Street sketching is a new thing for me. I love how it brings my vision into focus–how I can lose myself for an hour or two in utter concentration. While I don’t think about more than what I’m doing while I work, I find that it stimulates so many questions, provokes my mind–no small part of what fascinates me, though some of those questions are troubling.
This is drawing from life. Being there. One of the things I’ve been thinking about, is how demanding this is, developing and perfecting skills, and yet, it’s not that alone. Like with figure drawing–there are comic artists who are superbly skilled at rendering human figure from imagination–think of the forshortened points of view of those superheros. Or illustrators… was looking at the cover of a book, a street of Philly row houses drawn from an acute angle, all with ariel bays in perfect perspective. You learn that well, and you can do it from imagination–maybe with the aide of photo references. I both respect and admire the skill, knowledge and facility of these artists, but that isn’t where I want to go, or what I find most interesting. There comes a point, a level of skill and knowledge, when one can draw on what has absorbed without further encounter of the kind of immediacy I want when I’m working from life. Robert Beverly Hale, the great teacher of anatomy and figure drawing summed up the learning process like this: “first you draw what you see, then you learn to know what you see, then you draw what you know.” But that leaves out the last, and most important step: returning to the subject you’ve learned, and seeing more. Beginning again that process of discovery–seeing ever more fully, more deeply. It’s possible for illustrators and cartoonists, to get to a point where they can coast on what they know–but they don’t have to. I look at the illustrations of Charles Dana Gibson, or cartoonists like Walt Kelley or Bill Watterson, who, even when using basic templates, never surrender to mere tracing of what they’ve done before. I’m not trying to distinguish between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art; I’m trying to understand something about process.
In street sketching, it’s not their technical mastery of perspective or penship–it’s that going back to the beginning that’s the life of those drawings– of those who do it well. There’s a freshness that I love, like coming across a scene for the first time–it’s a way of seeing… but this is where I begin to question what it is I’m doing. What else is going on here.
There’s a blog, Urbansketchers. org. You’ll find there work by many of the best. But you will also see another pattern… these are world travelers, who go to cities around the world, and draw… rather than taking snap shots… to see the world, one drawing at a time, I think is their phrase. While I love these drawings… I’m uncomfortable with them–with the conceptual framework that binds them. I can’t help but think of dogs… marking territories.
Vision… as a kind of ownership. A foreclosure, more than an opening. What we see–is territory, the ‘normal’ world of the capitalist tourist: this is beautiful … and ours. This is fascinating… and ours. Not the possession of the artists, but of those they unconsciously, or at least, uncritically, serve. A theme-park world for the enjoyment of the power elite, and their upper echelon servants.
Court artists of the capitalist leisure elite.
I don’t like that–that I can’t escape this thought. I really do love this body of works. I aspire to it! To render such life in my drawings, my art!
But so much else about my art –about where I want to take it–is about escape–escaping the Master’s Hand and Voice, escaping the “Art System,” the capitalist gallery to investor universe of gatekeepers and Owners–finding my way to a revolutionary, ‘anti-art,’ in as much as so much of what we–what art history–defines as ‘Art,’ is but a captive of Euro-Patriarchal art making, colonizing the traditions of other cultures–serving the Masters.
Street sketchers stand on a border… I love that there is no pretense here of “higher art,” I love the individualism, the freedom expressed by these artists.. but I despair at what I see as ideological captivity. And I don’t know what to do… or what I would like these artists I admire, to do.
I only know that it’s a problem. And that you can’t solve any problem, without first seeing it, recognizing it, defining it for what it is.
Where is my community of believing dissenters?