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Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Matter of Taste

Back in the mid 18th Century a man called Etienne Silhouette became France’s finance minister. I always remember his name because of my art teacher. In my final art examination he, Mr Morgan Davies, offered me a final evaluation of 13%. This was possibly the lowest mark of the year.

At the time I was sure his judgement was in-correct. I had tried to draw a silhouette - and instead of filling the head in with solid paint - as in the definition of the word - had I tried to do many dabs of colour, rather in the style of Pissarro. Mr Morgan Davies did not like the linking of the two styles and thought that I was a remarkably poor artist.

All those years ago Mr Silhouette, who you recall was the Finance Minister, had tried to cut the salaries of the courtiers and their staff. This had made him rather unpopular. After he had been sacked he made portraits by using cheap black paper cut outs. His work became popular and spread to England. We now use the term in a variety of ways.

I thought of these events today when an able and highly literate boy had completed his well presented written assignment. It was beautifully planned and carefully written. He had used a remarkably wide range of words and I simply enjoyed reading his work.

In the margin he had crafted an exquisitely executed silhouette. The essay title, however, had not asked for the illustration. The boy was simply expressing another of his many talents.

Should I have argued against the silhouette - and thus possibly diminishing his pleasure and pride in his work? Was a quiet word more appropriate, pointing out that while the drawing had offered me more insight into his skills, it may not have excited an examiner in the same way.

Creativity is an art and a science. We all know what happens to unpopular Finance Ministers. What should happen to a gifted boy? Do we sack him or praise him?

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