The Dark, Forgotten History of Coloring Books

Were not coloring books our introduction to the art world? Indeed, isn't our painting all about coloring within and without the lines? Where did we learn how to color our pictures? Why does everything have to turn into something designed to control us?
Actually, I think my first introduction to art were the picture books by Richard Scarry:


I don't remember a lot of coloring books. I was more likely to draw and color on my own.

I do agree that historically "coloring" has been less respected than drawing. The Italian term "disegno" meant drawing... but it also mean composition or design. If you ever read Vasari's Lives of the Artists you'll find that he underrated the Venetian artists as opposed to the Florentines and Romans because they were more focused upon color than drawing... or line. This bias continued into the 18th century where there was a debate of "Line vs Color" or Ingres vs Delacroix. I love both artists... and I would point out that Ingres was a brilliant colorist. Even more recently, the painter Howard Hodgkin pointed out that his paintings... rooted in color... didn't fit in with the Anglo-American bias for tonal painting... or what he deemed "mud". He pointed out that Rubens would not be as respected as he is if he wasn't such a brilliant draftsman as well as a colorist. I love saturated colors... but as a kid I hated painting. I couldn't control paint to the same extent as I could control detailed lines in pencil. Were coloring books designed to control us? I doubt it. Some may have attempted to use them to such a purpose but I doubt that was the majority. I do agree that many adults today may have turned to coloring books as a means of relaxation... and escaping stress. Such stress may be more now... but has always been around. I bought a lot of adult coloring books some years ago to give to my older students when they complete their assigned work.
My first coloring book memory was traumatic and soul-destroying.

I was five years old, and had colored the last page of my book—all simple line drawings with the colors to use in each space printed in bold letters with an arrow pointing to the appropriate area. I chose different colors: colored the shirt that was to be green, yellow, the pants that were to blue, became green, etc, and joyously took it to school to show Sister Norberta, my first grade teacher, who immediately and loudly scolded me for not being able to read or follow directions.

My own young kids got a sheet of paper to scribble spaces on and color however they wanted.

The 1960’s prang crayons are softer and more blend-able than crayolas ever were, (I have about 18) then prang changed the recipe. I now prefer oil pastels (several brands, large variety of colors) to crayons, but of course PAINT—wc, gauoche, or OIL to pastels, and again, a LOT of colors.
What do nuns know about coloring? Too bad you didn't have Sister Wendy running art at your school. Sorry you went through that. I prefer oil pastels too, or for coloring, I actually prefer the soft oil color pencils.