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June 2, 2012: Drawing on the “right” side of the Brain

The one (perhaps) good thing about getting older is that you get wiser. Sad to say, one doesn’t have any outward sign of this, like say, a knowledge bump on your head that gets larger every time you have a major ahh haa moment, or a built in light bulb that grows brighter when you have a major epiphany. And as we all know, wisdom teeth are the bane of our existence.

Wisdom is a more intangible entity that you carry around in you, and you use it to your advantage. Knowing this is in itself a sign of wisdom.

A case in point: I decided to take a drawing class that was one of several being offered at Mat Su College, as a part of the 2012 Machetanz Art Festival. I agreed to help set up the rooms yesterday, and saw it listed on a door. My initial thinking was – this is the class for me. I enjoy drawing stick figures, always have. And if you think about it, the possibilities of what one might do with them are infinite.

I paid my registration fee this morning, and then bounded into class. I immediately found out that this was not a stick figure class per say, but an introduction to figure drawing. The teacher’s drawings, which were taped to the white board, confirmed this. They were of full-fledged figures. There was not a stick figure amongst them.

My excitement about taking this class didn’t wane. I figured (pun intended) that perhaps learning how to draw supposedly multi-dimensional nudes would somehow help me draw better stick people. Or, I might abandon drawing stick people entirely. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to move on.

I set up my easel, put my newsprint pad on it, and with Conte crayon in hand, made a few quick warm up sketches of

Little Roto Tiller Bacon
Little Roto Tiller Bacon is a member of the Bacon family

Greg and his drawing
Greg and his drawing

This student is following the rules

Megan and Little Roto Tiller Bacon. The teacher introduced himself, and then started explaining the Law of Eighths to us dozen or so students. As he explained, you divide your drawing space into eighths, and then draw the body in relation to its proportions. He further explained that the rest of the class would involve his and our working within these perimeters.

I was intrigued. This seemed to me to be incredibly cool. I began making cerebral connections. Figure drawing, like photography, has a mathematical basis. There’s a certain logic to it. We humans are anatomically put together in a very precise way. There are drawing related rules, and the best artists learn them. Then, like Picasso, they break them.

I reminded myself that there are no short cuts, and put my shoulder to the wheel. I made my hash marks, and then I hit a stuck point. Where, I wondered, does one put the neck--above or below the second eighth? By the time I figured out that it goes below the first eighth, the teacher was explaining something called the golden law of means. As I understood it, it has something to do with snails and circularity.

I suppressed my growing frustration by setting down my Conte crayon and taking a few photos. When I again resumed working on getting my building blocks in order, everyone else had moved on to figures in motion.

I then made the mistake of checking out what my classmates were doing. My hat is off to the teacher and to my classmates, for they are ARTISTS. The figures all drew could have been matted, framed, and hung in the Metropolitan Museum. I muttered to Greg, the guy who taught last week’s photography class, that “this teacher is on to something.” He nodded, and resumed working on his nude. I glanced at his newsprint pad. His woman was fleshed out and quite beautiful.

I did the eighths thing again, putting squares, blocks, and circles where they belong. Then, as an experiment, I drew Little Roto Tiller. Well, I must say, his proportions were in proportion. This was most definitely a first.

I gave it the old heave ho, and again I tried to make the connection between the law of eighths and figure drawing. The teacher slowly made his way across the room, offering suggestions to the real artists. It was then that I had a flashback. I was back at the University of New Hampshire, again taking beginning drawing. It was mid-semester. Every two weeks we’d had critiques. And each time, the teacher, Dr. Sigmund Abeles (amazing, his name just came back to me) said less and less about my work.

Then one day, Dr. Abeles walked past my nude astride a horse on wheels and said nothing at all. I packed up my stuff, and crept out of the room, for I realized that I was not an artist. Rather, I was an artist wannabe. History repeated itself today, when this drawing teacher behaved in a similar fashion.

The analogy to wisdom is this – some time ago I would have berated myself for not being able to come up with a figure drawing. Dumb, stupid, and inept would have been key adjectives that I would have used to describe myself. Not this time. I now suspect that there are ways of teaching drawing that complement both the cognitive patterns of left and right brain thinkers.

And, while I’m primarily a right brain learner, I see left brain learning as being equally legitimate. I might do better if I enroll in an art class in which the teacher relies upon a slightly less logical and slightly more intuitive approach. I don’t know if I will do this. Even chancing it will take time away from writing.

I started working on this dispatch immediately after leaving class. Even then, I suspected that if I’d written this a few days later, that it would have a more humorous tone and detached perspective. I suspect that when I mention it to him, that Little Roto Tiller Bacon, (who is also right brained,) will wholeheartedly agree.

Next: 177. 06/3/12: Prior to Rain—a Diary Entry by Alys, age 12