for production.
And what did I do? I spent hour after hour coloring.
I consider my hobby to be a total waste of time because that is exactly why I do it. It’s simply something to do in my downtime, which over the last few years has gradually become my “almost-all-time”.
I have always enjoyed art, but am constantly frustrated with the way my brain communicates with my hands. Paint is messy and impossible to erase when you make a mistake. (I know you’re supposed to paint over it, but the only thing I end up with is a brown mess.) I like pencil and paper, but apparently most when screwed together into a raging ball. in the trash. I’m a failed perfectionist because you would think with all this anxiety that I would be able to create something worth keeping, but I can not even get it right.
So when adult coloring books started a few years ago, I was all in. I was able to slowly flood the pages with color, rarely made a mistake and was occasionally almost happy with the results. By adding layers of color and shadow, I thought I was a “real artist,” or as close as I would ever get.
This made me wonder what actual artists thought of the craze. Was it a springboard for people to jump from to create original works? Did it have its own profits? Would I be better off starting to knit?
I talked to some local artists, starting with Naperville’s Marianne Lisson Kuhn, who has produced some of the city’s murals in the center. She thinks it all depends on how you classify “real art”.
“For me, it’s something that portrays an image that is informative or makes you feel a kind of emotion,” she said. “So if you color a picture and it makes you feel something, it’s real art. Whether you throw paint on your canvas or apply it carefully, the end result evokes a kind of emotion.
‘I imagine for most people that the color in these books is relaxing and satisfying to work with. They even like it enough to hang it on their walls. “Maybe some people who try these coloring books feel that they have some kind of hidden artistic ability, and yes it may even encourage them to pursue some kind of art class where they can color outside the lines!”
Luc Leonard from Naperville works in IT, but has created art all his life. He has taught character drawing at the Naperville Art League and thinks it’s sad that we as children all tend to see ourselves as artists, but often lose the free spirit when we grow up.
“Every artistic effort is about creation. And creation is an artist’s relationship to nothing,” he said. “The blank canvas, rough stone, silence without sound. The more one trusts, which is generated from other artists, the less the voice of the original artist comes through.
“You can give more artists a coloring book or paint by numbers, and there will be variations that are specific to who is working on it. But the variations are far smaller (and far less interesting) than the variations in artists’ work that have not a common framework.
“That being said, there is also a huge barrier that many people build in their minds during their formative years that prevents any artistic expression at all. It is the idea that all children are artists and as we grow , we begin to believe that we are not for some reason. ”
Despite this, Leonard sees some value in the use of coloring books. He says they can benefit people who have lost their artistic drive.
“If it moves anyone closer to a purely creative relationship to nothingness, then I applaud it,” he said.
Patricia Davoust says she does not like children’s coloring books more than those for adults. Davoust, a member of the Naperville Art League and artist model at North Central College, says she does not believe children should have rules and lines to follow for creative expression.
“Getting to know what to draw and fill prepared spaces is a creativity killer,” she said.
However, she believes that coloring for adults can be extremely therapeutic. As a survivor of domestic violence and PTSD, she found them helpful in times of stress. She did not color them, but looked at some of the patterns as a reference to other works of art.
“For adults whose brains are fully developed and who have the power to choose, it can be a meditation,” she said. “It’s just an exercise in semi-insanity and control. For some adults, it is a powerful way to connect to a deeper part of yourself that has been denied.
“Adult coloring books serve a purpose in certain circumstances. They are useful in mental health settings. People who are ‘stuck’ or traumatized and feel helpless may benefit from the limited choices and sense of control.”
Davoust says the fact that coloring books are so popular is an indicator of the mental health crisis.
“I see them as a deeply positive reflection of the basic need we have to try to heal ourselves. I’m glad that this simple but effective tool is readily available to those who need it.
“Is it art? No it is not. Is it therapeutic? Yes!”
Although I have no plans to launch an exhibition of my works on my garage door, I take some pride in knowing that I have something to show for all the time I have spent. It may not be art, but I like it.
Hilary Decent is a freelance journalist who moved to Naperville from England in 2007.