Art is hard. Learning to make art is hard. It’s very vulnerable and labor intensive. The hard part is there because, aside from the ocean of media options and the technical skills involved, art is not as subjective as many people seem to think.¹ I feel pretty strongly that learning to draw is a crucial foundation in making art. Learning to draw isn’t about making pretty pictures, it’s about learning to Listen accurately.
Sincerity of self expression is powerful, but I think it gets more than its fair share of the glory. The silence framed between notes, the volume of empty air the cathedral stones define, the blank space around poem on the page- that which draws the audience into Listening is what draws the audience into Relationship with art.
Sincerity of Listening is powerful. And I feel that the practice of learning to objectively draw is powerful in learning the skill of deeply Listening.
Let me first explain my capitalization of the word Listen. I’m folding some language together here, so bear with me. One common problem in relationships comes from our inability to listen, really Listen, to people. We can hear them, but Listening is a mind and heart opening act. We do our best to loosen our grip on what we know (or assume) and approach the other with a vulnerability to accept, process, and hopefully understand their reality. This kind of Listening emcompasses a host of complexities beyond the spoken words. And when we understand, we say “I see what you mean”. Ha!
Here’s another way to say it. A friend of mine- Chris Dorman- writes kids songs and has one that goes “When you listen with your ears, you hear. When you listen with your eyes, you see. When you listen with your body, you dance. And when you listen with your heart, you love.” (I cannot find a link to just this song, so if you want to hear it you’ll have to learn about how apple blossoms turn into apples on his new show Mr Chris and Friends) I like this song because it applies the word Listen to that deeper, more holistic, meaningful sensing and knowing the world. Thus, I capitalize Listen because I think its uses extend beyond the sense of hearing.
How does this apply to drawing? Well, one of the hardest aspects of learning how to draw is learning how to draw what you see, not what you think you see. We humans are extremely good at processing visual information, but part of our speed and skill in this is because we’re also very good at developing symbols for things. When we draw, often enough we are drawing symbols. Eyes are football shaped with a dark circle in the middle and curvy lines swooping off the top, hands are circles or squares with lines pointing out from the center, trees are thick rectangles with bumpy round shapes perched on top, you get the picture (ha!).² Learning how to Listen until you see what is actually present and draw it is a skill that must be practiced.
Back to the subjectivity or objectivity of this. I think the lines between subjective and objective are somewhat of a false dichotomy while at the same time being useful concepts. Representing something with as much accuracy as possible so that another viewer understands what’s being represented can be measured against the informal democratic agreement of what reality looks like, and for our purposes, this is a good objective measure. Can I tell in your drawing if fur is soft, glass is transparent or the sun is shining through a window and not the floor? Yes? Then good job, objectively speaking. You have done a good job sincerely Listening.
But, of course, it is your unique lens through which you translated it and that is subjective. We can’t escape our subjectivity, but we can try to Listen with sincerity- practice and hone that skill of Listening. After all, what good is your unique lens on the world if you don’t bother to clean it? To grind it and polish it? To focus it and make sure the image is true to your eye? What do you offer your audience if not a relationship founded on sincere Listening? Do you see what I mean?
¹Caveat, people can do whatever the hell they want. I’m not going to bother splitting the “what is art?” hair or the “art versus craft” hair.¹* This is about my experience.¹**
¹*Anyone who knows me knows I cannot actually help myself and I am always splitting the “craft versus art” hair and the “what is art?”¹*** hair. The thing is, I honestly get annoyed at myself from this constant looping and this annoyance leads to the assertion that “people can do whatever the hell they want.”
¹**“Art is not as subjective as you think, as I’ll clearly explain via my subjective experience,” said Ruby, the Lewis Carol character.
¹***I’m much better at explaining why things are art then why they are not art.
²Apply this metaphorically to language- especially language used in your key relationships- and you’ll see symbols emerge here too. Have fun with that (she says with both sarcasm and sincerity).