When word came this fall that she was receiving an honor worth $625,000, Lynda Barry knew what she would do with it: spend money on artists at their most pure — those who had only recently stopped wearing diapers.

Barry, the indie comics creator turned cutting-edge educator, had just been given the MacArthur Fellows Program “genius grant” — only the second female graphic novelist to win the award, after Alison Bechdel. Barry was praised not only for “inspiring creative engagement through original graphic works,” but also for her “teaching practice centered on the role of image making in communication.”

As an associate professor of interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Barry is pushing the envelope on understanding how the brain creates and responds to words and pictures — a scholarly envelope that, in her mind, should be positively covered with illuminating doodles.

As part of her mission, Barry thinks preschoolers hold many secrets to creativity, before education and social expectations have trained their natural artistry out of them. Now, buoyed by the MacArthur windfall, Barry can plunge into this subject area more deeply.

“That’s something I’d like to do — to get literally on the floor with these 4-year-olds and spend a year at least just figuring out: What happens before writing and drawing split, and why did we split those things — and what happens when we do split them?” Barry said by phone while on tour for her new educational graphical book “Making Comics.” The book shares creativity exercises from her popular classes and workshops, which span campuses to prisons.

“The arts has a critical function for kids,” writes Barry, noting that we draw and act and sing and build things before anyone teaches us how to do so. “Everything we have come to call the arts,” she adds, “seems to be in almost every 3-year-old.”

Read more at The Washington Post