By Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick
Ramon takes complete delight in drawing “anytime, anything, anywhere”. But his pleasure suddenly turns into frustration and shame when his older brother Leon points and laughs at Ramon’s drawing of a vase of flowers. From this moment, Ramon attempts to make his drawings “look right” and loses all enjoyment in the process and eventually gives up in anger. However, Ramon’s attitude toward his art work changes again when he finds that his younger sister Marisol had been sneaking his crumpled drawings into her room and hanging them on her wall.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Karen Grossi
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds illustrates the transformation of a young boy’s relationship with his art and his outlook on life. The philosophical topic central to the story is the concept of perfection both as it relates to realism in art and the nature of perfection as a worthy motivation or achievable goal. The main character’s primary pursuit is artistic expression and therefore the philosophical field of aesthetics may be introduced and discussed.
The first question set seeks to introduce the concept of perfection in relation to art and asks the students to think about what Ramon was attempting to do when he wanted to make his drawings “look right” in response to his brother’s laughter at one of his drawings. Was Ramon striving for perfection? Was Ramon seeking his brother’s approval? Was he simply practicing to improve his skills? The set then continues and asks directly whether the students like certain drawings or art that do not “look right”. This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce examples of art from different periods to initiate and enliven the discussion. This question deals with realism in art and whether realism is necessary for art to be considered “good”. An aspect of aesthetics is the attempt to answer whether beauty can be defined objectively or is always purely a subjective matter. The intent is to have the students think about why they prefer of dislike particular works of art and begin to develop their own artistic criteria.
The second question set juxtaposes improvement and perfection and essentially asks the students to define each. Does perfection denote completeness, excellence or that there is nothing better of its kind? It also asks the students to think about whether improvement and perfection are the same, how they may differ or how they are enmeshed. The tension in this set rests in whether things that are considered perfect can be improved upon. The notion of perfection has long been debated in philosophical and religious circles. Some philosophers believe that the only perfection is imperfection, while others believe that perfection is achievable by humankind and still others that believe God is the only being capable of perfection.
The third question set addresses enjoyment as motivation. There are two points in Ish where Ramon takes complete delight in making his art and one point where his enjoyment suddenly evaporates. The first question asks how Ramon was impacted by his brother’s and sister’s reactions to his work and whether his connection to his art changed as a result. A flow chart would be helpful for the students to see the relationships between what Ramon’s siblings said, how Ramon felt and then what actions he took in response to his feelings. This could instigate a discussion about cause and effect and whether we can consider our emotions to be motivating factors. Is reacting to our emotions the same as responding? Do the comments Ramon’s siblings make cause him to behave a certain way? This question set explores ethical considerations such as why human beings proceed with their activities, what are “good” or “appropriate” reasons for our actions and how we are influenced by our emotions.
The fourth set involves questions concerning criticism and further explores emotions as they relate to the creative process. The first two questions are designed to have the students step into Ramon’s place- how would they respond to positive or negative comments and how would either affect their relationship to their art? Here, they are asked if particular emotions impact the creative process- whether the result of making art is influenced by our emotional state while we are creating. Can artists create a piece that looks happy if they are feeling sad? It may be helpful to refer to the page in the book that displays Ramon’s drawings of his feelings.
The last question set explores goals and returns to the nature of perfection. The students are invited to think about whether they enjoy doing something that they believe (or others think) they are not very good at. Does it matter if artists receive praise or criticism? Is the fact that they like their own work enough? The next question follows by asking if things are worth doing if perfection cannot be attained, which should elicit other intentions aside from perfection. Is it important to think about why you do something? Should we judge our goals, and if so, how do we decide what is a “good” goal?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
By Karen Grossi
Realism in art
"Ramon kept trying to make his drawings look right."
Perfection and improvement
Enjoyment as motivation
Emotion and creativity
Goals of doing
"Leon burst out laughing. ‘What is that?’ he asked"