Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cloning Joan

Yesterday I attended the presentation of the 2012 Crystal Kite SCBWI Member Choice Award for Children's Book. It was at Sandton Library and the event was not very well attended (it was at 10am in the middle of the week, to be fair) but I do really like SCBWI and I adore the book that won. Well, maybe that's not entirely honest. I like the book, Finding Aunt Joan, but I'm not exactly the target market. I like Jenny Hatton, who wrote that book and is so committed to children's literature in this country and is also such a nice person, but I have a lady crush on Joan Rankin. She is so humble and so lovely despite so much success and something crazy like over 30 books illustrated. I sat next to her at the SCBWI year-end party last year and I was like a giggling school-girl.

Joan studied fine art, graphic art, weaving, puppetry and shadow theatre. Whose live is that??

I've always admired illustrators. Perhaps it's because if my life depended on me being able to draw pretty much any animate object, my life would pretty much be overs. (I can't draw, I can't sing: all my childhood dreams dashed!) But I think my admiration extends beyond that. It's amazing to take the pictures in your mind and make them real on paper - or on the computer screen or on the iPad. It's amazing to then put your faith in your scribbles and doodles and show them to people and then ask them to pay for them. Amazing in the good way obvs.

I guess Joan is also a wonderful, local reminder that sometimes being talented and working really hard is actually enough to make books that matter and still pay the rent. Please can we clone and deploy her to every major city in Southern Africa? I'm very keen to try get into one of her illustrators' workshops this year.

And maybe that's the real secret behind cloning Joan. Public-private partnerships that pay artists to go to townships, primary schools, churches, mosques, community centres, big halls in the middle of nowhere to stimulate a love of drawing. I suggest a public-private sector intervention because I think it's unrealistic to expect unilateral action on the part of either these days. Spreading the risk and spreading the expense translates to spreading the love. I also think that to expect artists to get their on love of the craft alone is also unfair: we kind of have to meet them halfway.

But with more focus on development of those in the arts and those trying to get into the arts and those who could be saved by the arts, we could end up with more Joans. But we could also end up with more artists, more graphic designers, more city planners and architects and fashion designers... In our current education crisis, I'm guessing that for most people we have more pressing concerns than teaching kids to draw. My only concern is that we've already let so many of our artists die poor and I think our future Joans and Alf desserve better.

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