On October 23 I had to stop and reiterate my ideas about keeping a constant sketchbook while traveling.
The day found me pencilling the highlights and shadows of yet another faceted, sparkly glass object…my most ambitious, meticulous and realistic drawing to date. Strangely, the more detailed and exact I made it, the less pleased with it I felt. In fact, flipping back through just the last few days of drawings makes me think of botanical illustrations, of plates done by cataloguers…very conservative depictions, trying as much as possible to convey information, to be faithful to the object’s reality (objective reality?)
There’s a tendency to admire realistic art, but it’s a narcissistic, myopic admiration. What we’re really saying when we ooh and ahh over a drawing that “looks like a photograph” is “This is familiar! I know what it is because that’s exactly the way it looks in life! This work doesn’t push me outside of my comfort zones to leave me standing in the nebulous hinterlands of my lazy mind, or confront me with strange new ideas that I have no socially prescribed reactions for, and so it has my approval!”
For an artist like me, realism is risk-free. It’s safe, it’s popular, it needs no explanations, it doesn’t arouse anger or alienation in the average viewer. It doesn’t reveal very serious things about myself to strangers. It’s the gambit of a cowardly artist.
I don’t like realism in art, but I find realistic drawings relatively easy to do. I’m usually too lazy to work so conscientiously, but I can. The scene is in front of me, after all; I just have to slavishly copy what I see, like the receptor of a digital camera. There are decisions to be made, certainly, like “What color is that really?”, and “What’s the best way to recreate that effect?” But on the whole, it’s all about measuring, identifying, transcribing. The proportions of the object, the perspectives. The greyscale values, from 0% to 100%. The tiniest hint of green in that stainless steel grey. It’s less like art, more like industrial science. There is so little of me in these fastidious renderings.
This is probably why I admire abstract art and expressionism most of all…those works that “present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas”.
These sketchbook studies were intended to develop the habit of doing playful, spontaneous drawings of the world around me. To filter what my eyes see through the way I feel—humorous, joyful, peaceful, loving, fearful, angry, confused, bored, compassionate—and the things I think. They were to please no one but myself, and to document my going, my experiencing…never to produce a catalog of mundane objects, accurately recorded, painstakingly detailed, and that any camera could record better than I.
Hence this page, and the reminder to get back (off the beaten) track.