Friday, March 2, 2012

Practice and Science of Drawing, Harold Speed
Chapters IV- VIII

 "...the eye only sees what it is on the look-out for..."
~Harold Speed

Harold challenges us to see what it is that we're drawing. Anyone can look at a rose, but the artist must see how the light hits the petals in different degrees of brightness. Or how the color isn't just a gradient from light to dark. Or the delicacy of it. Or the texture of every part. Or the naturally occurring rhythms. The artist must see what the laymen only glimpses.  
The Impressionists seemed to recreate how to see, how to paint. Strokes of pure color were laid down side by side to create the desired effect of light on objects. But what they forgot as they did their studies was the strength of drawing.  Everything was flat on the picture plane. Nothing was rendered or turned as form. So though their new way of seeing objects as they actually appear on the retina was groundbreaking, it's not how our mind perceives the world around us. We are able to see depth and form because we have two eyes. So the artist is challenged with the task of making a two dimensional object (the canvas) an illusion of three dimensions. 
There are several ways of going about this. Mr. Speed insists that the student must study both line and mass drawing at the same time in order to eventually weave the techniques together and thus more fully get the natural effect of how we perceive objects.  At the CAS we focus more on mass drawing as it relates more to paint, but we must not forget the power that the line can hold in drawings. Rhythms, strength, and expression are all embedded in a properly placed line while masses contain atmosphere and solidity.  Both are crucial to an accurately represented drawing. 
The fear of nearing what we actually see in nature is that our drawings become lifeless. The closer we get to nature, the farther away we get from the emotions that either the artist or the subject emanate because the artist is more concerned with technical accuracy and not with how the subject "feels".  While it is imperative that the student study how to accurately represent whatever is placed before him, it is just as imperative that the student remember what it is that makes him want to be an artist in the first place. Being able to express one's self is what art is about, but it's very easy to lose sight of emotion in favor of accuracy as you go through your studies. Therefore, having the discipline to work on one's own time without the fear of critiques would be advantageous.  (Not that I have the authority to say these things as my own discipline tends to lack at times.) If the student always keeps a sketch book with him and uses it at every spare moment, the life of the world around him will fill it up. It's hard to have static figures in a two minute sketch. And sometimes I need to take my own advice. 
~Katie Liddiard 

There has been a lot of discussion on what is art and what makes an art piece true art.  It is interesting the public has longed for and craved excellence from antiquity.  Watch any sport and the best athletes are admired, envied, and copied.  Books are written and movies are made about the best of the best.  The best of the best truly inspires.
  Recently an artist stretched primed canvas and laid them on the floor in an art gallery and the controversy flew on whether or not this was real art.  It is interesting the canvases were put on the ground.  What we usually find on the ground is discarded and deemed as garbage, picked up and thrown away.  Something of real value is never left on the ground where it can be walked upon, or something spilled on it, or ends up covered in dust.
  If you want to be successful in anything, find someone successful, find out how they became successful, and do exactly what they did to become successful.  Think of golf legends, or basketball, football, or basketball legends.  Many a child studies about them and dreams about becoming as good as they are.
  As a child I would spend hours in the encyclopedia (this gives my era away) pouring over paintings by Goya, Velaquez, Rembrandt, etc.  These paintings were alive to me.  It seemed as if I could reach into the photo and touch the fabrics and or the hands or faces of the subjects in them.  I marveled that someone could make silk fabric read as silk fabric with paint.  The flesh looked alive.  How did the artist render that?  What did they know in order to achieve greatness?
  In college, one of my art teachers talked about what she believed would bring an inexperienced artist to fame and fortune.  She believed there had to be some knowledge of the basics, but the artist had to be on the edge, a trend maker.  The art of the past was just that-the past.  The wheel had to be re-invented.  The William Bouguereaus, Velasquezes, Rembrandts, they had had their day.  Why would you ever think to become like them?  This goes back to my thought-find a highly successful person and do exactly what they did to become as good.
  Harold Speed in his book The Practice and Science of Drawing describes what it takes to accomplish what the best of the best artists achieved. This book is not a one time read for the aspiring artist.  Every time I read it I am in a different place and I find something new to apply.   He speaks about art schools producing only academic students. "It has been the cry for some time that Schools of Art turned out only academic students.  And one certainly associates a dead level of respectable mediocrity with much school work.  We can call to mind a lot of dull, lifeless, highly-finished work, imperfectly perfect (which in my opinion is what a lot of art nonsense is happening now, and is supposedly the beauty of it) that has won the prize in many a school competition...
 But perhaps the chief mistake in Art Schools has been that they have too largely confined themselves to training students mechanically to observe and portray the thing set before them to copy, an antique figure, a still-life group, a living model sitting as still and lifeless as he can.  Now this is all very well as far as it goes, but the real matter of art is not necessarily in all this.  And if the real matter of art is neglected too long the student may find it difficult to get in touch with it again."
  There lies the difference, mediocrity or greatness.  Sometimes with recognition artists believed they have achieved and their education ends. They believe they have arrived to greatness, but lay their work side by side one of the master artist's work and their weaknesses are glaring.
  It takes real humility to recognize one's faults and weaknesses.  It takes real strength and perseverance to do something about it.  I am speaking to me as well as to you the reader.  There is something noble in the struggle from mediocrity-to good-to great.  I love "to dream the impossible dream," and then to strive to achieve it.
~Laurie Bell