Wednesday 4 March 2015

Artistic Wednesday

I think I will dedicate my Wednesday posts to writing about art. But I am not at all interested in conceptual art or theory of art. I am interested only in doing art and in other people doing art: the actual looking or listening and putting marks on paper or pressing piano keys or making B flat sound perfect or adding this dance move to that. I am interested in how artists do it, and how we all could do it, too, if we worked hard enough.

The problem with having been a relatively bright little girl was that I didn't understand that in order to be good at something you not are instantly good at, you have to get good instruction and then work very hard at it, not fall into despair. (Or that if you have a nasty, impatient teacher, you are not the problem.)

Learning to work hard can be the hardest lesson of all. This is part of the attraction of reading Harry Potter books in Polish, by the way: now I can "read" pages of words I very imperfectly understand without getting instantly bored. It's a miracle. Well, no. Not a miracle, but the fruit of hard, plodding, 7:30 AM work.

Meanwhile I have taken up drawing in a rather less systematic way, inspired by my pal Hilary White at Orwell's Picnic, who insists that drawing is not about talent but about work. This is partly because I dislike taking photographs when I travel, and yet want a record of people who and places that catch my eye. But it is also because I enjoy drawing and messing about with coloured pencils and crayons and looking at the results. And then there is the concept of being an interesting person, which ties into my general writing for Singles.

The most devastating thing I ever heard an attractive man say about the women who threw themselves at him (o tempora, o mores!) was "I understand why they find me interesting, but I don't know why they think I should find them interesting."  Holy guacamole. What men think, people!

Looks attract men, of course. But making them sincerely interested? Well, that's another story. And if you think such considerations are beneath you, imagine some guy who never washes himself or his clothes (a problem with some college freshmen, apparently) yelling, "Women should find me interesting just 'cause I'm me." If I weren't a published writer, I bet you dollars for doughnuts that no man under 40 would have the least interest in me. Well, except for the ones who love fuzzy red hair, of course. Naturally. And those ones are FEW and FAR BETWEEN!

Becoming an interesting person means taking an interest in things and people outside yourself. One of the most interesting women I know loves to get people to talk about themselves, especially their ailments, because she is a retired nurse and ailments interest her. She is an avid reader and watcher of films. She almost never talks about herself. When she stops asking questions long enough to impart information, she tells interesting anecdotes from her nursing days or her travels or about undeniably interesting people. And although she is an excellent vegetarian cook, she makes meat dishes for her carnivorous friends, which I find humbling, really.  A vegetarian who cooks meat for others: that is how other-focused she is.

Meanwhile, I find artists doing art very interesting, especially if the art they are doing involves me. If that sounds terribly self-obsessed, I should remark that I have been the model for visual art only three or four times. And what interests me is what the artists see when they see me because when trying to be rooted in reality, the very hardest thing to see objectively is yourself, warts and all, especially the warts.

Thanks to Hilary, I now realize I purse my lips when I am concentrating. And thanks to Fiona, I know it is "okay" to take photographs of your subject before drawing them. For some reason, I thought that was a kind of cheating. However, since drawing from life means turning a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional object, it is much easier for the beginner (not to mention the model) to skip a step and get a photo.

The boss man.
So here is my first ever sketch of B.A, done from a photo. (Apologies to all readers who thought from photos of parties that I was married to one of my twenty-something year old Pretend Sons. Hee hee!) Alas, I have made B.A. look grumpy, and I have not quite got his nose right, but I learned a lot and enjoyed two and a half hours of thinking about nothing but B.A's photograph.  

What a departure from my most recent self-portrait, joyfully coloured in by my niece Popcorn. The difference was that I tried to draw B.A. according to what I actually saw--which takes a lot of discipline--and I drew myself according to the kind of personal symbolic language children use. As Popcorn demanded more portraits of family members, I began to seek them or their photographs out so as to attempt to draw them "for real"; however, a sincere effort towards representation would have taken longer than Popcorn was willing to wait.

Some curious, almost devotional. sense made me refuse to draw Uncle B.A. symbolically at all, and I sat down at a table while Popcorn was away to copy "Baby Jesus" and His mother from an icon. 

Hilary says the sketch of B.A. is "an interesting mix of observational and iconographic drawing." (And, alas, it is true that I just cross-hatched B.A.'s head instead of drawing his hair.) She has tons of good advice. The book she recommended to me most was Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and it has helped me a lot.

Anyway, to get back to my Single theme, which also ties into Saturday's Flirtation theme, people who don't do the hard work of learning how to draw people are often very interested and awed by people who have done it. And therefore learning to see what is and to draw it will make you a much more interesting person, both on the inside and on the outside. Plus once you get the hang of it, you have an instant flirtation device, which is to sit at a party and start drawing someone something.

Update for men: It occurs to me that most young women would feel creeped out if a man just started staring at them and drawing them, so I don't recommend men do that. And absolutely do not draw the woman you want to meet. If the woman you want to meet comes up and says, "Draw me, draw me!" don't do it. Draw her something else in the room and see if she's still interested.

For some reason, a very self-absorbed Narcissus-like young lady jumped into my imagination, plus a good-hearted and sympathetic young sketch artist. The young lady--who is very pretty and lively--is interested only in getting a drawing of herself for free and has zero interest in the sketch artist as a man. This would not matter much if my sketch artist, a shy type, had no interest in the dashing beauty, but sadly, he has fallen for her and his heart is all pit-a-pat. So just say no, young sketch artist! Draw her something else.

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