Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
CONTINUING THE ADVENTURES OF TEACHING KIDS ART!
I__™ve mentioned before that most dreaded assignment I give any of my students is the notorious self portrait. No single project garners more gripes and groans than the ominous chore of being left alone with pencil, paper, and mirror. It should come as no surprise that this is one of my favorite projects to assign, not because I__™m sadistic and enjoy torturing my students, although they would argue otherwise. There are actually two main reasons for my enthusiasm with the self portrait; the first of which is consistently seeing students perform far better than they ever imagined. This certainly isn__™t true for every student, but each semester there are a handful of kids who truly get involved in their portraits and end up with some fantastic drawings. I__™ll never tire of watching students amaze themselves.
The second reason for my fondness with the self portrait is the lecture I give the day before the students begin work. My excitement is not so much with the lecture as I__™ve prepared it, which is actually a cheesy little PowerPoint with some intentionally goofy mug shots of myself as examples. My excitement is with the factual information I get to share with the kids. I get energized because nearly every time I give this lecture, a majority of the class stares at me with a mix of curiosity and disbelief. Their intrigue stems from the fact that most of them have never heard the facts I share with them that day, and yet they__™ve been staring them in the face, literally, their entire lives. And if I__™ve done my job correctly, during this lecture I can carefully, gently open a philosophical, even spiritual door, and pray that they will be bold enough to walk through it and explore. The name of this lecture is, ___The Eyes Have It___
The content of the lecture itself, facial proportions, is fairly inconspicuous. Initially it seems rather dull. After all, the human face is so ingrained into our collective psyche that it is arguably the one image with which we are all most familiar. In fact, the specific configuration of two eyes, a nose, and mouth is so recognizable that our imagination allows us to see ___faces___ everywhere in the world around us. Ironically enough, with all the time we spend looking at and seeing faces, a vast majority of the population seem unaware of exactly how fascinating our faces are in regards to their arrangement.
Most of my students are familiar with one of the most important proportions of the human face, at least, that__™s what they think. In fact, most people seem to know that the eyes are placed about three-fourths the way up the face from the chin. There are a great many art teachers that even teach the handy trick of first drawing an oval to represent the face, then a vertical line done the middle to position the nose, and finally a horizontal line, about three-fourths the way up, to help place the eyes. (Anyone else remember this convenient gimmick?) The problem with it is that it__™s inaccurate. Our eyes are actually right smack dab in the middle of our faces. None of my students ever believe me, so I have them check. Using a pencil and a mirror you can prove this to yourself. Place the eraser end of the pencil at the midline of your eye, and use your thumb to mark the bottom of your chin on the pencil. You__™ll find this is the same increment from the middle of your eyes to the top of your head, when staring straight ahead. Try it. Our eyes are in the middle of our head.
This fact alone is responsible for more ___lobotomies___ in the art world than perhaps any other proportion. The eyes get placed to high and the rest of the face ends up looking off kilter. The eyes, however, have a lot more to offer in terms of accurate facial representations. (At the risk of preaching to the choir, I__™ll try and remain brief.) There is the width of one eye in between our eyes, as well as between each eye and the edge of our head. The corners of our mouths are positioned exactly beneath the middle of each eye. What__™s more, it is a span of two eye widths from our eyes down to our mouths. There is even the height of one eye between our top lip and the bottom of our nose.
During the lecture my slide show goes on to demonstrate these proportions with a cut out of one of my eyes bouncing around to reveal these curious measurements. There are some other odd proportions that are worth mentioning in the interest of being thorough. The bottom of our chin to the bottom of our nose is equivalent to the tip of our nose to the top of our brow. Similarly, the bottom of our chin to the bottom lip is the same as the bottom lip to the bottom of the nose. When all these proportions are used in coordination, you find our faces are continually divided into halves. In the distance between the top of the head and the chin, our eyes mark the half. From the eyes to the chin, the nose split__™s the difference. Finally, the lips are half way between the nose and chin.
I understand that all of this can be terribly confusing and dull, especially when simply listed off in a couple of paragraphs. I__™m also conscious of the fact that a great many of you are likely already aware of these proportions. I share these with you so I can make the same point I make with my students. Our human face is an amazingly intricate construction of staggeringly subtle complexity. But perhaps the most fascinating detail of all concerning facial proportions is the fact that we all share the same basic layout. The differences between your face and a vacuum cleaner repairman in Germany are surprisingly few. The details that differentiate your appearance from anyone else on the globe are exceedingly miniscule. Fundamentally we all have the same basic foundational design. Allow that to soak into for a minute. The current estimates state that there are nearly 6.7 billion people on the planet, and yet there is only ONE basic layout for all our faces. Even as an artist, I find it nearly impossible to fathom that level of creative divergence from a single design.
Obviously, as a public school teacher I have to dance very carefully around this issue and choose my words carefully. But there are those that believe, myself included, that this is astonishingly strong evidence to support the existence of God, or at least Intelligent Design. Ultimately it__™s a decision everyone must make for themselves, but it is one I would encourage you to give some sincere thought.
In the end, what I hope students get out of the lecture, besides the knowledge needed to draw themselves a bit more successfully, is a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity. If there are new things to be discovered in something as banal and mundane as their own face, imagine what there is to find and explore in the rest of the world. There are discoveries waiting to be revealed by simply taking the time to look a little more carefully, a little more closely. There are mysteries to be unlocked, and where might the key be? The eyes have it.