Friday, August 29, 2014

Drawing to See Better

Drawing trains the eye to see better, to see precisely and systematically; and learning to see better is a benefit not just to aspiring artists but to everyone anywhere. 

Seeing better means seeing and experiencing what you see without the intervention of words.  Consider a simple line drawn with a chalk; to know what it really looks like is to see it; describing it in words never suffices.  No amount of words suffices to convey the shape of a vase accurately.  It’s the same with color; words for color, which the cosmetic industry tries hard to invent in labeling lipsticks, for example, are so broadly abstract that you never know the exact color until you see it.  The only way to shop for a blouse to match the skirt is to wear it or take it with you.   

Words are abstract and serve efficiently as a means of communication; but they are never accurate totally.  If you say  “a tall pear-shaped blue vase,” I get some idea of what it is; when you draw it, you are tracing with your hand what you see with your eyes and when you color it you are reproducing the effect of the color with the texture of the surface, and I understand it more precisely.  Drawing is the next best thing to seeing; and, moreover, drawing sharpens our perception and makes us see better.

Even when you are only drawing a line, nothing so complicated as copying an object but a simple line, you exercise the precision that words lack.  A line is a line is a line.  But when we draw a line, it can be straight, cursive, crooked, jagged, jiggly, thin, thick, wobbly, hesitant, nervous, bold, coarse, meticulous, etc.  But all these words are not quite as precise as the actual line drawn and perceived. Look at the drawings by Ingres and Rembrandt, Matisse and Georg Grosz, Saul Steinberg and William Steig.  For each line, the pencil may be held lightly, pressed hard, pushed or pulled, moved fast or slow; and the different media produce different quality in the line drawn: pencil, crayon, charcoal, pastel, pen and ink, brush and ink, etching needle, and engraver’s burin.

People who claim to have never drawn often say that they can’t even draw a straight line.  But you can draw a straight line if you can print your name.  You can draw a circle, if you can write the letter ‘O’.  Anyone who can write can draw; anyone who can write cursive letters can draw curves of all kinds. 

Looking at something and drawing it as faithfully as possible forces us to look and see it for the first time because we are so accustomed to just scanning them and giving them a verbal identification, that is, a "word" (to put it in a word).  Draw a leaf, and you are suddenly aware how complicated its form is.  Draw the effect of light on objects with light and shade; you see even more.  A glove has five fingers but it is not the same as the hand with five fingers, and they are both different from a gloved hand. We know they are different as expressed in words but when we draw them we know how exactly they are different.  That’s how drawing sharpens seeing.  Learning to apply colors is an advanced course in drawing. 

So, we draw and we see better.  But what’s is the good of seeing better?  It promotes a grasp of the world more quickly and accurately, that is, more efficiently.  There are certain professions in which a visual comprehension is inherent in it.  Believe it or not, better trained customs officers can "intuitively" read a suspicious faces, comportments, and luggage.  It is not really intuition; it is a training based on countless instances.  An art connoisseur (though they are unfortunately less trusted in the art world today), who detect forgeries, do the task instantaneously based on the long experience of having been exposed to hundreds of similar works.  An experienced physician in general practice reads symptoms by inspection for diagnosis; more recently, physicians rely on digitalized numbers and charts and reports of all kinds of "scientific" tests received back from the lab (and ignore obvious symptoms). Symptomatology is a branch of semiotics - the science of detecting meanings in a sign — visual or auditory markers. Interviewing a candidate in person (vs. via CV and phone conversation) tells more in five minutes about that person and her/his qualifications that reveal themselves less inaccurately verbally on paper or by phone. Such a visual understanding helps businessmen on all levels in judging their associates and clients; street vendors exercise their eyes both in buying and selling.  A skilled structural engineer, examining a drawing, can see whether or not a truss or a beam is under- or oversized without resorting to calculation. So, drawing enhances visual acuity and efficient judgment.  

Seeing without the intervention of words is what a preverbal child naturally does.  An immigrant arriving in a country without adequate preparation in the new language are, of necessity, more alert to and reliant on the facial, gestural, and emotional tenor of the people they observe and come in contact with, and the look of the townscape to deduce semiotically meanings for their understanding.  A fuller understanding of the world comes from this kind of more total visual experience without words. Drawing is the first step to recapture the “open mind” of a child, a mind that is nimble, unconstrained by verbalizing habit, that frees the mind ultimately ready for more creative thinking. 

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