The loveliest distance

child drawing

“A curved line is the loveliest distance between two points.” — unknown. Children’s art class. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Art begins with the line; sketches, paintings, even three dimensional works.

It seems to me that the urge to mark lines on a surface is quite fundamentally human. From paleolithic cave art to toddlers “redecorating” walls with Mum’s lipstick (true story — but it was my brother, honest); in all times and at all ages we seek to explore, document and indeed change our world with lines and all that flows from them.

Or as art historian Sir Kenneth Clark put it:

The difference between what we see and a sheet of white paper with a few thin lines on it is very great. Yet this abstraction is one which we seem to have adopted almost instinctively at an early stage in our development, not only in Neolithic graffiti but in early Egyptian drawings. And in spite of its abstract character, the outline is responsive to the least tremor of sensibility. 

At a cultural level, line-making helps to define humanity.

At a personal level it makes us happy — and sometimes deeply unhappy.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso

The joy children experience in making art can so quickly be extinguished by external — and internal — critics. “That’s no good” becomes “you’re hopeless at art”, which becomes “I’m not creative.” I actually heard a woman at an art workshop say that while introducing herself to the group.

I started writing this post for Debbie’s One Word Sunday, where this week the word is lines. Then I realised that when I talk about art, and about making art, I am also talking about happiness. So I’m adding the post also to the Lens-Artists challenge | happiness is.

31 thoughts on “The loveliest distance

  1. Hi Su,

    So many people feel they are not creative and I think that is a shame. We are all artists or at least can learn to be artistic. Seeing is the first, most important thing. The rest is technical, and muscle memory.
    Thanks for this post.


    Liked by 1 person

        • That is truly appalling. I really wonder why some people go into teaching.
          When you talk to most adults, we have very strong memories of the best and worst teachers we had, and both kinds had huge impact on us.
          As a five year old, I had a teacher tell me I’d never be able to do art because I was left-handed. I was struggling to use scissors to cut out a shape they had given us to make Christmas cards for our parents, and she made me re-do mine several times — each time with accompanied by loud, vicious criticism.
          If not for a high school art teacher who praised my use of colour and encouraged me to learn to draw, I could still be replaying that horrible infant teacher’s message in my head.


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