I've heard this expression for YEARS, and having been an art student and a commercial artist I've heard it often. Too often. "Oh you're an artist? I'll bet you colored outside the lines when you were little!" UH...actually NO...I did NOT. I always colored inside the lines. That was more difficult and I tried to do that better than anyone else. The truth is, most of the kids had a hard time keeping their crayons INSIDE those lines! I did it best! I was the disciplined one. And once I tired of just coloring inside those lines I moved onto DRAWING the line that the the other kids could never hope to "Color Inside". And I'm the one who is now, more or less, a professional artist. I think creativity and imagination are GREAT. And sadly all too many people see creativity or art as some sort of non-conformity. That saddens me...but I still have never liked the "Outside the Lines" concept.
Allow me to explain further...some people think when little 4 year old Bobby is coloring outside the lines in his coloring book he is being some sort of creative rebel.
I am sorry, 4 year old Bobby is not a rebel. Little Bobby does not know what "rebel" means. He cannot understand the concept of a rebel. Bobby is just learning to be sloppy and undisciplined very early in life. Coloring books are an exercise for children to teach them rudimentary skills long before they can hope to draw anything but a stick figure. The idea is to teach Bobby the discipline and eye-hand coordination to fill in the blank areas with color so that later he might develop an interest in drawing things and not just coloring them. Sure not very many Bobbys are ever going to do much with art beyond that coloring book. But some will. As they mature they move onto comic strips, cartoons, comics and other art forms that are often associated with young people. Again some of these kids will then graduate to other art forms, illustration, animation, fine art, etc. while others will not and they will develop interests in other things like music, athletics, math, politics. Such is life.
So back to art. I'm a commercial artist. I always have been and from childhood THAT is what I wanted to be. Cartoons, comics, comic strips, illustration those sorts of art were MY inspiration. I didn't much get into Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Miro although NOW as an adult I appreciate their work much more than I could as a kid. But even in high school I did enjoy the Impressionists, and more accessible "fine artists" like Edward Hopper, Dali, and Klimt. But what I really liked were illustrators like Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker. That was the Good Stuff to my teenage eyes and tastes.
Okay so what about that "Drawing Outside The Lines"? When does that happen? When is it okay to start doing it? Well like the sports star who has to stay inside the boundary lines of a sports field, an artist also has to stay inside certain boundaries too.
Any artist who wants his/her work to be seen and appreciated have certain boundaries that they must stay inside to make their work at all accessible to the public. This is especially true for commercial artists who have to create images that people can understand and relate to. Norman Rockwell, perhaps the ultimate commercial artist, did this quite well. Some people feel a need to call out his work as being maudlin., sentimental, kitschy, and to a great extent it was. But it spoke to the common person who in most cases had little or no interest in the fine arts, and they were Rockwell's target audience. So he was one successful illustrator, and that nobody can deny. But also more abstract fine artists like Kandinsky, Miro, etc, while far from doing work anything like that of Norman Rockwell, they still had to have a good sense of color and design. While the common man probably did not care for or understand the art of these artists when their work was new(if they were even aware of it at all)for those who did have an interest, there was an aesthetic there that did NOT happen by accident. Miro was not doing realistic portraits or landscapes, but he still had to have a sense of structure, color and design in his work that is aesthetically appealing and thought out. He wasn't just throwing paint at a canvas in hopes of something interesting happening. In his day Miro may have appeared to be breaking the rules in the eyes of the traditional art patrons, but as time passed, the works of Miro and Kandinsky were embraced by modern design. Their shapes, forms and colors found themselves on posters, wallpaper, decorative objects, gift wrap, textiles, tote bags, murals etc. SO there is a popular appeal even if someone carrying a canvas tote decorated with a Kandinsky design knows nothing of it's origins.
So back to:"Just when can you start to color outside the lines?" Well a serious artist has a great many things to learn before he/she can start calling the shots as it were. An artist COULD paint a canvas totally black and say that he or she is making a statement about "Modern Life", and anyone who does not understand or appreciate their message must surly be a fool and a cultural retard! Well let's be honest. Not to many artists who work like that are all that successful. And if as an artist you only want to create art that YOU alone can appreciate, and as the canvases pile up in your basement, well go for it. Just don't expect too many people to ever see your work. And that is true for most any discipline. Look at hugely successful sports figures. Are they coloring outside the lines? Is that what makes them successful? Or is it that they color inside the line and they just do it better than anyone else in their field? Does a famous race car driver drive outside the lanes? I don't think so. That would be dangerous! He has to stay inside the lines too but he too just does it better than most of the other drivers. And then there is politics where all too many politicians draw outside the lines all too often. And sadly, they often get away with it. But when they do get caught...well...nothing much usually happens to them anyway. But that is another journal entry for another time.
I don't know if any disciplined serious artist who EVER really draws outside the lines. Like it or not, there are always rules that one must follow if you want to see any success in your field. But maybe they bend ands twist those lines just a bit. Even Bad Boy graffiti artists, and I'm NOT talking about criminal vandals with spray cans, they can either choose to be rebel outlaws and spray their "message" by the light of the moon while looking back over their shoulder, or they can try to create a name for themselves by getting permission to create their art through local municipality or property owners. It's a choice. Even Street Artist "Banksey" has risen above being a spray can vandal by coloring inside the lines when he needed to.
In closing I'd like to share a store about coloring outside the lines...years ago I was visiting my best friend from high school. His three year old step-daughter was in his care while her mom was at work. We sat in the living room and talked and listened to the TV. Now I'm not much of a kid person. If I have done one wise thing in my life, it was to NOT have any kids. But despite my disinterest in children I actually became interested in what she was doing. Not really WHAT she was doing but HOW she was doing it. She was playing....but not REALLY. She wasn't so much playing as it occurred to me that she was PRETENDING to play. This may sound odd but that is how it struck me. She was moving around the living room and continuously changing from one "play" activity to another. I think she was playing with a doll at one point, and even pretending to be her mother, running around the living room, looking for her keys so she could drive to work. The kid even did an impressive impression of her mother, right down to an eye-roll and smirk that I had seen her mother do more than once. The child did not pursue any of these activities for more than a minute or so and then she would switch to another activity. Each time she would state clearly what she was about to do..."I'm going to play Barbie now...I'm going to color now...". She had like 3 or 4 activities. And when she had exhausted them all she would start over with the first one again. The one activity that actually got my attention was when she clearly stated:"I'm going to color now.", she plopped down on the floor, opened her coloring book to a random page and just started rapidly dragging a crayon back and forth over the entire page. It was like the line art character printed on the page did not even exist. It influenced her coloring in no way whatsoever. She never changed crayons either. She used the same one until after a minute or less, she tired of doing it at all. She dropped the crayon, and announced that she was now going to play with her doll and she did. I watched her for quite a while and as already stated, I felt that she was pretending to play. It was like she had seen some kids playing and she was imitating what she had seen. She seemed to only understand in broad terms how to use a coloring book and crayons. Coloring inside the lines was never explained to her, and even though she was clearly coloring outside the lines, there was ZERO creativity going on there. She wasn't consciously breaking the rules, she didn't even know that were any rules. This personal tale does not really have a whole lot to do with this journal, but I've never forgotten the event and just wanted to share it.
So back to my original point. I don't really believe anyone who is disciplined in any field really ever colors outside the lines. That concept and expression is a back-handed compliment concocted by people who are not artists and do not understand what artists are all about. I honestly see it as an insult. It suggests that artists are somehow strange, unreliable or incapable of following rules. And in my experience nothing could be further from the truth. All the commercial artists I have ever known or heard about are very disciplined and frankly work much harder for less than most people with more familiar jobs. No, there are not too many rebel artists coloring outside the lines... except maybe for little 4 year old Bobby...Okay, he's a Rebel!