Wednesday, July 19, 2006

teaching america to draw

Saltspring Glade

The phrases "I wish I could draw," or "you're lucky to have artistic talent," sometimes give me pause. The understanding is that either you have it or you don't. The implication is that if you have it you're a freak of nature, albeit a lucky one. Granted, many people are born with a combination of genetic factors that predisposes them towards success in a particular skill area, but few people assume that the ability to play the violin beautifully or score a hat trick on the ice (I'm talking hockey) is based on the position of the stars at one's time of birth. You have to work, and work hard, to do well in any discipline, and desire is probably a greater determiner of success than any other single factor. The overnight success is a myth.

Once upon a time the ability to draw well was almost as valued as the ability to read and write well. Drawing was, for example, an important part of the training of a British army officer, and not just because cameras didn't yet exist. Currently showing at The Grolier Club in New York City is an exhibition entitled Teaching America to Draw. It examines the history of drawing as a valued discipline, throwing in some philosophy and modern comparisons. In his fascinating article in the New York Times, An Exhibition About Drawing Conjures a Time When Amateurs Roamed the Earth, Michael Kimmelman says, "We’re addicted to convenience today. Cellphone cameras are handy, but they’re also the equivalent of fast-food meals. Their ubiquity has multiplied our distance from drawing as a measure of self-worth and a practical tool."

Still ... I'd love to own a cellphone camera.

Check the comments for some interesting feedback.


Blogger carla said...

"You have to work, and work hard, to do well in any discipline, and desire is probably a greater determiner of success than any other single factor. " I couldn't agree more. "Talent" is only a starting point, and those people who don't match it with those other ingredients may never see their ability come to fruition.

And speaking of things coming to fruition, you might want to stop by my blog:>

19/7/06 12:14 p.m.  
Blogger tlc illustration said...

Here, here. I couldn't agree more. It never ceases to amaze me with my students (since I *teach* beginning and more advanced drawing) - they all want the ability, but only the smallest percentage is willing to spend any time out of the classroom developing it... And then they are frustrated with the class because they aren't 'getting it'... And learning how to 'see' and draw opens up so many other things, from visual/tactile awareness to holistic problem solving - it's hard for me to understand why is it so undervalued...

19/7/06 1:18 p.m.  
Blogger ValGalArt said...

I love this post! Your painting is beautiful!!! I can't tell you how many artists I know that don't know how to draw! It's rather shocking to me really but I guess after reading your post it seems to be a dying art but hopefully people will read this and work on it! When I was younger I actually got hired by artists to draw, create and paint their ideas and I was paid handsomely for it and I have worked for very famous artists who hired people like me to help them express their ideas so I benefitted from their disinterest in learning to draw. Really interesting post!

19/7/06 8:07 p.m.  
Blogger albina said...

The Last of the Mohicans…since who has time, drive, passion to master that excellence in draftsmanship?
But it is possible, I experienced in one year of my teaching others, if people are willing to persevere, they can overcome the” don’t have it” myth and develop skills through hard work and discipline. What a relevant post! Now, let us talk about art critique and criticism :)

20/7/06 7:27 a.m.  
Blogger Within Without said...

Oh all right then, I'll try to improve my stick man drawings and color within the lines.

All good points, Andrea (thx for stopping by my place). I was just the kid you described.

I saw what other kids were doing and what I was doing, just decided I wasn't an artist and gave up.

My son actually has much more artistic talent but despite my protestations has not worked at it.


Beautiful, bright works you have, by the way.

20/7/06 7:44 a.m.  
Blogger Jana Bouc said...

Great post. Thanks for putting together this interesting information. Don't feel bad you don't have a cellphone camera--the quality of the pictures they take are pretty crummy. I didn't realize until I read other comments, that the painting displayed in this post is yours, and not the cover art for the show about drawing. This painting is phenomenal! I love it!

21/7/06 7:55 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Carla: discovering talent early can be a detriment in many ways as the artist can rest on his/her laurels in an art (or music or math or...) class while others sweat blood to get the same results. Then who succeeds when they're thrown to the wolves and have to rely on initiative and work ethic? (Been there done that had to smarten up or sink...)

Tara: What's even more amazing is the things that are valued!

Val: Thanks, Val. The painting is two years old and I feel I've made some major changes during that time. I still like this one, though. And it seems like something out of a Hollywood movie for an artist to hire another one to fully realize a concept. Wait. You're pretty close to Hollywood in Topanga aren't you...? :)

Albina: Bring it on. I'm open to all sugegstions. Who shall we critique?

Within Without: Stick men can be cool, too. There are few artists more recognized/successful than the late Keith Haring. You might find that your son wakes up some day and smells the coffee. I did. :)

Jana: Thanks for your encouragament. It's off to Pennsylvania soon.

21/7/06 8:29 a.m.  
Blogger Within Without said...

Glad you have an appreciation of the scope and depth of my artistic flair, Andrea.

My son is a fantasy fiction freak, loves drawing all the Final Fantasy monsters/characters.

When I got him into art courses that forced him to draw oranges and apples, he went loopy.

21/7/06 8:44 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

WW: If my highly creative son had to draw apples and oranges he'd be loopy, too! We'll stick to Ninjas for now.

21/7/06 8:53 a.m.  
Blogger Brian the Mennonite said...

Always the teacher, Andrea...I love that about you. The information you give here is so much more than just fact. It's encouragement.

And it makes me absolutely crazy to see Saltspring Glade here and the fact that I told you to go ahead and send it away to Pennsylvania. It is more beautiful than when I saw it last.

21/7/06 12:49 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of drawing...that's what I'll be doing outdoors for a two event called "Bloomin Artists".Fun stuff, Can't wait ! Hope the weather is good.Anyway, LOVE the painting at the top of this topic !!! :)

21/7/06 1:05 p.m.  
Blogger Toni said...

Practice, practice, practice, practice, No matter what you do you have to practice. and be patient with yourself.
and even after you feel you mastered the art practice some more. When i was teaching calligraphy everyone thought it could be taught in a day. Or I got, "I have beautiful hand writing do you think I can do calligraphy?"
Only if you practice. I have been practicing for over 20 years and I still am practicing. Calligraphy is the same as drawing. My hand writing is lousy but I can do fine lettering with practice. I never start a good piece without practice and warm ups first. You have to be passionate whether it is music, art or sport and then practice some more.

21/7/06 4:13 p.m.  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Glad to hear someone else talking about this -- I've heard so many people say "I can't draw a line!" but I've never heard anyone say, "I can't compose a singly symphony." Silly! Why do people think they should be able to just draw without learning? I strongly believe it is a learnable skill, but I think, there are a lot of things people sort of idly wish they could do, without being willing to take the time to really learn, the way I am with playing the guitar, for example. and about the British soldiers -- I did not know they were trained to draw. Why?

21/7/06 9:15 p.m.  
Blogger tiffinix said...

You are so wonderful! What a thoughtful fabulous post and thought process! SO very true . . oh and lovely trees!

26/7/06 8:12 p.m.  

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