Musings on Confidence, 2

I am discussing ideas from Mona Brookes’s inestimable book “Drawing with Children.”  The first part of the discussion can be found HERE.

Her second confidence measuring statement is this one: “There is a right way and a wrong way to draw.”  Her use of this statement is so inspired that were Ms. Brookes not already gainfully employed teaching art, it’s obvious that her second calling would be psychotherapy.  The statement is both true and false in a most deliciously complex way.  And everyone who picks up the pencil could well use this Silenus question as their daily meditation.

But we’ll look at the Hollywood version, cutting quickly to the chase: if there is not a right way, then obviously there’s nothing to learn, nothing to learn from Mona Brookes, nothing to learn from Leonardo da Vinci either.

And/or …

If there is a right way, with emphasis on “a,” one and only right way (not even a left way), then drawing is a dead-end.  It’s all been done by now and what are we bothering about?  Go play golf instead — but be advised that skill in golf is hereditary ….

Lots of artists console themselves with the mantra that there’s no right or wrong in art, and that intoxicating thought can lead to great wisdom for sure, but for most drinkers it leads merely to a wreck.  You have to be willing to embrace the idea of art having a standard (even if no one quite knows what it is) if you intend to make high art.  And high art, while it’s a lousy job, is one that “somebody has to do.”

Where would we be today if Raphael had been a slouch?  What if your dentist said, “Oh, good enough.”  Why should your dentist have higher standards than you there holding the pencil?

The statement Mona Brookes raises should inspire the reluctant artist to get off his duff.  Things are tough all over.  Suck it in.  Get down and give me fifty.

Is there a right way and a wrong way?  You’re damned straight there is.  But no one is quite sure what it is.  We say “we know it when we see it.”  You there, go and find it.

Musings on confidence

I have been reading parts of Mona Brookes’s admirable book “Drawing with Children,” which as its subtitle  “A creative method for adult beginners, too” suggests, holds lots of good advice for drawing new-comers of whatever age.  She treats the matter of confidence early since she has seen how significant a role confidence — or its lack — plays in deciding whether someone will draw or not.

She has a series of statements she offers her readers to contemplate, and the degree to which you agree or disagree with the statement provides an interesting measure of how confident you are.  I get her point and second the motion, but I also see another side to these statements that deserves scruntity, for all the confidence questions are pretty complicated and they never entirely go away, and indeed it is essential that they not go away.

So let’s contemplate her statement number one:  “The ability to draw is inherited.”

If you think the statement is true, you are not likely to feel very confident unless you believe that you inherited the skill.  The question can be rephrased differently: what evidence suggests that you did or did not inherit a drawing ability?  Does the person who has inherited drawing aptitude just instantly begin drawing things?  Or is aptitude more subtle?

I could not draw reliably well in those days when I first attempted it.  I might have answered the inheritance question “yes” on one day and “no” another.  Or even hourly, I could have said resolutely “yes” when my first drawing came out remarkably well and then “no” when the second drawing was a total flop.

There is almost certainly a hereditary element in any skill.  It’s obvious that some persons are naturally better at a thing than their neighbors even from their earliest days.  But talents can unfold in such complex ways, that personally I’m inclined to say that strong desire is probably always a sign of talent.  You may not know how to do a thing, but if your heart longs for it reliably, day after day, the odds are good that you have an innate ability.  The question then becomes are you willing to do the work?  Are you willing to work hard enough to make that ability-in-potential something tangible and real?

I learned to draw in a manner radically different from what Mona Brookes outlines for her beginners.  And while I don’t dispute the efficacy of her method, I see it having some problems if one adheres to its philosophy much beyond the beginner stage.  Part of not-knowing how to do something is the impetus to learning.  And all methods that attempt to smooth over the discomfort of not-knowing have the affect of smoothing over invention.

If you cannot do something in art, count yourself very lucky because in the discomfort of trying to figure it out you will learn something that no step-by-step method ever glimpses.

[Top of the post: Drawing by my daughter when she was elementary school age.]

Pencil for the watching of the morning light

Coffee, notebook, chair near the window, pencil and the creamer.  Sitting there near the window watching light mold the porcelain surfaces of the creamer.  The character of light as it reveals objects has particularities so grand and yet also so small and intricate — and the intricacies are as grand as the grand things are grand.   The whole of it is a marvel, and the parts are marvels too.

Light and shade are spoken of as elements of technique in art, but that’s the wrong way to think about it.  Light and shade are elements of reality.  Watching them, imitating them has you participating in something miraculous.  It is far too complex to be encapsulated by technique.  So let the pencil move with your thoughts and let your thoughts be vagabond wanderers.