School age children are continually dabbling in, or being encouraged to take up, new `hobbies' and 'interests'. Publishers are not slow to cash in on this. Books for newly enthusiastic chess players, campers, knitters, collectors of all manner of things, and so on almost without end appear in a steady stream. How helpful are they? How realistic?
We took some recent offerings for aspiring painters, drawers and photographers and asked a group of secondary school teachers what they thought.
Whizz Kids - Painting and Drawing
Linda Douglas, Macdonald, 0 356 06336 4, 95p
Anyone Can Draw
Albert Murfy and Sara Silcock, Armada. 0 00 691743 7, 90p
Learnabout ... Painting
0 7214 0496 0
Learnabout ... Drawing
0 7214 0495 2
Kathie Layfield, Ladybird. 40p
Drawing with Ink
0 7232 2468 4
0 7232 2470 6
John Brobbel, Warne Observer's Guides, £1.95 each
Usborne Guide to Painting
0 86020 546 0
Usborne Guide to Drawing 0 86020 540 1 Patience Foster, Usborne. £1.85 each
Teaching art in a comprehensive school today we learned is about 'visual education' - getting kids to 'see', be aware of the world around them - rather than 'learning to draw'. Teachers want their pupils to value their own vision and develop their own style.
But there are problems. 'Kids are very aware for instance of the high standard of design of record covers. Dissatisfied with what they produce themselves, they undervalue it. They also want an instant effect so they'd rather copy than draw or paint what they see. And if they make a poor copy they get frustrated.' The books were considered against this background.
Anyone Can Draw got a universal thumbs down, not because the text tells the reader to copy but because the layout and presentation of the book encourage it. 'Kids don't read the words.' No-one liked the fact that Tony Hart's name (he wrote the introduction) appears more prominently on the cover than the authors'. And 90p seemed a lot for black and white compared with the opposition.
The Observer's Guides were considered 'not for children - more for adult amateurs'. 'They don't really leave you free to develop your own style.' Lots of text. small type and difficult formal language ('the usefulness of geometric schemata') make these non-starters.
The Usborne Guides got rave reviews. 'Attractive large format and very good layout. There's lots of information but it's so cleverly designed the text doesn't look daunting.' ' I'd like a set to give out for homework. 'It gave me some ideas. 'It's how teachers work.' 'Good advice and information about equipment, materials and techniques.' But expensive.
Whizz Kids - Painting and Drawing was also approved for its practical ideas and clear, lively presentation. 'Particularly good value because it deals with both topics in one book and has quite enough information to support the beginner.'
Learnabout ... Drawing was less immediately attractive. 'But it's got some sound ideas and advice and it's amazingly good value for money at 40p.'
Learnabout ... Painting deals specifically with painting in gouache. water-colour and oils. Our teachers thought this tended to be over-technical in parts and to appear rather daunting for the beginner.
The general feeling was that older (say 13 plus) children would get most out of these books. There was also a strong feeling that the writers had underestimated what young beginners can afford on equipment. 'They say brushes are "expensive" - but they don't say how expensive - and then they advise you to buy at least three!' 'The Usborne Guide to Painting mentions airbrushes which is really quite unrealistic for kids I teach.'
John Craven and John Wasley, EP Publishing, 0 7158 0667 X (limp), £2.50
Christopher Wright, Puffin Plus, 0 14 03.1449 0, £1.50
Learnabout ... Taking Photographs
Colin Garratt, 0 7214 0538 X, 40p
Young Photographer raised grave doubts. 'It's a very misleading book - the cover shows John Craven and a couple of twelve-year-olds so it looks as if it's for beginners but there's very little basic information. Most of what is covered is for the more experienced photographer; it's full of unexplained technical expressions and the language is very sophisticated.' There's also a lot of emphasis on expensive equipment. In his introduction John Craven claims 'it isn't the camera that counts, it's you' and then speaks with approval of the man in the photographic shop who tells the 'genuine enthusiast' beginner to 'come back when they have got about £50' for a camera. And one photograph shows about £2,000 worth of lenses! Not recommended.
Snap on the other hand is 'well worth putting in the library and the bookshop'. Our teacher of photography praises Christopher Wright for 'encouraging kids to experiment with inexpensive or old cameras before investing in sophisticated equipment, and suggesting cheap alternatives to costly equipment and materials wherever possible'. He welcomed a book that concentrates on the understanding and control of photographic techniques. It's organised chapter by chapter on a progressive course, taken at the beginner's pace, and is exclusively about using black and white film, including developing and printing of negatives. There's an invaluable section on common mistakes and putting faults right. The style is simple and concise, and specialist terms are identified and explained. 'It's a book that really encourages you to take photographs.'
Learnabout... Taking Photographs assumes that the beginner is using colour film and will not be involved in processing it. As well as basic advice on cameras, composition, etc., it encourages the beginner to think in terms of 'a personal style' and choice of subject. 'It's not what do you like to photograph, but what do you like enough to want to photograph?' A useful mind opener for new owners of Instamatics. Can't be bad for only 40p.