By drawing and painting I'm learning the art of seeing. Not only to get a vague idea of what's around me, but really seeing. I can explore the visual reality and my visual imagination: the outer world, and the inner. This is a creative activity for my own sake, with no concern for the presence of a viewer. Whether I create immortal art or not is irrelevant. If I do, fine, but it is just a side-effect; that's not the aspect I'm interested in. Whether anyone ever sees these works is also irrelevant. Even the works themselves are irrelevant. The important creation is not born on a paper or a canvas, but it is immaterial, it takes place in my own mind.
Painting and drawing can also be an excellent way to train the correlation between eye and hand. Almost everyone can learn writing. The step to drawing is not as insurmountable as most people believe.
The barrier is the brain and its preconceptions. You cannot draw a hand because you have a preconception of how a hand should look; you do not draw what you see. It is the same with painting. Why do children paint water blue and sun yellow or orange? Not to mention how they paint human skin. It is not because it looks like that; water is hardly ever blue, sun is not orange (except on rare occasions), and human skin is neither pink nor orange. They do not paint what they see; they paint how they think something should look. That generates stereotyped pictures and colours, based on convention rather than observation. It is not realistic art; it is a form of symbolism.
Artistically, there is nothing wrong with symbolism or other abstractions when they are created deliberately, but when attempted realism results in semi-abstract pseudo-symbolism, it must be seen as a failure. Almost without exception, children want to create realistic pictures, but in general, they cannot.
The brain has its own idiosyncrasies. One is that our vision has a sense of up and down. Or let's say that the brain interprets an image after preconceptions of up and down. Especially faces. We can recognise thousands of faces, but not if they are upside down. That makes it possible for us to deceive the brain.
If you take a picture of a face and try to draw a copy of it, you will probably fail (unless you are a trained artist), because of your preconceptions of how a face should look. But turn it upside down, and try to draw a copy of it (also upside down). When you have finished it, turn it around a look at it. Much better! But why? Because you had no preconceptions of how an upside-down face should look, you drew what you saw! Or try this with other things than faces.
This difference has to do with the bicamerality of the brain, its being divided into two hemispheres. By changing the perspective beyond what we have "rational" preconceptions about, we shift the major activity from one hemisphere to the other.
Another way to draw better by deceiving the brain into forgetting its own preconceptions is not to draw an object, but the space outside the object. One might say that you draw the negative shapes. Then you force your concentration and your consciousness away from the object and occupy your mind with what you see instead. When the shapes around the object are correctly drawn, the object itself appears.
It is not trivial to see what you see instead of what you believe you should see. Preconceptions are a powerful force. Some people say “I believe only what I can see.” This is based on a lack of understanding of as well vision as the human mind. Unless you have deliberately trained your mind for this, you would see what you believe, not the other way around. What I would call the art of seeing, is to be able to “switch off” the preconceptions and really see. Only perception, no preconception.
Indeed, the Art of Seeing is related to realistic pictorial art. Yet, for an artist, that is just a first step. First you must see, then, after that, you must try to learn to see beyond mere seeing. Depicting art is not only about making realistic depictions of reality, even though every artist must learn that first, before he or she can take the next step. You must be able to see before you can see beyond seeing, before you can see through the surface and observe the true essence of the object instead of only the surface of the object itself. Good depicting art exposes this essence. (I'm not saying that most depicting art is good art; that is an entirely different question which we will not discuss now.)
Pablo Picasso understood this. He expressed that very clearly when he said: “If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse, but surely you will see the wildness!”
Here he talks about completely eliminating the recognisable surface, the visual reality, in order to depict the essence only! That is to make a visual representation of something that has a non-visual nature. This requires an equally qualified spectator, otherwise this wildness will just look as nonsense. It also makes this sort of art difficult to understand; many among the audience, due to their own limitations, think it is indeed nonsense. Everything looks as nonsense to the one who doesn't understand it. Few people have even learned the first step, to really see, so how would they be able to see beyond that? However, to practise art might be a way to develop that ability.
(The article is based on material previously published in Meriondho Leo, and in my e-book “From Vision to Visual Music”, 2017.)
Art as Visual Music & The Importance of Form.
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