The New Childhood by Jordan Shapiro

The New Childhood by Jordan Shapiro

Author:Jordan Shapiro
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: 2018-12-31T16:00:00+00:00



WHAT IS IT about fingers? Finger painting was invented by Ruth Faison Shaw at the beginning of the twentieth century. Of course, prehistoric people rubbed pigment onto cave walls with their fingers more than forty thousand years ago, but Shaw was the first to formally introduce finger paint into education.

“It all began, in the most natural way in the world,” Shaw explained in her 1947 book, Finger-Painting and How I Do It, “with a little boy at the school who smeared the bathroom wall with iodine.” Shaw believed that “‘smearing’ with the hands is a primary impulse,” and in 1931 she patented a set of paints that kids could use to “smear to their heart’s content.”

She promoted finger painting as if it were a practice of abandoned creativity. “No one can or should tell another how to paint or how to ‘make a picture,’” she wrote. “Creative work must come from the imagination and personal experience.” She saw finger painting as an opportunity to indulge children’s impulses and free them from restraint: “Begin with one color. ‘As much finger paint… as you would [put] ice cream on your spoon if your mother wasn’t watching you. And you may take more if you want it.’” There is a theme of permissive indulgence throughout her work.

There is also an implicit reference to Freudian psychology. When we imagine boys rubbing iodine against a tiled wall, it reminds us of ancient cave drawings and reinforces Freud’s archaeological approach to psychoanalysis—digging for truth among the primitive parts of our minds. Moreover, finger painting’s origin story takes place in the bathroom, almost as if Shaw wanted her readers to think about Freud’s anal stage, in which children are either letting go or holding in bowel movements. Did she know that from a psychoanalytic perspective, our potty-training experiences shape our adult personalities, cementing lifelong habits and neuroses around repressed conformity and/or unrestricted creativity? It certainly seems so. She focused on loose, fluid, unregimented individual authorship in a way that’s unique to the twentieth century—another example of the sandbox sense of self.

“See what your hand will do. Your hand is characteristic of you. You have certain ways of using your fingers, the shape and imprint of each finger are yours and yours alone,” she wrote. “Your imagination, which directs your hands, will lead you to produce something individual and representative of you.” Note the connection Shaw draws between hands and creativity. It goes back thousands of years. Aristotle considered the psyche, or soul, to be “analogous to the hand,” which he called “the tool of tools.” Already, in ancient Greece, the connection between consciousness, hands, and technology was what distinguished the human animal from the rest of nature. That notion has barely changed. Our hands, and their relationship to creative toolmaking, still hold primary status in our imaginations.

In 2007 Steve Jobs said, “We are all born with the ultimate pointing device—our fingers—and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse.


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