Fresh perspectives: “The story of a potato”.

Extracts from my book “Fresh perspectives on Creativity” (1)

My first fresh perspective is an extract from Chapter 10 : “Having Fun with Creativity”. It tells the story of a painting  made by a primary school child with  learning difficulties

The Potato

It is always the case that a great deal of what goes into paintings is hidden and, with it, much of what has been put into them. This point that can be clarified by means of a true story relating to a child with learning difficulties told by his primary school teacher.

George, as I shall call him, was an amiable lad, but never seemed to want to join in what others were doing. One day, during a painting session, the teacher was delighted to see him applying himself with great concentration. She hurried over to see what had caught his imagination and found that he had produced a light-brown oval shape in the middle of an otherwise empty sheet of paper. He was obviously pleased to see her and held up what he had done asking with pride in his voice, “Do you like my potato, Miss?” In itself, George’s production wasn’t very impressive but, sensing an opportunity for a breakthrough in his attitude to school, she enthused about it, suggesting, before leaving him, that he complete the picture.

Being at the beck and call of the other children, the teacher was not able to get back to George for some time, although out of the corner of her eye she could see that he was painting away with renewed enthusiasm. Her heart was warmed and she was anxious to make an opportunity to see what he had done. When this eventually came, she found that he had covered the entire paper with dirty-brown paint: the potato was nowhere to be seen. In scarcely concealed distress she cried out, “George, what ever have you done?”. But the answer brought one of the most heart-touching moments of her career. “I have planted it under the earth, Miss”, he explained.

One of the many questions which this story brings to mind is, “Did George ruin or enhance his painting by his surprising behaviour?” There can be little doubt that he had spoilt its superficial appearance, but, in doing so, had he not given it a far deeper meaning? And, if ruining appearances can give greater significance, we must admit the possibility that an important aspect of the appreciation of a work of art may lie in knowledge of its history.

The trouble (or the opportunity) is that the process of painting covers traces (as is evidenced by the history of George‘s potato). Nothing is quite what it seems, either physically or psychologically. Everything in painting has its origins deeply embedded in the past of an evolving process and a unique life. In my case, the creative energy comes from a complex web of factors relating to fairly abstruse aspects of painting that may be of little interest to others. In George’s case, the project was simplicity itself, but represented a ray of light shining out from the darkness of caged soul. Moreover, to my knowledge, his idea is unique, showing a striking originality of a kind which had proved beyond the combined imaginations of the great artists of history.

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13 thoughts on “Fresh perspectives: “The story of a potato”.”

  1. Story of a potato? A yarn that makes a good point. Which reminds me of another little boy, not noted for academic prowess, one of a class taken to the Pool of London to visit a Royal Navy Daring class destroyer after which, back at school, the class was asked to each make a painting.
    The wee lad in question, as the one in your potato tale, also produced a painting that was much remarked on, of “striking originality”.
    His solution was to show the ship broadside on virtually as a grey silhouettes and quite accurately considering it was drawn from memory, on white paper then outline the ship with black.
    The image was doubly impressive because the actual ship was painting in only three colours, the same grey the lad had chosen and you guessed it? Black and white.

  2. How often I worry when to stop, I record my work as it progresses and then have many moments of doubt . one of the teacher trainees often walks by and tells me to stop. I think I better get him to read this post before I am tempted to commit murder

  3. Désolée que quelques personnes n’ont pas aimé l’expérience ( we could say of the “potatoe”… if you read) of the Painting school of Montmiral, j’en ai connu quelques unes…c’est toujours les mécontents quand entend le plus ! ? on peut ne pas être prêt, or not in the mood, mais on ne peut pas objectivement juger, et en conséquence ne pas recommander lorsqu’on ne s’y est pas plus et qu’on ne parle que de soi ou pour soi. Il faut connaitre les expériences uniques que tant de personnes ont vécu pendant tant d’années dans ce lieu ouvert à l’Art, à l’étude, aux échanges etc…au point que pas mal ont changé de vie ou habitent même ici.

  4. This is such an insight into a different way of thinking, whether applied to painting or to other areas.

  5. We learn from children! What a lovely story but it does raise the question: what is creativity? Is it looking at something in a way we haven’t considered so it looks creative to us? Is it looking at something in a new way for the person who does it — if it’s new for him or her but perhaps not for us? It’s interesting — for the child I don’t think it was an act of creativity as much as a natural response based on the world he knew. It’s not something an urban child would consider but for a farm child it would seem natural. Regardless…a wonderful story that for me raises some interesting questions about the nature of creativity. Thanks

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