Color in America


On November 8th Jo Carole Lauder and the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) announced its new collaboration with Crayola, the American crayon company that markets its products specifically to children. FAPE will now expand its reach and introduce the work of American artists, featured in their prized print collection, to students across the country. The partnership between FAPE and Crayola is significant since it weaves art appreciation into a public school system that has limited cultural offerings.

In “The Small Book of Colors,” Michel Pastoureau explains that color means different things to different people. The three basic colors, for instance, were initially white, red and black but these hues created very little diversity when combined. Eventually the primary colors became blue, yellow and red since different combinations of these colors were better representatives of the color spectrum and thus society. Color, therefore, is not a rhetorical visual substance but embodies the thought and practice of cultural diversity.

In France and America, the crayon is a slender utensil with a pointed tip used for sketching. Made of either wax paraffin, graphite, pastel or watercolor, crayons are not only the first medium available for colorful, creative use but they continue to be utilized for uninhibited expression. Drawing, moreover, is the first visual manifestation of an artist’s idea during the process of critical thought before expanding into something larger such as a painting or sculpture. Drawing is then the single voice of an individual on paper, amplified by line and contour.

If one visits the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée National Eugène Delacroix, the historical outreach is considerable. Impressionism, moreover, touched a chord shared by residents in both Paris and New York since its initial goal was to break free from the traditional style of the Salon and to connect directly with daily life. At that time this sentiment met the growing demand of the bourgeoisie, who continued to celebrate the Republic and its new freedom from centuries of divine right rule.

As seen in the history of French art, the crayon is integral to artistic representation. Today this medium continues to be significant in arts education programs that foster the creative expression of ethnic and cultural identities within Europe. Germany specifically combines the instruction of art with language for new migrants. Can America do something similar and reinstate, with more magnitude, a better recognition of the significance of critical thinking through the process of hand-drawn representations?

All levels of arts education in America have continued to struggle for recognition and relevance since the general public does not meaningfully place its national identity into objects of culture. Instead business and science have adopted that role so that American K-12 education is less of a forum for individual, critical thought and increasingly a site for standardized learning. The intellectual growth of high school students is postponed until college and positions those who pursue degrees in art with a risk that no fluid career path will result after graduation.

The crayon in America should be marketed along the scale that reliably connects higher education with K-12 arts education programs. Western societies suffer from an inundation of images since the critical thinking used to make such visuals is easily glossed over. However the virtue of art is its ability to express so many different ideas at once, a true reflection of cultural diversity.

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About Jill Conner

Jill Conner is New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and is a Contributor to Afterimage, Art in America, ArtUS, Art Papers, Interview and Sculpture. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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