School of Education News

NPR interviews UW-Madison’s Barry about 'Genius Grant' recognition

December 18, 2019

National Public Radio (NPR) recently interviewed UW-Madison’s Lynda Barry, one of this year’s recipients of the MacArthur Foundation's "Genius Grants."

Barry is a professor of interdisciplinary creativity with the School of Education’s Art Department and holds the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art. She joined the faculty in 2013 after serving as the spring 2012 artist in residence at the Arts Institute, and is recognized for her unique style and approachable books and comics.

Her graphic novel “What It Is” won the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality Based Graphic Novel. Her other books include “Picture This” and “Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor.” Barry’s work aims to understand and harness the creative process to help students and researchers advance their work in the arts, humanities, and sciences.

Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry
The artist spoke to NPR about "genius," which she doesn’t believe is necessary to create comics or art. Barry comments on the term: “It could mean anything. ... I guess what I mean by that would be that they’re able to do stuff in a way that I can’t track back to how they were able to do that thing. Sometimes that even applies to 4-year-olds I work with.”

The specialness of kids’ drawings appears multiple times in her most recent book, “Makings Comics,” in which Barry suggests that children’s drawing stems from the movement of their hands, not intention. However, she tells NPR, around the age of 5, when a kid enters the school system, they experience a split between drawing and writing that prevents this kind of intention-lacking drawing. 

Barry explains that some people assume you have to know what you’re going to draw before you start drawing. “That’s one of the things I’ve seen when people instruct kids to draw,” she tells NPR. “They start by telling them how important the paper is. You don’t want to waste paper. So, you want to sit and think carefully about what it is you’re going to draw before you draw it.”

In Barry’s practice and teaching, though, she aims to help others unlearn these assumptions. She suggests that there is another kind of drawing — different from representational drawing — that “has to come out of your body.” For her, this means following what her hand is doing and moving past the image in her head. 

Read NPR's complete interview with Barry here.

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