Do you really need a *certified* instructor to teach doodling?
September 5, 2012 9:22 PM   Subscribe

What is the straight dope on zentangle?

My mother is prone to woo and scammy stuff. She often gets into things which seem to be based on some "alternative x" philosophy (usually about making your life better/healthier/happier) but on closer inspection turns out to be primarily designed to extract money out of lonely, trusting people.

So tonight she told me she's taking classes from a certified (?) zentangle instructor. She says it's art for the non-visually inclined or something. I tried to google it but basically can't find anything that isn't either an obvious shill for paid zentangle stuff, or in an oddly cranky case, a sort of conspiracy theory thing about how it's a rip off of another artist's idea (Nadia Russ?) which she calls NeoPopRealism. Couldn't seem to find anything neutrally voiced about that either.

Anyone with an art or art history background able to shed some light on this? I actually quite like the designs, and I would really like to believe this is not another lazy/shady* attempt at money-grabbing but my BS sensor is pinging a little at the moment.

Or am I being way too skeptical here?

*When I showed Mrs. Creature some of the designs the first thing she said was "oh, that looks like the doodles my dad does when he's bored." And she's right, they look almost exactly like that. So I'm at a loss for what a certified instructor is doing here.
posted by Doleful Creature to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Thoughts from a therapist.
posted by unliteral at 9:57 PM on September 5, 2012

It depends: How much is she paying for these classes?

I used to "Zentangle" in high school on the backs of notebooks. Doodling line-dense patterns has been done forever, and yes, it is scammy to brand it as something new and imply it is more "Zen" than any other kind of drawing is.

I think your mother would be better off taking drawing classes at a community center, which, incidentally, are usually not very judgmental and very accommodating to the "non-visually inclined." But if Zentangle classes cost the same as whatever the local park district charges for art classes, then there's not much harm done. This doesn't seem that different from the many other miracle drawing instruction methods for People Who Can't Draw.

I'd be more concerned for the Certified Teachers, who may be paying an exorbitant fee for their certification.
posted by ignignokt at 11:11 PM on September 5, 2012

Response by poster: That therapist link is a little misleading. At first he seems like a neutral observer (and claims to be) but then there's like four other posts basically singing the praises of zentangle, explaining why zentangle is more than just doodling, and he even has a permanent link to the main zentangle site on his is he really just an observer or is he an evangelist? He does seem to be a bona fide therapist so the lack of disclaimer concerns me.

But assuming he is writing in good faith, this little blurb gets me:
The 102 “tangles” are a form of standardized notation, much as in music, that students first learn to master. Each Certified Zentangle Teacher learns to master these 102 tangles so as to be able to teach students to make art in the first two classroom hours. Standardized tangles make classroom instruction possible. The students soon learn to recognize these tangles in a complex looking piece of art the way musicians recognize chord structure in someone else's music.
The implication being that this is somehow more optimal than regular old art classes. Is that true? I've never taken an art class but I have taken music classes and the explanation seems off. As ignignokt mentions community art classes are possibly cheaper and certainly are also non-judgmental, and they would be teaching a "form of standardized notation", i.e. sketching techniques, looking at line and form and light...that being said I would be pretty nonbothered by it if it's comparable in price to a community class. But also again, why not just take the community class? What makes zentangle better than traditional drawing lessons? See this is where I start to get that funny feeling.

I'm happy to be wrong about this, it just really weirds me out that I can't find any wikipedia-style NPOV writing about it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:37 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

My coworker was into zentangles for while. She even joined a yahoo group that had challenges for different designs. It is just drawing. I don't see anything wrong with it. Your mom could probably find a book on it that might be cheaper than an instructor.
posted by amapolaroja at 12:31 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It depends to some degree on whether ones sees it as a hobby, therapy, or hobby-as-therapy.

As a hobby, it looks harmless and, for most people, something that will have a certain shelf life. Concerns for me would be the front loading of expensive and exclusive materials or courses.

As a therapy, it offers little beyond what any structured doodling would offer. Some benefits in terms of creativity and expression, and *some* sense of satisfaction at finding something and learning to become better at it to give oneself a bit more purpose and self-confidence. But the same rules apply as for a hobby, front loading costs heavily is a no-no. More so if there is implied or overt pressure to buy in to the full shebang or else it will not work.

As a hobby-as-therapy it also looks fairly harmless. But, like with every hobby group or community there are a whole raft of benefits from meeting others and just *getting out there* and finding that the world accepts you, validates you and values you. The doodling itself is fairly besides the point. Look here: the dog whistle is that zentangle is a meeting place for slightly arty middle aged women with the odd goateed bloke thrown in for a bit of spice.

On the site itself: the materials are expensive for doodling but not prohibitively so. The group is free to join. It looks a bit woo to me but my [limited] experience is that these things work to extract money two ways: from the teachers to learn how to be "certified" and from the punters to buy the exlcusive materials. My primary concerns would be that:

- the certification is likely to be arbitrary and therefore the quality of the teaching and the oversight of the teaching process (fees, approach, structure) poor to non-existent. In short: the issue is not with zentangle itself as a thing but that how well someone fares, what they get out of it and what they pay is down to the teacher.
- the secondary goal of zentangle is to get participants to become teachers. It's the classic Avon Lady model - higher up front costs *and* a bunch of people who take all the risk and advocate for your company. Like Avon Ladies, it can be fulfilling and rewarding for gregarious, self-sellers with a knack for creating a hero-to-zero narrative. And dispiriting and why the hell did I think I could do this for the rest.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:27 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My friend too a Zentangle class mainly because she's an artsy-craftsy type and decorates gourds and birdhouses and things that she sells at craft shows and wanted to learn the basics. She also holds workshops at some of the shows demonstrating various methods for painting and decorating these items. She mentioned to me while I was admiring some of her handiwork that when she shows the types of inks and pens and procedures used for producing Zentangle-like designs, she cannot use the word "Zentangle" to describe anything because she's not a "certified" Zentangle instructor and the name is apparently trademarked or something.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:47 AM on September 6, 2012

8 "took" a class, that is.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:48 AM on September 6, 2012

Best answer: If she's enjoying taking the art class, that's fantastic. She's making pretty things and having a good time.
Zentangle stuff sounds like it can get kind of weird, with all the structure and copyrights, and the planned flow of money, but the basic first-rung concept looks great: take a class, buy some pens, make pretty things. The "certified" nature of the instructor is not really important. If your mom were taking "wine and watercolors" classes in the church basement, the only indication that the lady leading the class really has a clue is that she's enthusiastic and interested and confident enough to lead a class - and there's no guarantee that the watercolors lady won't talk all about paint and her spiritual journey instead of just how to put paint on the page.
So your Mom's taking a Zentangle class. Stay in touch, be enthusiastic about her art, and save your skepticism for if/when she starts getting involved with any weirder or more expensive aspects of it. If you freak out now and tell her that drawing doodles is practically joining a cult, she may shut down communications and not tell you when she signs up for a $2000 retreat.
posted by aimedwander at 7:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all, this is good information. For the record, the only thing I've said to my mom was "I think it's really cool that you're taking an art class," and I'm content to leave it at that. I just got weirded out when doing personal research on the subject, hence the question.

I agree that she doesn't need my approval for anything and it's not really my business either, so I will leave her to it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:05 AM on September 6, 2012

Best answer: FWIW, I think it's absolutely your business to be concerned about your mother, if as you say she "is prone to woo and scammy stuff." Good son/daughter. Older people are specifically targeted by grifters and snake-oil vendors.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:33 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I stumbled across ZenTangle earlier this year, and was briefly interested, checking out blogs and so on. It's possible to try the techniques for free and the supplies are really only a pen and paper (they suggest very nice pen and paper, but it's not required.) I used some of the free Tangle data bases for fodder for some of the line drawings I was doing.

The structured nature of the hobby is meant to improve flow, I think, which is something many of us could use more of, but I quickly got turned off by the regimented nature of the technique and the "certified Zentangle" instructor stuff. I can see, though, that the structure would really appeal to someone who wants to be told exactly what to do, and is insecure in their artistic endeavors.

Like my mom! My mom enjoys creative pursuits (sewing) but is too insecure to make anything outside the rigid structure of a class demo. She recently took a Zentangle for Quilters class. As far as I know, she hasn't joined any cults as a result.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:32 AM on September 6, 2012

If mom wants to doodle, let her doodle.
I find it so hard to believe that someone has monetized something I did with a Bic ink pen and college ruled notebook paper when I was bored in high school Algebra.
posted by THAT William Mize at 12:51 PM on September 6, 2012

Response by poster: One more update: turns out the class she went to was free, and not taught by a certified zentangle instructor. Nothing to worry about, seems like a totally normal and fun hobby. Yay hobbies!
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:38 PM on September 6, 2012

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