Peter Reynolds’ picture book ish tells the story of Ramon, who loves to draw and draws all the time. Then one day his older brother laughs at one of his drawings, and Ramon becomes preoccupied with making his drawings “look right.” Finally he decides to stop drawing. His younger sister picks up one of his crumpled drawings and Ramon follows her into her room to retrieve it, where he sees many of his crumpled-up drawings hanging on her walls. She points out a drawing of a vase of flowers, which she declares is one of her favorites. Ramon tells her that the drawing was supposed to be a vase of flowers but he doesn’t think it looks like one. “It looks vase-ISH!” she replies.
Looking at the world “ish-ly” opens up for Ramon his own way of seeing and gives him confidence that he can express what he feels and perceives, even if the finished products don’t conform to a conventional view of the way things are supposed to look.
What makes someone an artist? How do we judge what is a work of art? What is creativity? Where does artistic expression come from? Is art worth creating even if it is not judged to be very good? I think this book can be used with students from elementary school on to ponder these questions. I’m going to try it this fall with fourth grade students as well as college undergraduates.