Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Case for Class

Artists are like dancers, musicians and actors, in that we must continually take “class” in order to keep our skills sharp. Or at least we should. I have learned that over this past year as I have gone back to taking classes to hone my drawing skills. Too many years away from the classroom left my eye numb to the nuances of the human figure and my hands too rote in their response to perception.

Musicians take lessons with other musicians in order to keep sharp at playing in a group (pun intended). Dancers must continuously work their muscles and stretch their bodies to keep fit enough to perform. Actors work with coaches and directors to develop new characters, voices, and emotions. We all know that athletes maintain a regimen of training whether in season or not. So too should visual artists be as disciplined and realize that our voices and visions need as much nurturing as others in the arts.

Drawing is the foundation of visual arts, or so it should be. Some will beg to differ in that classical drawing ability is a hindrance to expression and abstraction. I suppose an argument can be made for that point of view, but successful non-representational art still needs good bones or it will fall flat. Outsider art or folk art as it was once known is a good category for those who are not trained artists in the classical sense. Having had to teach that aspect of art to children, they are quick to point out that “that person can’t draw!” which is often true, but the artist’s voice is still fresh and worthwhile for others to hear (or see). Sometimes trained artists can’t draw either. I see that right now in my current class at a local university. Surrounded by 18 or so young aspiring art students, only a handful really have any actual drawing ability. Most will move on to photography and digital media majors where one’s ability to render is not required. I look back to my own years in their shoes (before any digital media) and realize how valuable my drawing classes were and that we paid a lot more attention than these kids do. No headphones (subject for another essay), no left handed texting while right hand drawing and so forth.

Before I get into another essay here, I shall stop and make my point. We should never get too comfortable with our “style”, our technique or our signature work. We need the camaraderie and the input of others who play in the same sandbox. It is okay to stay true to a calling (I am still working on the Women Series, the contents of my next solo show in 2011), but it is also important to keep developing the skills which got us there in the first place. A little beneficial cross breeding may take place, as it has for me, that will make my signature work stronger, and my purpose in the arts more rewarding.

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