I enrolled in a new class this semester at the University of Utah-Basic Drawing. Perhaps, it needs to be called “Sort of, Basic Drawing.” I am doing my best to keep up with my fellow artists as we learn the ins and outs of pencils, pens and charcoal. A few weeks ago the syllabus said, “Still Life.” Upon arriving in the classroom, our teacher Annie, a fun-loving art professor from the Rhode Island School of Design, had set up a fairly extensive “still-life” including a vase, boxes, plants and a statue of the goddess Diana. She told us to walk around, choose a view we liked and to get out our materials. A fellow student and I chose what we thought would be the easier view which included the backside of Diana. We arranged our drawing boards, opened our charcoal and began to “rough-in” the various shapes to the best of our ability. Annie walked around the room giving us suggestions and helping us to see both the positive and negative lines in our drawings. After about twenty minutes, she told us to stand and stretch and then walk around and look at each others drawings. When we had done so, she then told us to move one seat to the left. This is now your drawing she said. “Oh crap, now I had to draw Diana from the side!” She told us to erase anything that didn’t seem right and to adjust our focus so that we could look at the arrangement from a new perspective. At least, my fellow student had made significant progress on his drawing. I cringed, as out of the corner of my eye, I could see the girl who took my chair get out her eraser. Soon, we were all silently, intently working away, shading here, drawing new lines there. Just when I felt comfortable with my new perspective, we were told to stand, stretch and take the seat to our left. “Oh, it couldn’t be, now I had to draw Diana’s face head on.” This was the angle I had strictly avoided when I first chose a place to sit. Maybe I could just work on the vase a little longer until another student came to fill this chair. As the evening passed we got used to “standing, stretching and moving a seat to our left.” We also got used to erasing and trying to make our pictures conform to what we were “seeing” in front of our eyes. As the evening drew to a close and we looked at our finished projects no one was too attached to what we had drawn, in fact the teacher gathered them and dropped them in the recycle bin. Annie then explained that the purpose of this exercise was to show us that we should never get so attached to what we were drawing or to what we were looking at that we were afraid to start over or erase or remove the offending lines so that our pictures were representations of what we were really seeing. We should always take the time to stand up, stretch and look at our work from different angles and most importantly we must draw with a perspective of the “whole” work and not just look at a small section or detail. By moving around the room not only did we come to view the arrangement in the middle differently, but we also came to look at each drawing from a more “holistic” perspective.
As I started looking at the intricasies of Diana’s face instead of her backside, I was forced to face my fears and start drawing. Learning to draw, like so many other things in life, has been about facing my fears and about really looking at things. “If you can see it, you can draw it” has become the mantra of the class. And like my dance class, moving into the “right” side of my brain for a couple hours each week, helps me to sort out all the chitter/chatter that is always going on in the left hemisphere. In so many areas of our life, we choose a view of something, often because it is the easiest view, and then cling to it. We fear moving to another chair. Our greatest fear though is getting out an eraser and starting over, especially when we have invested so much time in a particular “picture.” How many times have I looked at something and chosen the “easier” path only to have life force me to move over and confront what I didn’t want to “see” in the first place. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence that I had to look Diana-the goddess of love- in the face, maybe it is “perfect love that casteth out fear.” And maybe as my brother-in-law Dale and I have discussed many times, art is about letting go of fear and the art of life is about not clinging too tightly but having the courage to occasionally let go.