Picasso's Boy and Dog, 1905
Potentiality is defined as the state or quality of possessing latent power or capacity capable of coming into being or action. It can be a thing in which this is embodied, particularly in the field of physics. Whereas potential is defined as that which is possible as opposed to actual. It might be splitting hairs grammatically, and although the two words are basically synonyms, I believe there is an important distinction from the point of view of an educator. As an educator, it is part of my job to see and draw out the potential in students. And to help them see it themselves. Potentiality on the other hand seems to imply a kind of belief in possibilities from within. That belief can come from within the person themselves or can be projected upon a person or object.
I began to think about potentiality and potential as I spent the past few weeks in the world of middle school and elementary art summer camps. The skill building with regards to the visual arts focuses on the fundamentals of the elements and principles of art coupled with developing motor skills and building student self-confidence with these age groups.
One of the defining artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, was quoted as saying, " Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up." For Picasso, all children naturally act as artists and see themselves potentially as artists. Alas, my recent experience making art with children tells me this is not necessarily true. Often children from a very young age explicitly define themselves and their interests. This is evidenced by the simply answer to that oft asked question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Most children readily offer an answer and despite being wholly engaged and enthusiastic in the arts, seldom is the answer, "An Artist." What I believe Is true however, is that children more naturally and with greater ease use the visual arts to express their ideas, dreams, and feelings than we do as adults. What I think is unfortunate is that this activity of expression in our endlessly labeling society has become exclusively the realm of The Artist as adults, instead of simply another tool of communication and contemplation, a way of interacting more deeply with the world around us. In this view, art becomes the conduit of potentiality both within ourselves and within our world. We see more deeply and anew. This is not art for art's sake, but art of our own sake, for everyone's sake. For when we see more deeply and the world anew we are connected, engaged and alive, as children are everyday. The artistic work is the product of the artist, but the artistic journey, which may or may not yield a tangible product, is available to all.
When one focuses on the potential of things around us, especially in the act of making then the everyday can become the unexpected and even the extraordinary. The world of elementary school art offers many examples of this. As a substitute teacher, I had the benefit of working from the syllabus of a professional elementary school art educator. Daily I was amazed at how someone saw the potentiality within coffee filters to be jelly fish, and paper bags to be puffer fish. Too often as adults we are limited by our expectations of ourselves and limited perspective of what surrounds us. In construction paper, children see robots. In stained paper bowls, a coral reef. Perhaps, that is what lies at the heart of Picasso's hope. That we keep the open eyes and heart of the child and simply create.
Up to now this summer, I have offered various more traditional creative prompts by sharing my journey in field sketching, line art and printmaking. This week it is my suggested challenge to you to make the everyday unexpected, maybe even extraordinary. You make the choice of object, and media, just create.