Hand in Glove: The Pencil as Metaphor
While armchair students critique a pencil, often the challenge for the unarticulated works to actually shape the meaningful conversation around their continued ownership of the piece is coming to terms with the belief that individuality is defined through the pencil’s unique color and ergonomic hold. The pencil contains, according to Philip Mehegan, an “inert piece of bronze” that embodies a person’s sense of self. And while color and pencilled shapes are important, the wider ecosystem of social and psychological ties that can run beneath the surface will ultimately determine its place in a student’s life.
“The fact that someone can create with a pencil is but a small part of what makes the pencil so special,” says Mehegan, a professor of art history at Yale. “When you consider the history of pencil, it’s a personal, sentient object that holds a special meaning in people’s lives.”
For Mehegan, pencils’ history is informed by the importance of articulation, how they are literally sculpted by the hands of artists. But what has helped to transcend the medium’s reliance on the artist is the inherent appeal of whimsy to provide a reminder that each and every pencil is original and singular.
“The secret to the circumflex of the pencil is in the sensation of the object as a person-portrait,” says Mehegan. “The characteristics [of the scissor-crescent shape] are based on the manual dexterity and emotional challenge of the artist, who is continually translating human experience into object.” This is something both designers and hand-in-glove armchair students in a digital world can capitalize on to stimulate a student’s critical thinking skills. Pencils’ history has a collective value on college campuses and beyond for bringing to light how the act of statement making has historically evolved in the midst of the important personal journey of creation.