“Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
I'll draw a sketch of thee.
What kind of pencil shall I use?
2B or not 2B?”
― Spike Milligan
In whatever I do creatively, be it writing, painting, drawing or photography, I often find myself falling into the trap of making whatever it is I am doing with a view to please others, rather than myself. I suppose the redeeming element is that I've become more aware of this tendency, enough to recognize it and then consciously reorient myself onto the path that I want to follow: even if it may be the less lucrative and more risky one, it is the most fulfilling one.
Just as I don't like looking at myself in the mirror, once I am finished creating something, I don't like examining what I make or reading what I write, because much like the persona in the mirror, all I see are the faults and imperfections therein. The process, not the product, is where satisfaction exists. Believe it or not, this daily blog is way out of my comfort zone, because I hate putting myself out there, and by my ''self'' I mean what I have made or photographed or written. The reason being, each of these things has a piece of me invested in it; it's something I have spent intimate time with. In sharing this material, I am inexorably and reluctantly forced to allow a glimpse into my own soul and spirit, which generally reside behind formidable fortifications.
I particularly love the following quote from John Ruskin, in The Elements of Drawing. “All art is but dirtying the paper delicately.” Essentially, you are pushing your medium of choice -graphite, paint, pastel, whatever - around on a surface, marking, erasing, adjusting, until something real begins to emerge. Something that was in your heart and mind is transferred to the support, sometimes more laboriously than others. Writing is very similar: the words flow, get rearranged and streamlined (ideally, and again, sometimes more successfully than others) into a coherent whole. Photography, I think, is a macrocosm, an instantané of the process: in the fraction of a second that it takes to compose and capture an image, there is a deep yet oh-so-ephemeral connection with what the lens sees. The word photography means ''painting with light'', and it's done at light speed.
The sketch that I am posting today began as two large circles, two small ovals, and a couple of medium-size triangles. Gradually, over the course of half an hour, they morphed into my youngest dog, having a sleepy moment on a quilt. I found the photo last night when I was cleaning and reorganizing things, and the desire took me to draw it. The time spent transforming those basic geometric shapes into something resembling a dog was where the value and authenticity resided: essentially, the intimate connection with the subject. One a certain level, it may be considered nothing more than dirtying the paper, but it's the way the paper is dirtied, the act of dirtying the paper, that produces the true magic.
I think that the following passage does a great job of contextualizing what I am trying to get at with my own ramblings :
“When Van Gogh was a young man in his early twenties, he was in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all. he sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much. He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lamp post, a star, and he said in his letter something like this: "it is so beautiful I must show you how it looks." And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it.
When I read this letter of Van Gogh's it comforted me very much and seemed to throw a clear light on the whole road of Art. Before, I thought that to produce a work of painting or literature, you scowled and thought long and ponderously and weighed everything solemnly and learned everything that all artists had ever done aforetime, and what their influences and schools were, and you were extremely careful about *design* and *balance* and getting *interesting planes* into your painting, and avoided, with the most astringent severity, showing the faintest *acedemical* tendency, and were strictly modern. And so on and so on.
But the moment I read Van Gogh's letter I knew what art was, and the creative impulse. It is a feeling of love and enthusiasm for something, and in a direct, simple, passionate and true way, you try to show this beauty in things to others, by drawing it.
And Van Gogh's little drawing on the cheap note paper was a work of art because he loved the sky and the frail lamppost against it so seriously that he made the drawing with the most exquisite conscientiousness and care. ”
― Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit