Thursday, May 8, 2014

Number Our Days

I got up at 6:30 this morning. Put in 3 hours of focused drawing: 15 gesture figure drawings, an hour drawing hands and feet, an hour contour figure drawings, then worked on corrections: anatomy—bones and muscle. On my way to Fleisher’s open studio figure drawing, feeling more confident than I ever have.

I asked myself, not for the first time—why didn’t I do this when I was 15? I am quite obsessed with this—learning to draw the human figure.

 While I’m increasingly confident something will come of it—that it will find its way into my art, I’m also quite aware that there’s more going on. I don’t have the words to describe how important this has become to me. I’m trying to prove something to myself.

But what?

 I know that one of the reasons I turned to pottery, was that I was good at it from the first time I sat down at a wheel. I could center, open the cylinder… and threw a narrow necked bottle the first time I tried it. That same year I was taking a life drawing class, and now at all happy with what I was able to do.

After all these years, I’m putting it together. I’d taken courses in art from childhood. I won awards. I was making oil paintings at 13 or 14.. not great, but enough to win Missouri State competitions. But faced with drawing the human figure, I found myself a struggling second-rate student. I think, looking back, that I saw that as representing the limits of my natural talent. And natural talent was all I knew. My mother, my uncle—they could draw a figure, anatomically correct and in proportion, while carrying on a conversation about something else, like they weren’t even paying attention. But my mother had apprenticed with a professional artist when she was a teenager. And my uncle had studied and drawn and drawn and studied through high school to the point that he almost didn’t graduate—cause it was all he wanted to do.

 At 13 or 16.. or 22… it all looked to me like, you know.. “Innate ability,” …and I’d clearly reached my limit. I would never be a real artist. So I turned to pottery… there--learned to work at it. And learn. I taught myself how to make glazes, how make kilns, and built them.

 Skip three or four decades, more or less, and here I am again. Talent is not enough. Talent—innate ability, will only take you to the limits of that ability—and it’s what you do from there that makes all the difference. Michelangelo showed an interest in art, and some talent, at the age of 10. At ten he began to study with established artists, at 13, he apprenticed. That meant—that by the time he was 14 and creating amazing work, he had spent almost half a decade of intense study and practice: anatomy…probably observing dissections, drawing bones, drawing cadavers, copying master works. No, I’m not another Michelangelo… but what if he had gone with what he knew and was able to do at ten? I don’t want to do classical representational work. I don’t know what I want to do with this. But I know that I need these skills to move forward. I’ll find it. I’ll discover what it is, in the doing. And I need to go back and … practice my scales. To push past that ceiling I thought I’d bumped my head against. I don’t need to do this to prove myself as an artist. I need to do this to be the artist I want to be. And it’s a challenge of lifetime… literally.

 I felt pretty good coming back from Fleishers. A couple of drawings… first class student work. I’m getting there. Late Bloomers—take notice! Even if you die before you get there, it’s keeping in the race that matters.

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