Friday, February 8, 2008
I have been thinking about teaching lately -- thinking about what should be taught. One finds plenty of books in the stores. They typically show a series of steps, a series of ideas represented in different stages of a picture. The books are okay, as far as they go, in giving someone who has never thought about drawing a way of starting. However, they have the great disadvantage of starting one in the path of convention, of teaching people to see a subject in terms of predetermined ideas. In sharp contrast to that, a real picture deals with ideas in some kind of hidden order of attention and meaning. Your eye goes to this place or that for sometimes mysterious reasons.
In real life, pictures can also sometimes stop abruptly. One has lost the idea, or become temporarily derailed. It is not a matter of not knowing how to draw, but of not knowing what to draw. Sometimes the unfinish of the image is more evocative than adding to it would be. Sometimes a painting has to ripen slowly, or to age like a wine. You set it aside and let it stand as an object of meditation. It's like a dream that has been interrupted.
An image can go through stages that have nothing to do with convention. There is no proper way to draw a thing because there is no proper way to think about it or experience it. The life in the image has to be lived in the mind of the artist first if it is ever to live in the mind and heart of the spectator.
I've learned over the years to trust my artistic instincts, and I find that sometimes I'm "composing" things when I least expect it -- as when I rearrange pictures in the studio as part of an effort to "clean up" or to organize work or because I'm looking for something. I often find that the pictures I place next to each other, however casually and with no evident purpose, often times reveals formal relationships between images that I had failed to notice.
In the picture above I put some canvases that I meant to work on out where I could see them. The still life of flowers was already leaning against the wall. It was with a little double-take that I noticed that the features of the landscape are very similar to the forms of the cloth in the still life and to its out of focus design. The comparison is perhaps more interesting for the fact that the landscape is based on a drawing of Van Gogh's which I decided to make into a painting.
Sometimes it seems as if I am just painting one picture, it appears in many forms, but it's the same picture underneath the various manifestations.
Well, something like that probably is happening. The "picture" I'm painting is the structure of my own thoughts.
Delacroix said so wisely that the artist paints the self. It is not narcissism to do so, but necessity.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
It's always wonderful discovering a new instance of bold drawing. It's especially wonderful when the example comes from my kid. The drawing illustrated here arose from a process that I've observed before in my daughter: she sees a subject that is "too hard," "too complicated." In her simplication of the "hard" subject, she discovers a beautiful and elegant economy of means.
It's a wonderful lesson. Learn to think like a child. See the world anew.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
["You must redraw the same thing, ten times, a hundred times." -- Edgar Degas]
It's not so much that one makes a bad drawing. The problem is that one fails to make hundreds of bad drawings -- in order to understand the thing and to find the good drawing.
I spent a hour or so wandering the National Gallery of Art. Wanted to reconnect with some pictures I hadn't seen in a while. I've written about the plague of hipness and its detrimental effect on modern art at some length already in previous posts. So it was with some irony that I noticed a book on the new books table of NGA's bookstore called The Birth of the Cool. Yes, well, I suppose that proves my point.
But if hipness is the illness, what then is the cure?
I looked at many things, a very odd assortment -- Dutch 17th century paintings generally, including a new acquisition by Salomon Van Ruisdael, and "Mary Queen of Heaven" by the Master of the Saint Lucy Altarpiece, some French 19th century landscapes by academic painters, and a whole mish mash generally.
But I stopped among the Degas sculptures and drew horses briefly, using the only thing I had, a ball point pen. As I was drawing, I was struggling a little with being able to see (my contacts were not good drawing eye wear), but I focused on what I was seeing in the sculptures by asking myself this question: "What was Degas looking at or remembering when he made these sculptures of horses?" So I let myself get lost in the forms and just doodled the ideas that I had, my ideas, as I looked. I was, in other words, trying to "draw from life" while drawing from his sculpture of, his idea of, a horse. The drawing at the top of the post is one of Degas's off-hand horse drawings, and below it is one of the drawings I made today while looking at his sculpture.
I was thinking with the pen in my hand