“My Figure Drawing Teacher Is From Spain” 2016. Acrylic on wood panel, 20 x 16″
I am surprised I made it these past two months. A man approaching a half-century of life does not need a new trick if he is productive and often pleasantly satisfied with his limitations. I draw better, more confidently than five years ago. The class has taught me proportion, lengths and widths of the human form. That’s good enough for me. I color better than five years ago—trial and much error, with persistence and practice… I have never sat before a canvas not painting for more than two minutes. I think I would suffocate if I did! That is a kind of success I have achieved—painting meditation. Actually, the original intent of auditing this university class has been satisfied. That is, I humbled myself before a better drawer, hoping he unveil some secrets to a lifelong study of the figure. He opened up a world to me that was practical and interesting, but only to a degree. Car mechanics are interesting too. So is bridge engineering, and volleyball tournaments. However, if I had to paint with any of these newly refined skills, I’d have killed my lust for self-liberation altogether before the second engine block torque demonstration.
The class itself was a private torture. I won’t elaborate out of respect for my professor’s occupation, except that the environment created and methods used, no matter how traditional, to me were painfully rote and joy-stultifying. Art students paying for his tutelage will graduate later in the spring feeling accomplished, but less confident and overflowing with new doubt—exactly how I felt while petitioning the master for a free spot in his class. Here is my letter I wrote to him, followed by a reason why I was probably knocking on the wrong monastery:
Are you familiar with the book “Training of a Zen Buddhist Monk” by D.T. Suzuki? If not, it’s an account of a monk’s life in a dojo—from beginning to release. Before entering he must wait at the gait for days, suffering the elements and jeers of other monks heckling him from behind the wall, until he is allowed entrance to live and learn with the master.
This week I received a modest grant to sit with Russian figurative painters using Skype, amass work with them, transport it, to finally show in exhibition in the fall at The Art Association. Our first meeting was last Monday. It was the most humbling experience of my life. I learned (yet always knew) that I can’t draw. I am in love with paint— a naive painter through and through. But I can’t draw! Sitting in my studio plugged in live to social media friends six thousand miles away, a huge language barrier, and a room full of more experienced figure drawers—it was like the biology student being called upon to perform brain surgery on his own child. Okay, not quite like that. But I have been pacing the floor for several days and thought of you.
Anyway, to the point. Do you have room for me to audit your Figure Drawing I class this spring? I see that it is almost full, but I promise to be a very non-invasive yet eager student. I do not expect miracles, nor do I desire trompe-l’œil skill achieved in this lifetime. I just want to see better. Who better to learn from than you?
Well, as mentioned before, I have learned a more confident approach to gesture and proportion of the human being. Good. And I must leave it at that, or I fear regression to a point where I begin to doubt my own powers of expression, when alternately at this time in my life, I feel born again and more productive than I ever felt.
Barring any private or mass public tragedy, my future is paint because I have determined that there be no other for me. If I draw so badly that you can’t see the painting above to be my figure drawing professor suffering his own demons, then label me abstract expressionist. Heck, if I wanted to, I could have given him beach balls for legs, if it helped express what I believe most men my age feel on their darkest nights.
I express to charge my world— my politics, philosophy, and emotion—with repetition of my humanity. I guess I already knew before taking this class that I did not need to draw better in order to express myself.
I need to feel more, dream more, live more. There is no regress to progress. Daily, all any person should do is take his humanity and fly with it.
My resignation letter:
I am writing to thank you for the chance to audit your Drawing 300 class these past two months. It was challenging as you said it would be. Still, I learned a great deal—about just as much as I need to carry on. Too many new tricks for this old dog and he may undo all he has unlearned over the years. I guess I like where I go with painting more than I felt I did. Self-doubt is a big part of any adult life. I feel that I have hit a point where the trade off of learning the figure in a traditional way just piles on more doubt than I desire at this time and station of my life. I guess, overall, I truly enjoy my naivety. As you said in the last lecture, it is good to know our abilities and work with them. Coincidentally, I have long said that all I want out of a productive life is to perfect my limitations.
I’ll have you know that I am exactly half way there:)
If you are ever around my neighborhood, please stop by for a cup of coffee. I keep a messy studio around back. We can discuss painting, art, planetary alignments, what have you… I also host house exhibitions about twice a year to keep me in touch with other human beings of my locale.
Always merry and bright,