Sunday, August 8, 2010


Enough dumbing down. 
Time to smarten up instead.
Time to clobber little kids with Latin and Greek, French and Mandarin and English and to stop saying that any old grammar and spelling is acceptable.  Let’s set demanding tasks and draconian curricula at an early age and let’s encourage excellence instead of rewarding mediocrity.
How about expecting people to make an effort to keep up, instead of talking down to them?
In fact, people like a challenge.  We rise to it, it stimulates and requires us use different parts of our brain.  We feel good when we’ve mastered something difficult.  We’ve proved that we’re better than we thought.  
What's the point of condescending and assuming people are dumber than they are?  Supposedly, it’s so the slower ones can understand.  But it’s been shown often enough that those of whom little or nothing is expected, deliver.  Likewise, when a lot is expected of the same people, they also deliver.  Like the inner city kids dealing with hard lives who can manage calculus, ballet, opera, chess, violins when that is expected of them. 
Dumbing down does nobody any favours.
Lack of expectations is crippling.
Better to assume that people are smart and expect them to understand than to expect little or nothing and so discourage them from improving, exploring and growing.  If it were assumed that we're all more intelligent than we think we are, we’d try harder, learn more, get better jobs and our quality of life would improve.  A bit utopic but why not aim high?
People want to conform, so why not set a high standard to conform to rather than a lower one?  Smarts are not the purview of the rich, neither is stupidity confined to the poor.  There are many rich, educated people who aren't intelligent, many poor people with so-called street smarts.  Smarts are smarts whether they're street or academic.
Let’s stop calling smart people nerds and dweebs and dorks and geeks and picturing them as insecure weaklings in glasses.
Smart people are confident and strong and sexy.
Have you noticed that stupid people consider others stupider than themselves? 
And intelligent people consider others at least as smart as they are, if not smarter?
Stupid people are dangerous.
Stupid people dumb down.
Fight stupidity by smartening up.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Although both are forms of communication, art is emotional, abstract and open to interpretation, whereas writing is more direct, precise and explicit.  You can say exactly what you mean with words, but with art you can only suggest.
Making art is also much easier than writing.  It’s soothing and relaxing and you can think about other things while you’re doing it.  It’s much quicker too.
You know what they say about a picture.
When you see something beautiful or interesting, you get out your pencil and paints and capture it in a few minutes, hours or days.  But when you have an interesting idea for a book or a story, it takes weeks, months or years of thinking and word-wrangling to capture it.
     I was once hired to do calligraphy (a combination of art and writing) on wedding invitations.  When my employer saw how quickly I did them, he was outraged.  He thought it took hours to produce a card.  The fact that years of experience allowed me to work fast did not occur to him.  Whether it takes minutes or hours, the result is the same.  But time and effort are often valued more highly than expertise and experience in most forms of art.
     Art also provides a lovely tactile experience that writing doesn't: the feel of a pencil,  the smell of graphite, the tooth and fragrance of the paper, the wet mobility of a brush, the glistening thickness of oil paint plumped up with linseed oil that looks so delicious you want to lick it. 
     All you have in writing is the touch of the keys and the sight of the letters and words on the screen.

    But writing is more powerful than art.  Art can sock you in the eye when you first see it, but once out of sight, it’s out of mind.  Whereas writing can inspire, encourage, educate and amuse you, also change your life.  Sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures.
     Although art is my livelihood, books saved my life.
When things were at their blackest, books gave me insight and hope for better days.  If I hadn’t had books, I wouldn't have known there were better things in the world.  I wouldn't have known there was art.
I discovered Picasso, Matisse, Michelangelo and Boticelli in books.
     Where art is soothing and easy and quick, writing is painful and hard and slow and can make writers sweat and cry.  Writing makes people think and wonder and question much more than art does.  Writers have to dredge up old hurts and passions, remember and analyze them so we can use them in our characters.  This is a
nasty, painful process, but it makes for good reading.  Of course we can also recall past joys and triumphs for your reading pleasure, but doing that is just as difficult and mind-rending.
     There are rare delights, like the exact word you need coming immediately to your fingertips, or a whole phrase jumping on to the screen, full of energy and life and profound meaning.  But mostly that doesn't happen.  Words require vast amounts of winkling, prying, chiseling and thinking.
     And once we’ve actually got an idea, there’s the difficulty of formulating and clarifying it; we know what we mean but will readers?  Searching brain and Google for the right word and rhythm, keeping up the passion and maintaining the same voice for months requires a lot of staring into space, mental gymnastics and disciplined thought.
     Words are far more exhausting than colours.  And worse yet, after all those exertions, we then have to go back and murder our darlings, ruthlessly delete and pare until we have the purest essence of our story.  Imagine finishing a painting, then having to go back and scrape half the paint off.  Fortunately art isn’t improved by pruning.
     But, in the end, art complements writing and vice versa.