As you may have noticed, lately I have posted some of my own drawings on this blog. (I have done this once or twice before, even linked to my never-to-be-completed web page my "art".) Even though this is little more than showing off, or making a fool of myself, as the case may be, I have discovered that I enjoy seeing my doodles out there, so I may continue submitting sketches and drawings to my regular posts in the future.
What then do I draw from drawing? I am not sure, exactly, apart from the fact that I love doing it. But give me a little time, and I should be able to come up with some intellectually more respectable reasons for yielding to my lust. Drawing clearly has to do with perception. Drawing is mostly seeing correctly. When I am sketching, especially when drawing from life, I am concentrating on perceiving only what I perceive, not what is supposedly there. This exercise may have some spill-over effect to my other interests. Drawing sometimes feels like fighting certain temptations, not unlike doing philosophy. Wittgenstein's warning, "Don't think, but look!" (PI 66) is just as useful to an artist as it is for the philosopher. Don't think that this a hand, and that hands have five fingers on them, but look -- study the shape of the object in front of you, how does it appear from this particular perspective, don't draw what is hidden from view, how many fingers do you actually see, and so on. Drawing, therefore, is learning to see. You learn to trust your own eyes -- not blindly(!), but because you know you have made your vision more reliable through hours of concentrated practice. Kids running around can of course be disturbing. This kind of disturbance, however annoying it may be, is not really why concentration is essential to drawing, however. I am thinking more of silencing my own voice than shutting out those around me. Again, there is a similarity with philosophizing. Drawing too, some say, is a quest for understanding. This is often true, I think -- and as with philosophical understanding what is required is not so much analyzing tools and a talent for categorization as a simple will to listen. A good drawing session has the form of a conversation. The draughtsman too has things to say, obviously, but there is always the danger of becoming a talkative know-it-all who doesn't take other opinions seriously. Sometimes we scrutinize someone's ideas in search for symptoms. This might result in a diagnosis. That is what understanding someone means in psychiatry. But this is not conversing. The understanding of someone that might come from a genuine conversation, i.e. when we are tuned in to each other the right way, is more akin to becoming familiar with each other, getting, as we say, to know that other person. When drawing, particularly when drawing from life, I am, in similar fashion and for similar reasons, trying to calm down my own voice, telling me this and that about whatever I am looking at, in order not to interrupt the object in front of me. Another name for this efferent concentration, the other-directed concentration I am aspiring to when drawing from life, is attention. "Attention," according to Simone Weil, "is the rarest and purest form of generosity." So there you are. Yielding to a lust contributes to my virtuousness!
This will never become an art blog, let alone a blog devoted to investigations of the act of art making, because, as you will appreciate by now, I have a hard time expressing (in understandable terms) what drawing is, what it means to me and what one can learn by it. One who manages to just that is John Berger. He truly knows what he is talking about, both as an artist and as an art historian, and his writings are always eloquent and a pleasure to read. In particular I have enjoyed, obviously, Berger on Drawing. His book About Looking, which is less devoted to drawing, but discusses photography, perception and art in more general terms, is also inspiring -- and it opens with the, by now, classic essay "Why Look at Animals". Ways of Seeing, first published in 1972, has been highly influential in that it focuses on, and to some extent has altered, how we look at pictures. I have yet to read Bento's Sketchbook, with the subtitle "How does the impulse to draw something begin?", but as it promises reflections on sketching soaked with philosophy, Baruch (or Bento) Spinoza's in particular, the book sounds almost too good to be true: "Bento's Sketchbook is an exploration of the practice of drawing, as well as a meditation on how we perceive and seek to explore our ever-changing relationship with the world around us."
There is any number of good how to-books out there, books that teach you different techniques, what pencils and brushes to use, how to achieve certain effects and so on; but the best book I know of that aspires to teach people to use their eyes, is Betty Edwards' book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I bought my copy on a visit to the US many years ago, and made good use of it. This is very much an anyone-can-learn-how-to-draw-properly kind of book. Like learning how to read, it doesn't require any special gift, nor is there any mystery about it -- it is just a matter of learning to do certain things the right way. As the title suggests, the book is based on some theory about the two brain hemispheres having different capabilities, one side specializing in linguistic tasks, the other in visual-spatial. Edwards makes claims to the effect that the linguistic side is too dominating, and that this is what needs fighting if we are to learn how to draw anything but stylized images of things. I don't know how well supported these theories are, and frankly it doesn't matter. Who cares whether the theory is true or false, so long as the treatment works? I always thought the theoretical parts of the book unnecessary. You do not need to tell a child anything about its brain for the reading exercises work. In Norwegian the book is titled Å tegne er å se, which translates as "Drawing is seeing", and that is quite enough for me.
Here is a youtube video based on the book: