Sunday, February 15, 2009


I've always had a fairly distant relationship with Drawing. He and I don't really see each other very often. He's like one of those obscure relatives that you only see at reunions or funerals and can't really remember anything about. We have our subtle exchanges every now and then. Our paths cross. But we never really leave any deeply important impressions on one another.

I'd like to say that it's not because I don't like Drawing or that I don't get along with it. But that wouldn't be entirely true. Drawing has a very still, quiet nature. It has a slow, deeply concentrated language that's difficult to understand. There are often many mistakes in translation. It makes discourse difficult. For me, the hardest thing about getting along with Drawing is the sitting.

There are different ways of seeing the world. The way that seems to be most deeply ingrained into our nature is not the way that artists must see the world. We normally look at things quickly. Our eyes are fast. They flick from thing to thing or person in moments that can be smaller than a fraction of a second. Our brains process our visual information just as quickly. We do this when we are sitting. We do this when we are talking. Driving. Walking. Listening. The only time we tend to stare is when our minds are wandering. It is difficult to truly study something with your eyes. It takes concentration and it takes the strength to resist distraction.

My sculpture professor, Andy, teaches a very drawing-intensive class. "Drawing is more important than any other aspect of art," he says. "If you can't draw, you can't be an artist." For nearly two weeks, we spent all our studio time drawing the objects we were to make sculptures of.

I think about this a lot. Is Andy right? I think about Monet's paintings and the statements he makes about the nature of seeing. His attention lies in the impression of color and often movement. His paintings are quick, rough. His new, "modern" way of seeing and painting was quick, just like the movement of the eye. Just like the information that is processed in our brains. He tried to paint in the same way that he saw. For Monet, there was no careful study of form and line. There was no slow, careful movement with the brush. There was little gradual movement from one value to another. Monet went out into the modern industrial world and painted the fleeting colors and shapes and movements that the eye catches in short instances. I doubt that he would have spent hours sitting in front of a still life with charcoal and paper.

So why must artists draw carefully measured representations that require our full concentration that can sometimes take hours? Why must we study shape and line and value so slowly and meticulously time and time again? Why should we go against what our eyes are made to do? Why must we practice seeing slowly and deliberately?

It is very difficult for me to sit and draw. It takes all the willpower I have to make my eyes slow down, make my brain and hands slow down. To search for the lines and interpret them correctly. To understand the drawing, to understand the space created on my paper.

While Monet's ideas about seeing and painting undoubtedly make him one of the world's most influential artists, we obviously can't use him as an excuse to stop us from practicing the slower ways of seeing. The fact of the matter seems to be that in order for artists to truly understand the language of shapes and lines and value and other things we see, we must take the time to truly look at them. We must study them. We must try to recreate them. We must first know the language of aesthetics before we can use it to our own benefit when creating art. And so we draw. This is what I understand thus far.


  1. I love this.
    We always hear that drawing is about looking, but I never really thought about it in this context.

  2. I love seeing you wrestle with this question over the course of this post. Your transparency and genuine questioning is wonderful--keep it up!!! It is GOOD to honestly and deeply question your professors so that you come to a place/find a place you really believe. It is also good to get through through experience, and a lot of hard work.

    AND--it is important to note that Monet, Picasso--all these guys who invented new ways of making the world in painting and drawing, who showed us how to collapse time and speed into a singular image--were steeped in slow, observation based drawing--years and years of it as that was the nature of artist education for them in their time. One finds eventual release in looking--I believe.