Life Drawing, more than any other medium, is like an improvised performance. For three hours the model strikes poses and the artist must recreate them, call and response. It all happens in the moment. There is no plan. If a drawing doesn’t come together in the time the model can hold the pose, the page is turned and the next pose commands our attention. There is little time to admire achievement, or register disappointment.
Michelangelo famously, toward the end of his life, burned most of his drawings. He didn’t want anyone to see the struggle, he explained. We are all familiar with that struggle. I try to embrace it. When things are going particularly badly in the studio, I change media and dive back in. I try to pick something I haven’t used in a while—ink, soluble colored pencil, pastel—something that offers little hope of immediate success. This allows me to lower my expectations, quiet my head, and get back into the experience of the model in front of me.
The goal of Drawing Group is similar to the goal of Zen archery. Hitting the target isn’t the real point. The mental process is the point. We draw the bow. We draw the pencil across the page. Few in drawing group are making masterpieces or hitting their target. I look around the room and admire what I see; I look at my own paper and see how I have fallen short of my target. But when I look back at my older drawings, I can admire what I see, having forgotten where the target was. The artist is always a failure to himself, in the moment, even when the artwork is a success to others who see it. Can we learn to appreciate the sailing arrow without regard to its accuracy?
One artist I admire sat in on several of my studio drawing groups and worked diligently on every drawing. Then, when each pose concluded, he methodically tore his paper into long strips and threw it away. He rarely took a drawing home, rarely gave himself time to evaluate it. That may be some form of Zen philosophy as well, but it is too extreme for me. Even on the worst day, there is something on the page worth contemplating at greater length from the comforting vantage point of time and distance.
Jay Hall Carpenter, NSS – 30 July 2016