Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
Originally published April 17, 2008 http://artid.com/members/mize/blog/
It seems that a large portion of my work in teaching kids art is trying to convince students of the validity of concepts that, on the surface, seem quite contrary. Often times, it is only after these paradoxical notions are fully understood that a student will begin to see any real progress in their work. Add to this conundrum the fact that, in art, many of the significant lessons are not entirely logical or concrete. They are really more like intangible perceptions to reflect upon during the creative process; allowing them the opportunity to influence and inspire the direction of a piece. Perhaps my favorite of these vague theories is the importance of learning to see.
Drawing, for example, has more to do with your eyes than your hand. This is an idea that I spend a great deal of time attempting to forcibly insert into the minds of my drawing students. Most students evaluate the merit of a drawing based on how "real" it looks. Because of this, many students end up frustrated when their drawings do not hold up under this kind of scrutiny. I insist they understand that in order for their drawings to improve, they must first change how they look at the world around them.
We often trod like zombies through our days, trapped in a monotonous loop of habit and repetition. Consequently, we take much of the grandeur of our surroundings for granted. In this world we are constantly surrounded by an inherent beauty that is generated through a staggering array of fascinating complexities. In order to accurately capture these intricacies in an artwork, we must pause and appreciate them first. Through careful observation, we must give our subjects the patience they deserve.
Before we can really begin see the world around us, we have to get in the right frame of mind. Or more specifically, out of the left frame of mind. Because of how our brains are organized, we walk around with the logical left side of our brain in charge for a majority of our waking hours. The left brain is responsible for tasks such as language, mathematics, and categorization. It is most certainly not interested in such trivial activities as drawing and painting. As such, it has devised a series of visual icons to represent many of the common objects in the world around us. These schemas are what must be overcome in order to better depict the subject of an artwork.
This is where we get the classic art teacher adage, "Draw what you see, not what you know." When we start to really focus on seeing an object, we begin to understand it. And this understanding will very often translate into a far more successful representation. In fact, it's of some interest to explore how we use the word "see" in our language to express understanding. "Do you see what I'm saying?" This question seeks to ensure comprehension of a statement. When two people agree on topic, it can be said they understand each other, or, that they see eye to eye.
When we really see an object, when we grasp the significance of it, not only are we better equipped to draw it, but we also can begin to relate to it. It is only then that we are able to start expressing something of value other than a visual description of an object's appearance. And this is what makes the efforts of an artist truly unique. We have the rare opportunity to share our own individual perspective with an audience in a very personal way. Our work becomes a surrogate self whose primary objective is to communicate how we see the world.
The ideal outcome would then be that the audience would see the subject in a new light. They would it see as we do. Often this kind of clarity can illicit a chain-reaction and cause the viewers to see many other topics with fresh eyes. It is then that an artwork transcends the merely decorative and becomes something more akin to a gift. Because not only has an idea been shared, but a lesson of sorts has been given. And so, in some small way, we can each contribute in helping someone else learn to see.
(For more information on the left/right brains and how they apply to art, check out Betty Davis's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It is as fascinating as it is informative. And I guarantee you'll draw better as a result!)