Adulthood: Fifty shades of unoriginal

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Adulthood: Fifty shades of unoriginal

By Channing Kaiser / Columnist

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Creativity and imagination in adults isn’t nurtured in the same way it is in young children. Young kids are encouraged to make Play-Doh sculptures, play make-believe and have tea parties with their stuffed animals. At some point, arguably around middle school, that changes. 

In middle school, creativity is no longer cool unless it reeks of Axe or is embroidered with a moose. Fast-forward to college — if you want to get creative, you have to go into the arts or join a LARPing club (live-action role play, if you’re unfamiliar with the term). But pretending to be a direwolf in Schenley Plaza just isn’t socially acceptable once you’re old enough to drive a car.

One local venue where students sometimes go to get creative in a more socially acceptable way is Paint Monkey, a BYOB studio in Lawrenceville that offers painting classes. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a great idea — after all, paint and drinks are a stellar combination — but, as it turns out, there’s more to Paint Monkey than I expected. In fact, the business sheds an exuberant amount of light onto the superficiality of adulthood and onto our culture in general.

Everyone at the studio is coached by an instructor on how to create a specific painting. For my friends, it was a design inspired by “Sunflowers” by van Gogh. The instructor gives you a canvas with the outline of the painting already traced onto it and a palette with only the shades you’ll need to mimic the instructor. This doesn’t mean painters cannot make their canvases unique. Owners Mary Lou Bradley and husband Joe Groom said that although a group of patrons may start with the same template, “We get a thousand different looks each time.”

So, even though Paint Monkey may sound like a version of paint-by-numbers with a real-life person telling you what goes where instead of digits, it’s quite different. It shows just how difficult it is to make adults get creative. And it does so by freeing its customers of their inhibitions, in that it allows them to worry less about messing up and producing something “ugly” and more about being a kid again.

As Bradley said of the templates, “We didn’t start out with them. We started out giving people a blank canvas. But we found out that it gives people too much anxiety without a template.”

Groom echoed his wife’s sentiment. 

“Seeing the sketch makes them a lot more comfortable to let go a little bit,” he said. “It gives them more power to experiment with colors and new mediums.”

Of course, paint-by-numbers doesn’t provide you with the same atmosphere that Paint Monkey does either. So if you’re looking to escape your living room, Paint Monkey does provide an engaging alternative.

It’s also a great option for people who want to spend a night catching up with friends while doing something besides porch hangouts in South Oakland. But there’s a reason Paint Monkey is great for socializing. According to the owners, the social environment, when paired with the template, further allows patrons to let go.

The social and creative aspect of their business, Bradley said, “are married together.”

“We want people to socialize but we also want them to go away with something they like,” she added.       

But what’s the point of the magenta sunflower that looks more like a stop sign than anything you’d find growing in your garden?

There is an inherent anxiety among our society about fitting in instead of being who we want to be. We’re more concerned with creating an acceptable-looking painting than with expressing our creativity.

Paint Monkey helps adults to express their creativity, but not without going to great lengths to make them comfortable. 

Perhaps not surprising, at their kids’ parties, most kids, “usually take blank canvasses,” Mary said.

So the real problem, it seems, lies with us adults. By providing all of these incentives, Paint Monkey is simply catering to an audience that’s scared to produce something unconventionally attractive.

This stigma extends beyond paintings, though. Fashion — one of the most widespread forms of art — is a great form of self-expression that’s not always utilized. Sometimes, we buy a piece of apparel because everyone else is wearing it, not because we genuinely identify with it. 

We need to start pushing artistic boundaries across all spectrums. If grape-colored lipstick and teal eyeliner are calling to you, rock it. Don’t be afraid to get a mohawk or a Pokémon-inspired tattoo or wear a bowtie in class. Bring on the diversity. Bring on the creativity. 

Of course, if designer charm bracelets and high-waisted shorts are your thing, that’s great, too. We just shouldn’t be afraid to be different, if that’s what we truly want to do.  

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