When I was young, I thought that every centimeter of a work of art was supposed to matter. Ah, youth! I suppose I’ll still grudgingly admit that every centimeter ought to be trying to accomplish something, not just sitting there reflecting back photons. But time has tempered an idealism that I was not in any case capable of attaining in my youth, notwithstanding how charming an idealism it might have been. Today I realize that sometimes a drawing doesn’t get what you were after, no matter how earnestly you search or how boldly or sensitively you work, and that’s okay. That’s the reason God made trees so that we’d always have more paper lying around to use for having another wack at it.
Even if a particular drawing doesn’t capture your goal, it may supply the experience you need to get where you’re going. In drawing we learn stuff about reality. If you draw flowers, you learn about flowers. Often we think that we already know what we draw — even that we know what things look like. Yet if we really look deeply, we discover something new about the familiar world.
I started a drawing as a study for a painting. I work on it in sessions — but I figure that of course these sessions still count as “drawing a day.” Here’s a few peeks at the parts. This drawing doesn’t feel to me like it’s going anywhere, but I work steadily all the same because sometimes you just go along for the ride. The moments spent looking are taking you somewhere unknown.
Have you ever had one of those idle moments when your mind wanders, and you seem to see yourself as though you were in a scene from a movie composed of your own thoughts? Some part of your “me” who is the director tells the cameraman where to stand to get the shot, and the actor begins to act — except you are the director and the cameraman and the actor, and it all takes place in your mind during a split-second in time. It is not how you see yourself in fact (from the chest down, no face, just arms, hands, a front of a body but no back of a body), nor is it the way you see yourself ordinarily in a mirror (front only and in reverse), but it is instead a scenic way of imagination-seeing of yourself from whatever angle the camera of your mind happens to pan, perhaps from above, or from behind, or from the side, or the front — perhaps interacting with others, seeing indeed the whole space in ways that you don’t actually really see. No photons are injured in this imagining because it’s all mental.
I must have experienced this many times before I was ever consciously aware of it. For my conscious awareness of it, I thank Julian Jaynes and his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, which I read back during the Jurassic era. It’s called “body image” and it’s a real gee whiz how does my brain manage to do that kind of thing. Mother Nature is so clever.
Of course as I describe how I was thinking about all this today, that becomes another self-portrait — but I’m getting ahead of myself. I was wondering about Degas. Someone’s comment had set me musing about Degas as my “first love” in drawing — when I was young — when I loved with the passion of the young. Then I was thinking about the differences between copying something by Degas (an excellent exercise) and drawing something in a way like Degas drew — assimilating his ideas as he assimilated the genius of Ingres. Then as I thought all this stuff, I began to see myself thinking about it. (It was just a moment of navel gazing, honest.) And then I wondered “what would it be like to draw the image you have in your mind as you imagine that you see yourself?” It would be a self-portrait of the body image.
Wish I could report that I sat down then and there and pumped out a dozen drawings. Would that life were so generous with time! But I had “miles to go before I sleep” and consequently made only these two little drawing pages. Perhaps I shall do some more later. For now, I pass the idea along for the adventurous reader to try a few of his or her own.
To any psychiatric professionals who might happen along this post, really I’m fine. And to bibliophiles, you have to admit: Jaynes deserves some kind of medal for construing one of the more ambitious book titles.
Meanwhile, the nice thing about body image is that you can imagine yourself younger than you are!