Thursday, September 30, 2010

Drawing for Myself: A long journey

I've been drawing and sketching ever since I was a small child. Even so, I've been frustrated at times, usually because I wanted to create perfection. I longed to fashion my art as accurately as possible, not only so someone would recognize what I drew, but also so it would be real, authentic, true.

By the time I was able to accomplish this reality-type drawing (through the tutelage of Rene Paudler), I found myself proud but at the same time, a bit let down. I think part of this disappointment came from realizing what I accomplished was just a copy of what I saw, instead of an interpretation of what I experienced (a oneness with the object). Now, of course if you are illustrating for the scientific community, claiming to be a botanical or anatomical artist, you have to be accurate. But even then, is there wiggle room, a place for what one could call, artistic license? Yes and no.

On one hand if you are drawing for a client, creating a piece on commission, you are usually rather restricted. The scientific illustrator must stay faithful to what she is drawing. The same is true when drawing a portrait or a client's favorite pet. In other words, open creativity, carte blanche if you will, may be only a whisper in your drawing.

But what about your own stuff, do you paint or draw for your audience or do you paint for yourself? I can honestly say that I draw for myself. That is, I still draw what I see but now I try to tell a story about my experience with the object that I am drawing or painting. I may do that by adding something that isn't quite there in the photo or the scene before me. Perhaps, I’ll change the mood by increasing or decreasing the lighting. I'm not the only one who does this. I once read a story about an artist who put a lighthouse in the wrong part of town in her painting. Local folks hated it. But for her, it was esthetically more appealing. And of course, we’ve all heard about  Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper, which is supposedly riddled with mistakes—wrong background, wrong table, wrong race of people, and so on.
Guernica, (1937) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Museo Reine Sofia, Madrid
Another example is Picasso's painting, Guernica. While way-off the realistic charts, it illustrates the massacre of this small Basque village in 1937. Franco allowed Hitler to practice his bombing techniques on the unsuspecting and innocent citizens, ending with 1600 dead or wounded. Of course, Picasso could have painted a realistic landscape with planes pouring over the canvas, while releasing their deadly load. But that's not the way he wanted to tell the story, to express the experience. Instead he showed confusion, anguish, fear—death to humans, to animals to life itself.

Picasso went on to say, “A painting is not thought out and settled in advance. While it is being done, it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it's finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it."

I hate to be trite, but Shakespeare said it better than I can say it today, “To thine ownself be true.” And while we can't always draw and paint what we want, if we do, then let’s go for it with as much gusto as we can muster. It’s been a long journey throughout the years, but I’m glad that I now create art for myself. It’s important that I please myself first, perhaps later some we enjoy it as much as I do.

Next month I'll discuss A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, the master of Pointillism!