No not a post about religion, you can relax! A post prompted by two things, one Grayson Perry’s Reith lectures on the art world and discussions on an on line forum about drawing. They both caused me to think about how artists think about themselves. There is I have come to think a disconnect between what artists would like to believe they are and what they actually seem to be.
On the forum discussion (about drawing) I suggested that drawing was a craft, like making shoes or chairs. This drew howls of protest from the public gallery. No it seems drawing was a way of channelling your soul on to paper, a meditation on the possibilities of the infinite, anything, anything but craft! I tried logical argument (or so I thought) but to no avail, I was asked why I was demeaning drawing.
It occurred to me that drawing had been promoted while I wasn’t paying attention to the purest form of prayer, the Lords prayer of artistic spiritual communing. People who know me will not be surprised that the appearance of a sacred cow will always prompt me to ask awkward questions.
In the spirit (if I may use the term) of research I looked at a selection of well known artists CV’s Emin etc. A high proportion stressed how drawing was very important to their process. I did consider posting some of their efforts and I really did try and find evidence of skill, but truly there was none. If any of them had shown up at Rubens’ door seeking a job they would have been out of luck. Below is the prospectus for a life drawing class at St Martins.
“Over the course of a week you will be encouraged to lose your inhibitions though a wide variety of practices and materials. You will be asked to confront your own ambitions within your artistic practice and to consider how to make your work relevant to yourself and to contemporary artistic practices in the wider sense.
During each session you will be introduced to a new approach to thinking and making. We will look at the work of living artists and explore relevant themes and practices. Some workshops will make use of sound or involve a live performer such as an actor or dancer. You will be encouraged to engage with new concepts and practices and to try a wide variety of differing materials – some traditional, others less so.
You will be encouraged to work with the skills that you already possess. We will not teach you ‘how to draw’ but rather aim to enable you to fully engage with and realise your own creative potential, build up confidence in your own artistic identity and think like an artist.”
I particularly like the encouragement to work with “the skills you already possess.” and the “we will not teach you, how to draw” heavens no that would be terrible. The results of the sessions are here so you can judge for yourself. St Martins Drawings there are some efforts that look like the student has potential, but knowing current art teaching they would have been told to loosen up and draw worse! One cannot help but notice that the model is lit by a single light plonked behind her. Which to my mind speaks of a monumental insensitivity to the visual world. You would not catch a photographer trying to capture the human form in that uncaring way.
I digress, but only to show that skill is very much not part of drawing to the contemporary mind. Nor is representation of the external. So what are we left with. The last line of the prospectus gives a clue. “realise your own creative potential” but leaves us puzzled as we are being allowed no tools whereby that might occur. You would not tell a music student “We won’t tell you how to play a musical instrument, here’s a room full of stuff with a few musical instruments thrown in, just give them a go and seek your own personal music.”
How does this connect with the “spiritual” I am not using it in the religious way, but in the way that people refer to things having indefinable qualities. We use (or misuse) the word “energy” in a similar way. Great artists are meant to imbued with an unparalleled access to this force, after all it couldn’t just be practice and hard work could it? I hinted online that maybe Michelangelo had his off days too… I was completely unprepared by the reaction. I was told that such a thought was absurd and only a jealous no hoper would demean the greatest of drawers. In reality I admire Michelangelo hugely, so it felt odd that they thought I disliked him. The problem of course was that I had said that an official beatified saint of drawing was a mortal and like us all occasionally had feet of clay.
Once again I refer to the excellent St Martins prospectus. “you will be encouraged to loose your inhibitions.” and later “build up confidence” now here I agree confidence is key. You do not however gain confidence by loosing your inhibitions. You increase confidence by becoming increased in your capabilities and you gain capabilities through study, practice and hard work. Many of the “inhibitions” can be due to lack of skill!
Later they refer to the “artistic potential” here at last we are getting to the heart of the matter. What is this thing that is assumed to be there, this “potential” ? Does it lie within us like a curled up flower within a bud just waiting for the clouds of inhibition to be swept away in order to unfurl in its glory? Why that is astounding! How wonderful, it means that somewhere in my head must be a great novel, a stirring symphony fully formed just waiting to be released.
Of course this is absurd, but we very much like the idea. We so much want to be more than this fleshly robe. We want soul, we want an animating spirit, we don’t want biology and physics. We want art to flow from us like a river, we want to mine our inner selves for buried treasures. We do not want to dig foundations and build up brick by tedious brick until we have a house that has beauty but also all the signs of our own frailty.
I’d better give you some pictures after that lot… a few life paintings will be tagged on at the end in order to fully demonstrate that my own feet are well weighted with clay!
A well known view. I did it in three sessions, the first a plein air drawing with a couple of washes. I had to stop as I was a little too late in getting there
and I am taking a little more time to draw of late as well. Once home I established the basic tonality from reference but returned next evening to finish.
1/4 sheet Watercolour.
This is Croom’s Hill leading down to Greenwich. At last the autumn colours are showing. I have found this wonderful colour in the Daniel Smiths range
called Zoicite that is a murky green with wonderful granulating properties. Quite tricky to use but adds interest and texture to greens.
Here is a rare beast, a self portrait! I was preparing to lop my hair off one evening when I was taken by my rather wild appearance
in the mirror. So barbering had to be delayed while I painted. I managed after a fair amount of buggering about and cursing to get a half decent
photo to finish it from. Always good to assess the damage that life is doing to your face. 12in by 10in Oils
I did a drawing buildings tutorial with two friends, and managed to fit this sketch in as they wrestled with the horrors of architecture. this is part of the
Maritime Museum in Greenwich. 8in by 10in oils.
On my way back to the car a storm was coming in, I just couldn’t resist trying to catch the drama. I had to lash my tripod to the railings! It is so easy
to just walk by these opportunities. Thames at Greenwich. 6in by 12in oils.
7min, was pleased with this one, every now and again you catch something in the quick sketches.
I nearly always prefer them to the longer paintings.
7min. Esther is a fantastic model who takes up some very challenging poses!
Another wonderful model Alice. Here’s one where the feet of clay are very much in evidence, lovely pose, great lighting but the drawing was too far out.
Alice again. A bit better here despite not doing an initial drawing but just diving in with the paint. 30min.
Another one with no initial drawing. Flat on poses are the some of the hardest. I was painting here on hot pressed
Arches with flat sables. In fact the whole painting was done with a half inch brush!
The best one of the session with Esther I had a little longer at 45 min.