Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Art makes you smart

"The test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do. Similarly, any situation, any activity, that puts before us real problems, that we have to solve for ourselves, problems for which there are no answers in any book, sharpens our intelligence. The arts, like the crafts and the skilled trades, are full of such problems, which is why our skilled artists, artisans, and craftsmen are very likely to be sharp-witted people. Their minds are active and inventive; they have to be."
---John Holt, from How Children Learn

Sunburst has spent the last three days with a drop spindle glued to her hand. We bought a spinning wheel last month, and she has been driving herself, and the rest of us, near crazy trying to make it work for her. We generally encourage all artistic endeavors in this house: drawing, sewing, painting, music, pottery, knitting, whatever. Einstein and I can't seem to stick to just a few interests. We have to try everything, at least once. And that's an example that seems to have stuck, at least with Sunburst, even though her attempts with the spining wheel always end in a flurry of tangled wool and exasperation.

Conincidentally, we just reached a point in our reading of Little House in the Highlands where the main character, Martha, tries to spin flax on her mother's spinning wheel. And it's hard! And she's just not tall enough yet to make it all work. So instead, Martha ends up learning to spin wool on a drop spindle.

"Don't we have one of those?" asks Sunburst.

Einstein had made some out of old computer cds and a dowel over a year ago, and they worked great... until they got sat on. So Sunburst showed him the picture in her book, and low and behold he emerged an hour later with a wooden spindle. It has been stuck in her hand ever since.

So far she has made:
  1. bits of wool fluff appear on every surface in every room of the house
  2. one small ball of yarn
She's working on her second ball, apparently confident enough in three days time that I caught her giving an adult neighbor spinning lessons out in the yard. When the neighbor asked her what she was going to do with all that yarn, Sunburst announced that she has big plans.

"Well, I'm thinking I'm either going to knit a doll blanket or mittens. Maybe I'll knit mittens and then dye them if we can find the right kind of dye."

This was news to me. Of course, Martha is also knitting mittens with her homespun yarn, so it makes sense. But when Sunburst got out of bed tonight and announced that she couldn't sleep because she was having a knitting idea about making a huge dishcloth with a hole in it, and it was an idea that couldn't wait for morning... well, I have to wonder.

Where and how does she come up with this stuff? Does art really make you smart?


  1. I'm raising idiots.

  2. What about those umpteen cat drawings? That screams stamina and vision.

    Holt goes into this whole thing in the book on this little girl and her drawings --the detail and things she notices, like curtains and fingernails, and she puts them in her drawings. The other kids notice what she has done and they start to do this too. They learn to notice... to adapt and change and grow.

    I think that was the point.

  3. Oh, yeah...the point. I miss that sometimes. Thanks.

  4. Actually, just to whine some more, it screams ASSEMBLY LINE MASS PRODUCTION mentality. Very little detail. Just one cat after another. No, each cat was a different breed, I'll give her that. And she put a lot of joy into the creation of each picture. My children are not idiots. I just feel stymied sometimes. We're not knitting, felting, crocheting, sewing, woodworking or learning to play musical instruments...all of which I thought we'd be doing in our sleep by this point. Apparently, in our sleep would be the only chance!!

    End of whine.

  5. Moxy,
    I've met your kids, and I know darn well they are a bright lot. Clever beyond or simple adult minds. I bet you even notice that too.



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