A Question of Art vs. Science Settled by Harold and the Purple Crayon

March 27, 2013 — 1 Comment

There is always a “first mover”, the one who starts the action. A creator.

But is this creator an artist? Or is this creator a scientist?

A recent broadcast on National Public Radio puts the evidence solidly in artist’s corner. This evidence is in the form of the 3-D Doodler, a new device featured on Marketplace as an invention funded through Kickstarter. The 3-D Doodler is a thick pen not unlike a glue gun that exudes a ribbon of thin plastic that hardens into the shape being drawn. There was a team of scientists and engineers who created the 3-D Doodler.

The video demonstrates how the 3-D Doodler operates like a pen that continues to write even after it is lifted from a surface allowing the writer to operate without a canvas. There are no limits to the size of the creation; the only limit is the supply of plastic. Oh, and the power source.

But, a crayon does not need a power source. A crayon only needs a hand and an imagination. Especially if the crayon is the beautiful color purple.

Before the 3-D Doodler, there was Harold and the Purple Crayon

Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon was first published in 1955, and was voted one of the “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal. Loved by children of several generations, Harold’s creativity endures.

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 9.40.03 PMHis story begins,

“One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.”

On the right hand side of the first page, Harold’s distinctive large round head and wide eyes are turned expectantly to a blank space in the top right corner of the page. Clenched in his right hand is a purple crayon; he has just completed a full page drawing of intersecting lines on the opposite page.

“There wasn’t any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight.”

On the next page, standing on his tiptoes in his full bodysuit, Harold draws a slice of the moon.

“And he needed something to walk on.”

Bending over, Harold draws a straight line and “sets off on his walk taking his big purple crayon with him.” Harold travels through a forest, past a dragon, on the ocean, to the beach, up a mountain, in a hot air balloon, through a maze of city buildings, until he finally finds his way back into his bedroom through an open window. At the end of the story, Johnson displays the sophisticated word play that makes the story so much fun to read aloud. Harold is in his bedroom, where he:

“…made his bed. He got in and he drew up the covers.”

Get it? He “made” the bed? “Drew” up the covers”? Johnson was a genius. An artistic genius.

The success of Harold and the Purple Crayon was extended by Johnson in a number of sequels. Harold’s imagination allowed him to travel through numerous landscapes:

  • Harold’s Fairy Tale 1956
  • Harold’s Trip to the Sky 1957
  • Harold’s Circus’s 1959
  • Harold’s ABC 1963

The series gave rise to a video puzzle game, Crayon Physics. However, the artist Harold was not limited by the laws of physics. The crayon was not bound to wear and tear. The canvases were large and blank and ready for a creator.

The new 3D Doodler can also be used to write on a large blank canvas. However, this new technology is seriously limited by the need for a power source and a continuous supply of “ink.”

In deciding the case of which came first, the artist or the scientist, the evidence is illustrated quite literally in doodles. These doodles are in purple, not plastic. Harold is a first mover whose imagination continues to inspire. Sorry, 3D Doodler, in this landscape of creation, Harold the artist comes first.

One response to A Question of Art vs. Science Settled by Harold and the Purple Crayon


    I love Harold and the Purple Crayon!

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