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Lesson Plans


Re: drawing realistically

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
henry (taylorh)
Wed, 09 Jul 1997 11:35:25 -0700 (MST)


Numo wrote:

Hello All,

I was wondering what all of you thought about the value of drawing
realistically.

Is it important to teach all high school art students to drawing realistically?

If so, why? If not, why not?

- Numo

Drawing realistically came to me with great difficulty. In the early years
it is difficult to comprehend the importance of time and practice in the
development of skill. For me, "doing the thing," with at very least
adequate expertise, was everything. Toy tools and the tedious manufacture
of "non-art" were things to be scorned. One did the thing or didn't;
there was no in between.

"Practice makes perfect" was the gospel in those days; Project Based
Education was unheard of. Because I couuldn't approach the skill of
illustrators such as Gareth Williams or N.C. Wyeth I knew that I couldn't
and therfore I wouldn't draw; at least not "art".

Of course, being who I was I still needed to represent things... the
icons of boyhood in "the olden days": Swords and severed limbs,
automobiles, I tried to avoid horses wherever possible--impossible legs
and feet, monsters, and diagrams. Diagrams become a speciality when one
cannot "draw". If you'd asked me then, I'd tell you that I "made
pictures" and that "I didn't draw."

Representation is, I think, a crucial cognitive skill and the basis of
much later development. Eventually, I found out that, while I did not draw
like Williams or Wyeth, I could, nevertheless draw and indeed draw better
than the vast majority of my classmates. I had a long way to go, and I
knew it. By that point Art was an elective, generally one that I avoided.
Most of those classes, I believed, were "about" art. I never saw any
"art" in the display cases in the hallway but I did see a great many
exercises and I could view 20 iterations of the same image and assess the
skill of individual practitioners. I supposed that the instructor found
it equally easy.

Whenever I drew it was almost always in the process of achieving some
other goal. When drawing became "art" for me most often it was a drawing
made for some one special.

What I could have used over those 12 long years was someone to look over
my shoulder and occasionally make suggestions as to the direction of the
next incremental development I might wish to incorporate the next time I
picked up a pencil or pen. What I generally got were instructions and
evaluations. It might have been just the thing for many of my classmates,
for me, it was disappointing.

So, now I've been an art teacher, I am in the process of becoming an
"official" art teacher. What do I think about drawing, drawing
realistically? I think that realistic drawing is an important and a major
path for development in both art and thinking... cognition. At the same
time I don't think it's for everyone.

"Reality" isn't always what we see or experience with our senses. Our
senses are notorious for lying. There are many ways of developing
hand/eye coordination and few people find drawing to be the place whwre
they most need a delicate hand/eye thing. The pictures in our heads do
not need, of necessity, to derive from the cultural model of representation
popular in the EuroAmerican world.

When we say "realistic" we mean a form of representation which is in
accord with a larger and inherently PHILOSOPHICAL... (sorry 'bout that,
but it is a viable perspective) world view. Cave art, Child art, Asian art,
Pre Giotto representation were and are all "realistic" in given contexts.
"Realistic" representation then is arguably part and parcel of
acculturation, cultural literacy. "Realism" has value, but not necessarily
the value we might automatically accord it. DaVinci would, no doubt have
his own take on the issue and it would have great meaning in his own
world and time.

Rothko may or may not have been have been a skilled representational
draughtsman. It's an academic issue. A no doubt apochraphal story about
Picasso has him encountering a frustrated husband of the subject of an
expensive portrait. "My wife looks nothing like your portrait of her."
the gentleman complains. "What does your wife look like?" inquired
Picasso. The offended patron thereupon produces a wallet-sized snapshot,
"This, sir, is what my wife looks like!." "Mmmmm.... Very small, isn't
she?" Responds the painter.

There is always room for improvement? Perhaps, but I enjoy Picasso's
linework as it is.

There are many exercises which require of a student that she analyse a
subject visually and render it critically. Each of the arts has their own
unique approach; music, dance, and writing all develop critical
renderings of their subjects when called for.

Very few high school graduates become the kind of artist which requires
skill in the perspectives and in realistic rendering. While it is no doubt
true that few graduates can render with the skill of entry level
commercial artists my grandfather's era; it is also true that, for some
reason, there is not very much interest in acquiring such skill. This is
lamentable. But, come on; there is no mandate for drawing as an
educational concern as there was in the last century. No common
perspective on draughtsmanship as an essential skill to the national
economy or defense. Also, art, realistic drawing in particular, has become
somewhat (somewhat?) trivialized in our culture so it doesn't seem to be a
likely candidate for a pop art school skill.

There are many good reasons for learning (and therefore teaching)
drawing. Many of them can, and are, being met by other disciplines. It
seems we lost the ball there. I suspect it's recoverable. We could establish
drawing as a critical skill by fiat. It's been done before to good effect
and with "acceptable losses" a few individuals permenantly "turned off to
art" here and there along the way. But is a "one size fits all" program
appropriate in education? If it is, we can probably come up with a method
which will produce human Xerox machines, or Raphael clones if we so
desire and if we are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

My own tendency is a desire to ask what's appropriate in the case of each
individual student. A heck of a lot harder, but a set of problems custom
made for these computers that keep popping up everywhere.

Representation seems to be the critical skill here. The tools, (pencil,
brush, thumb, scissors); the method, (drawing, painting, stencil,
collage); the cultural frame, (the form of perspective) or the formal
structure (realism, impressionism, expressionism) are all secondary to the
goal of representation. I'd say try and match each kid up with what they
are ready for. That won't work for everyone, of course, but what would?
When faced with making a decision about what would be best for everyone,
I tend to favor individualization I guess.

In the end, we all have to make our own decisions I guess that or accede
to the decisions of the institutions which employ us; which rather moots
the original question, eh?

take care
-henry