Monday, October 16, 2006

Drawing and painting are, in the beginning, all about seeing. Seeing exactly what's in front of you, and seeing what's just underneath the surface if you look a little longer. It's amazing how much more you appreciate the beauty of a thing when you really see it and make the effort to recreate it.

It's oddly hard to see what's right in front of us, because from infancy we have grown up creating short-hand visual abbreviations, labels, symbols, for everything we see. Our pictorial labels simplify what we see. The shorthand for a face is a circle with two dots for eyes and a line for the mouth. Our shorthand for a chair looks like an "h"---and if asked to draw something more complicated, we draw a blank. Sit down, actually look at a face or chair, try to draw it, and the label gets in the way. Put simply, our labels categorize groups, but do not allow for differences in visual perspective: complexities get lost in the mix.

In the same way, we interact with people without seeing them: we label people with shorthand stereotypes and then get frustrated with the overly simplified view. Consider how Holden Caulfield complains about phonies; MTV offers us the "Real World"; and the media attacks James Frey for the fictionality of his so-called life story. We insist we want "reality." The problem is not that others are phony or fake or pretenders. The problem is that we telegraph the message that only a few acceptable slots exist for people to fit into.

Look underneath. Life, like art, is subjective, and it goes beyond what's on the surface. We're genetically predisposed to value beauty, to admire symmetry and color as a sign of health, for the prolongation of the human species. But beauty lies. And beauty lies in the eye of the beholder: an eye which can be trained.

Sometimes it's the inner eye that needs training. Be kind to yourself. Think of life as a series of blank canvases. Every moment is a blank canvas and a new opportunity. And as you go, you choose which of these moments, these artworks, you want to store in the portfolio of your memory. Life is not ONE blank canvas (with the awful potential for ruin), but a series, a portfolio, of a billion billion artworks. Paint over an old canvas with a new scene. Make it a comic strip...

Photo shown is my Self-Portrait, in oil paint (top of post). Cartoon: Gary Larson's "Far Side."

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