Saturday, November 12, 2005

Annie Dillard on Seeing and my thoughts on irony of drawing

(First, let me add another to my series of photography quotes:)
"The difference between these the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment's light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observe."
-Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

It's funny how once you hear a name once, it will pop up all over the place. A few weeks ago I posted an Annie Dillard quote my RUF minister quoted, then my sister recommend her books, then I realize I've already read an essay by her, and now Duane Keiser at his Painting-a-Day blog has a Dillard quote on his site. Funny how that works, that's happened to me alot lately.

By the way, Duane Keiser's Painting a Day and Video a Day I found through both Cully and Omwo, the sketch bloggers I linked to in the previous post. Anyway, Duane is a traditional (not digital) painter who posts a painting and a video of the actual painting process, which is very helpful and interesting, every single day. Great stuff.

Well, I finally checked out pilgrim at Tinker Creek from my school Library, and it's great. "
Playing Seriously, Living Lightly, Beautifully Writing" as one Amazon reviewer said is spot-on. So far, the book is mostly about seeing and wonders all around us. At one point she talks about a number of blind people in the 18th century who regained their vision, how at first they saw only a world of flat color, unable to recognize anything and devoid of any sense of depth, size or distance. They saw the world as young infants. After attempting to see the world this way she says:

"But I couldn't sustain the illusion of flatness. I've been around too long... Nor can I remember having seen without understanding; the color-patches of infancy were lost. My brain then must have been as smooth as a balloon. I'm told I reached for the moon; many babies do. But the color patches of infancy swelled as meaning filled them; they arrayed themselves in solemn ranks down distance which unrolled and stretched before me like a plain. The moon rocketed away. I now live in a world of shadows that shape and distance color, a world where space makes a kind of terrible sense. What gnosticism is this, and what physics? The fluttering patch I saw in my nursery window--silver and green and shape-shifting blue--is gone; a row of Lombardy poplars takes its place, mute, across the distant lawn."

This struck me as interesting, because it seems that learning how to draw (as described by Betty Edwards in Drawing on the Right side of the Brain, and others) is largely the learning how to see those colors, see not bricks and a door, but blobs of red and white color. To see in fact what hits our eyes, not three dimensional dogs and trees, but 2d shapes un-named of brown and green.

So, in order to make a picture that when people look at it, say "A tree", we must draw/paint not a tree but those un-named blobs of color babies see. When these are recreated on paper, they become to us who name and categorize them, "a tree".

Later, Dillard refers to seeing the colors as "Eden before Adam gave names" This reminds me of when Edwards talks about not using the language part of your brain when drawing.

How ironic though, when it is our desire to draw something everyone will name "Mary" we must try not to see mary, but merely blobs of color, and recreate them on the page. As we draw, the more we see-not Mary-but the lines and colors, the more the viewer sees "Mary".

7 Comments:

Blogger OMWO said...

>(...)it seems that learning how to >draw (as described by Betty Edwards >in Drawing on the Right side of the >Brain, and others) is largely the >learning how to see those colors, see >not bricks and a door, but blobs of >red and white color. To see in fact >what hits our eyes, not three >dimensional dogs and trees, but 2d >shapes un-named of brown and green.

Yes, but only up to a point. I would say that B. Edwards describes not how to draw but one of the ways to start drawing - but then it commits the crime of letting you think that this is *the way*. And it is not, it is a very very limiting way. If you take it as a general method it will be a terrible choice. I recommended that book to a few people as a first book on drawing, although I always feel kind of hesitantly guilty about it. It is useful and interesting, but it also seems limitng and superficial in many ways, falling for that irritating Tv-shop style...
The evolution of drawing should recapitulate perhaps the evolution of the visual system- perhaps at first you should indeed look again at things as mere lines or colour blobs. But for the same reason that your visual brain grows beyond that state, so should your artisitic perception evolve beyond it. I can assure you that Leonardo and Michalangelo didn't see the world in a planar way, and didn't sketch by following contour. They sketched in 3d, inside their brains, with a deep, adult, knowledge of perpective, anatomy, etc, that seamlessly mixes sculpture with drawing and painting. Also in art, one should eventually go beyond childish things.

11/13/2005 9:16 AM  
Blogger Stejahen said...

Hmm, ok, interesting, I guess that's just in learning how to draw. I am frustrated with that method when trying to sketch fast in public. Can you recommend any other better books or resources?

There always seemed to be a conflict in "draw what you see" and memorizing anatomy, etc. and then being able to quickly draw from the mind, or use knowledge of anatomy to help drawing.

11/15/2005 10:12 PM  
Blogger OMWO said...

Try the books by Robert Beverly Hale (ANYHTHING and EVERYTHING you can find). At first, coming from a B. Edwards frame of mind, I resisted him, I thought him arrogant, limited, etc. As I kept reading I understood how deep he was. I am told there exist tapes of his lectures, and I would kill to get one of those :)) (ok, maybe not kill :)))

I think the greatest mistake is to say: "Drawing is this!". So I would say right now (I may think otherwise tomorrow) that a good plan is:

1st:

B. Edwards, Drawing on the Right side of the brain - very good, has a lot of interesting stuff to say. take the spoils but leave before you dull your brain - both left and right sides :)

2nd:

Nikolaides, "the natural way to draw" - a VERY deep and original thinker, but leave before he convinces you that light and shadow don't exist and that drawing is really just sculpting (instead of "also sculpting") and that his is "The" (instead of "a") natural way to draw.

3rd:

Beverly Hale - you should now be ready for him. Be patient if he bothers you at first, you are just shedding all the absolute notions you got from the other two (and getting some new ones on top of those :))).

4th(???)

well...at some point - read Vernon Blake for some more general notions on aesthetics and art. Try "the art and craft of drawing" and probably anything else by him.

and then: read everything else you can lay your hands on (this last advice is the only one I'm really sure of) ;)

Or maybe I am totally wrong, who knows? at least it should be a good read :)

PS: Actually, *most* art books are utter repetitive, boring, shallow crap written by people who don't know how to think or how to write (and tragically, sometimes, how to draw). The ones above are a few of the glorious exceptions.

11/17/2005 3:07 PM  
Blogger Stejahen said...

Ok, great, thanks for the recommendations, I have the Natural Way to Draw, looks good, only right now I don't have time for his 3 hour drawing sessions. I've seen Hale's books before, they have some at my school library. I also have Bridgeman's figure drawing book, are you familier with him?

11/20/2005 12:10 PM  
Blogger OMWO said...

Hi,
I hear good things about Bridgeman, but I never read him, sorry :(

11/29/2005 12:53 AM  
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