Monday, June 15, 2015

My doodles are not Zentangles

 I'm a compulsive doodler, and I've written about it several times before in my blog.  What I create are doodles, not Zentangles.  I want to talk a little here about the difference, and why you haven't even seen and won't ever see me presenting Zentangle art lessons here on this blog.  By the way, all images in this post are from the latest of several little sketchbooks I take with me to meetings or workshops, so that I can keep my hands busy while I focus my mind.  They are done mostly in a combination of black Sharpie and a set of multicolor Flair pens.

I first wrote a blog post on the topic of Zentangle vs doodle in March 2011, and while it is not in my list of most popular posts, it has certainly sparked more response than most other posts.  As a matter of fact, it has received more comments than any other post I've done since the inception of this blog, with today's total of 60 comments (yes, some of them are my responses to commenters, but there's still a lot.)  New comments still frequently appear on that post, so I know it is still a topic of interest.  I also wrote another post about doodling here, with the link to a great TED talk on doodling, too.
 
So why am I writing another post on the topic today? I've actually been planning it for quite some time, but I would see posts written by other bloggers, or in the Facebook Art Teacher group, about projects/lessons taught that incorporated Zentangle, and I did not want anyone who wrote these posts to think that my blog post was referring to them directly.  So I waited until a 'neutral' time to write this.  This blog post is not directed at any specific person but is intended to make you think about what you teach and why. 
 Here's my concern.  Throughout my long teaching career, my students did lessons and projects that incorporated line, texture, shape, balance, repetition, rhythm, pattern, unity, contrast, and so on.  If you are an art teacher, these words should be very familiar to you, since they are all part of the basic Elements of Art and Principles of Design.  The word 'Zentangle' appears nowhere in the Elements and Principles, nor will you find it in your Core Art Standards or in the Mathematics Standards either.  That's because Zentangle is a trademarked method taught by CZTs (Certified Zentangle Trainers).  In other words, it's a money-making business.  They teach classes and sell products. 

Searching the web, I came across a wiki that gave this definition: "A Zentangle is an abstract drawing created using repetitive patterns according to the trademarked Zentangle Method. True Zentangles are always created on 3.5 inch (8.9 cm) square tiles, and they are always done in black ink on white paper."  It further went on to say that it should without orientation (no up or down).  Already, I certainly know that MY doodles don't qualify.  Mine often incorporate color, they absolutely do have a certain intended orientation, and they are not square.  Further, they do not include the pencil shading that is a part of the Zentangle method.  
Then then I went to the official Zentangle® website, and I learned that "Zentangle's teaching materials are subject to copyright owned by Zentangle." According to the website, they have a patent pending on their teaching method.  Also, I found this: "Many aspects of the Zentangle® Method, including our materials and teaching tools, as well as the material on this site, are covered by copyright which is owned by Zentangle, Inc. All rights reserved."  (So it's a good thing I'm not calling my drawings Zentangles, I guess...)

If you are doing a project with your students that includes drawing something with a specific shape (whether a cat, a tree, an owl, a flower, a whale, an ice cream cone, or whatever...) and a major part of that lesson involves having your students divide up the internal space of the subject and fill each part with repeating patterns, rhythmic designs, or repetitive textural lines, WHY are you calling it a Zentangle?  Isn't it really a lesson on repetition?  On line?  On implied texture? And so on?  You can reference almost every Element and Principle in such a lesson, and that is much more valid to justify as part of your curriculum than calling it a Zentangle!  I would think your administration, looking at your curriculum, would much prefer seeing that you are teaching long-established elements of art and principles of design.  (Just my opinion, I know.)  As a matter of fact, I could probably dig through my ancient School Arts magazines and other resources from my early days teaching elementary art, and find many articles on lessons using repetitive pattern and design that were published before Zentangle® was ever conceived!
 Let's try to put this another way.  I love papier-mache.  Let's say I invent a specific papier-mache mixture, call it "Dragon Drool" (which is already the nickname my students use for mixed Art Paste), copyright it and sell it, train and certify "Dragon-Droolers" in training sessions that cost money to attend, and copyright my specific method calling it "Dragon-Drooling".  Now, every time you use papier-mache, should you be referencing my copyrighted name, even though you might not be doing the process the same way, or using the same material?  Even though you haven't been trained in Dragon-Drooling by a CDD ("Certified Dragon-Drooler")?  No!  You simply call it a papier-mache project!  Similarly, unless you are a CZT, and are using the specific process and materials outlined in official Zentangle classes, should any lesson in repetitive design be called "doing Zentangles"?  

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  In the meantime, please understand; this blog post is in no way criticizing the Zentangle process or the people who teach it.  I simply don't think it's what we are actually doing when we are teaching art to kids!

30 comments:

  1. Thank you this was very informative.

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    1. I hope it piqued your interest!

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  2. Very insightful Phyl. It's making me rethink some of my lessons.

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    1. Becca Ruth, you probably don't need to re-think your lessons; you just need to re-think the terminology you use! Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Yea!! Someone finally stood up and revealed that the Emperor was naked!! Kudos, Phyl!😎

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    1. I'm waiting for someone to attack back...

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  4. Thank you! Well thought out and well written.

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  5. Amen!
    Not really sure why this was a copy writeable process to begin with honestly...

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  6. I am glad you wrote this. I took a Zentangle workshop about 4 yrs ago and was appalled at the kits(pens/pencils/tiles etc)starting at 50 dollars. Thankfully we were not required to purchase the kits but I balked at the formulaic "tangles" that were being taught to achieve the process. The teacher(certified)was patient but I could see she was getting frustrated with me since I was breaking the rules of the tangles. I have been teaching for 35 yrs and bristle that my design projects with the students are associated with the zentangle movement. These are the same parents that were gung-ho with scrapbooking just recently and have now embraced the NEXT BIG THING.I did want to mention that zentangles do incorporate color though;check out the websites/books and pinterest examples. The zentangle classes near me are using color for jewelry versions too. I will remain a stubborn art teacher about this for the time being teaching my 7 basic lines of design mode.

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  7. So I just did remark on the post from 2011, in which I mentioned the emperor's new clothes....

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    1. Deborah, I get an email notification of all comments, so I saw that comment and will respond! Thanks!

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    2. no worries...just noting the irony! Great minds and all that!!

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  8. it is good to see this laid out in black and white and all the colours of the rainbow, insightful and informative article

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  9. I also love to doodle and use intricate patterns. People have asked me "Do you Zentangle?!" and it makes me a little prickly because I do not believe that my personal doodles and artwork are part of the prescribed step-by-step methodology that Zentangle endorses. Nor do I think that this way of creating art will expand young learner's minds. I agree with one of the commenters above that it is indeed a fad. It is important for our students to learn contemporary artists and art making skills but this 'doodle for profit' business takes it a bit too far for my liking. It is very refreshing to see someone speak out about this. Thank you for your post!

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    1. It is heartening to find there are so many like-minded people on this topic! We've got to be willing to speak out, or this business will continue to inappropriately worm its way into art classrooms. A copyrighted technique by a for-profit business does not belong in school art curriculums.

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  10. Thanks for posting on this topic. I have been confused about the whole Zentangle thing. I just didn't get what was new about it. Thanks for spelling out the particulars.

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    1. You're welcome! How have you been??

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  11. Great post, very insightful and informative. I never think about those times I have students doing repetition, pattern, etc as being a Zentangle but I have used Zentangles with an especially unfocused group once telling them that it was Zen and relaxing. Looks as if I definitely strayed from the intent of the certified teachers because I also didn't let them copy any of the designs but insisted they come up with their own. I'll drop the use of the word for now on because I realize, I haven't been doing it anyway!!!

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  12. I am a compulsive doodler too and always laugh with my older students that I probably invented Zentangles myself but didn't know I did it! I actually show them my notebook that I take to meetings with me and the doodles inside that I work on during the meetings and talk about how it helps me to focus on what the meeting is talking about. And also how I used to get told off at school for doodling in the margins of my books and papers. Of course I don't teach Zentangles the way a Zentangle teacher would as that would be too restrictive. I teach pattern, line, repitition etc always using the correct vocab and encouraging the students to do so as well. And we talk a lot about how drawing and doodling are good for your brain, your fine motor muscles, and that a lot of people, adults and children alike, find it very relaxing, and perhaps a bit 'Zen" - and that's probably why whoever the copyright holder is came up with such a catchy name. So I'll happily use the word Zentangle with my students as it is just another art vocab word that represents a restrictive form of pattern making with too masny rules for true crestivity, if you ask me. And if my grade 3 students tell me they created a Zentangle hand they can still talk about the patterns they made, how they used line and shape and repitition, how they saw a pattern on their friend's hand, were inspired and adapted it and altered it to add it to their hand and that's when I know that their learning is much greater than the value of one insignificant word that will come and go as all flimsy trends do. I'm sure you and I Phyl will continue doodling and teaching about pattern and line long after Zentangles have bitten the dust!

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  13. I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog! I'm an artist and illustrator who has been a little miffed at the whole Zentangle phenomenon. I think it's pretty limiting for creative doodling to be confined to a set of prescribed steps with a particular brand of pen on a tiny piece of paper. Your post was refreshing and encouraging and your work is beautiful. Thanks for taking time to share both your sketchbook and your thoughts.

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    1. Stacy, thanks for your comment. Ironically, this is still an argument I'm having with many art teachers! But I'll keep staying what I think, and what I'm confident is right in this situation.

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  14. Thank you for your post. I've been doodling ever since I could hold a pen. We're talking a few decades. I know my doodles pre-date Zentangles. The main important difference I see is that doodling is free. You can draw as you like, wherever your imagination takes you. You can keep your doodles to yourself or you can share them without fear of copyright infringement.

    Thank you again for your post!

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  15. Cavemen 'doodled' on the cave walls. We see concentric circles, waves, Zig zags, etc. This is the kind of doodling that I did back in the 1960s! Trying to copyright doodling is like trying to copyright the 'in' breath. It's ok to breathe out but if you breathe in, you gotta pay us! Absurd! Where does Escher fit into all
    this? Honestly, I agree with all your points. That said... I'm gonna go doodle!!!

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  16. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm am quite troubled when I hear CZT saying they through zentangle art, they can see if their 'patients' are frustrated or angry. how did they end up doing an art therapist role after attending a 5 day workshop?

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