Archive for August 13th, 2010


You know a lot of words. And you’re eager to learn new words.  Always have been.  When you were four, you could say “camouflaged” and by the time you were six you could name two dozen dinosaurs.  This is what your brain likes to do.  It likes to be smart, likes to know what’s what, likes to differentiate one thing from another, likes to categorize, likes to sort things out.  You’ve gotten very good as this.  That’s why you get along and are able to drive a pretty nice car.   Your diplomas are all nicely framed and you say to yourself, “I think I’d like to do some art.”  You walk into a drawing class, there’s a mess of burlap and some pottery on a table and you say, “Whoa, how do I do this?”  You mean the burlap.  You can approach the pots, they don’t scare you.  Why?  Because you can name them and their parts: handle, lip, rim, bulge, opening, base, top, bottom.    You can even be clear about where the light comes from and where the shadows fall.  But the cloth is scary.  It’s chaotic.  Its convolutions defy your categorizing capacity.  Your brain balks.  You’re disoriented and you would just as soon not be.  But this is good.  Disoriented is good. It means that instead of already knowing what’s what, you have to actually look.  Look.  Look again.  Keep looking.  Turns out, this is not so easy.  Because your brain really doesn’t want to keep looking, it wants to be done with it, put a label on it and move on.  My job as your drawing teacher is to trick you into looking.  I don’t know what else to call it.  My tricks take the form of weird exercises.  Yesterday, for example, I asked students to look at a design like this for several minutes, memorize it, turn it over, and then replicate the lines from memory without a second peek at the original.  The purpose of the exercise is to train your visual memory.   To do this you have to “go visual,”   because the shapes don’t represent anything you can name.   You can create exercises like this for yourself, right there in your kitchen.  Except that it’s harder than you think to come up with nonsense images.  Try it.  Treat yourself to a few minutes of disorientation.

To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.   –Paul Valery

Above: Clifford Still, Untitled. 1958, Oil on Canvas, 114¼ x 160 in

Still life in drawing class, 2009

Unnamed shapes, taken from Adami

Read Full Post »