Drawing Intelligently (OR: The Difference Between Good and Great)

I’ve been thinking lately — admittedly, a dangerous past time, but my desire to live on the edge is a tangential subject to the post at hand. Although it would be quaint to fully claim that all this rumination is purely due to this being the anniversary of my birth, the timing of this particular birthday has its significance. I haven’t reached any technical milestones (save for the 23 on the 23rd part, which I find cute), but this year will serve as the crossroads for my program at university, the likes of which I was reminded but a few days ago when catching up with a professor after class.

As back story: the whole of my Mondays and Wednesdays last week were spent in a rather atrocious bit of transportation limbo, which forced me to end up missing the whole of my sessions for that week. Fortunately, the professor was terribly understanding (and this after I had blown up in a mess of ugly stress somewhere else on the Internet), and so my meeting to catch up with the odds and ends of made-up assignments and the like was a little less apprehensive than it could have been. Still, I was colored by a bit of worry: the grades of my first two assignments, which the professor had returned but moments before. A B+ and a B respectively were certainly not bad, per se, but I’m no settler — and, well, it would be a lie to ignore the very fact that I had never received a B for a drawing project in my life until that point. With these thoughts in mind, I set to conferring and catching up.

The discussion went well, but the general sentiment was as such: you’re starting to do x, but you haven’t quite pushed what you’re doing to the limit. Sometimes, it would be contrast, or perhaps shapes that I hadn’t quite nudged to the limit. A particular phrase my professor ended on pretty much summarized the entire discussion that had ensued:

Oh sure, it’s a good drawing. But we want great drawings.

Great drawings. What do great drawings entail? Most of what my professor said about the subject revolved around conscientious composition in a piece, which I think he addressed in his latest assignment handout as drawing intelligently. As he was talking, a part of me was beginning to turn on the panic buttons and scream wildly. The thoughts that seized my mind at that moment were so potent and scary that I wrote down the whole of my concerns in a Moleskine a day later:

Nothing is quite as weird (or disconcerting) as one of those “wtf am I doing?” moments. Am I qualified to pursue the fine art tradition? Do I really have the mind to consider artistic choices? Do I already? Subconscious is not about to get me through this, but how much thought is needed to pursue an image/given subject? What makes art aesthetically successful? Why is it successful? Can I accomplish any of these decisions? If so, how? If not, how do I change my area of focus? Can I blend art and art history successfully? Are these even questions that deserve quantifiable answers?

After reading this tiny mental implosion and the account of the small discussion I had on Monday, I’m not necessarily sure that my desire to paint and become an artist is necessarily so do or die as this, but the concerns I have should be assessed even despite the expansive nature of what I’m contemplating.

In keeping with the mention of drawing intelligently from before, I should explain what I meant by the phrase “subconscious is not about to get me through this” — that is, my tendency for the instinctual composition. For the moment, going on auto-pilot when it comes to arranging subject matter in a picture plane has served me well; either I manage a successful composition surely by chance and gut or I depend on the rendering of the image in order to carry what might otherwise be a relatively boring image. Part of this might be bad habits from high school and cultural background (and indeed, I’ve really had issues with letting go of the desire for photorealism in lieu of accepting the fact that I am a mark-heavy artist), but it’s just as much because I’ve been treating my drawing courses as technical courses in full. For a girl who employs Gestalt theory daily in critiques and art history discussions, I certainly have been experiencing issues with applying what I know to my own work. It’s the interplay with positive-negative shapes and the concept of continuation that would probably benefit my compositions the most, but with this present mentality, I’m pretty sure I can think of all sorts of things that will boost what I’m doing and have it err on the side of great.

Of course, there’s the question of instigating all these changes now that I’m aware of what’s going on. Part of the apprehension is whether I’ve truly understood what it means to employ issues like Gestalt in still-life placements, as well as a handful of other things that are difficult for me to quantify at the moment. It should be easier with time and application, with the grades for my upcoming homework speaking the truth a lot louder than words, as it were.

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