This winter, The Drawing Studio offered 17 sections (with 125 enrollments) of our Drawing Fundamentals program all over our region, from Oracle to Patagonia, from Tubac to Vail. (Ten years ago we averaged one section serving fewer than 20 students each quarter).
Given that our main source of ‘marketing’ is word-of-mouth, we certainly have evidence that the life value people experience from learning the skills of visual observation is widely shared, I’m happy to say.
We also observe that most people who complete our 16-session Drawing Fundamentals cycle do not suddenly contemplate a professional art career. In fact, if anything, one’s life situation seems to be enhanced just as it is. Nevertheless, something opens up in learning to draw, producing an urge to continue to widen the entrance into the garden that drawing reveals is the world around us. The natural question that next arises is, “What’s next?”
The answer to that question is not ‘one size fits all’ because people come to study drawing from many motives: curiosity, a sense of adventure, a desire to improve their painting or sculpture or to revive an old art career, or even on the heartfelt advice of a friend.
At some point though, for most of our beginning drawing students, the game changes. It often comes on cat’s feet, a quiet and unexpected surprise that something a little deeper is going on than ‘just’ learning to draw. We find ourselves engaged in the world around us on a more feeling level. The language of seeing has become very personal. Or as Carl Jung noted, “It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves.”
So the ‘what’s next’ question that I hear is not really about what course to take, although that is part of it.* Rather the question comes from this new place of engagement and is more literally “how do I cultivate the very personal garden of my own visual expression?”
To answer, I need a moment to examine how we got here.
a) Drawing is the practice of how to shift from casual noticing to disciplined looking. This is a shift that fundamentally changes our visual relationship with the world around us from a passive to an active state and our general relationship with the world from reactive to creative. It is our active commitment to the practice of observation makes everything new, both the world without and the world within.
b) Once one is a ‘drawer,’ it also becomes obvious that we of the urban tribes live in a techno, left-brained, linear culture that looks upon images as magic, i.e. ‘outside’ the parameters of ordinary knowing.** (“I can’t draw a straight line” say our friends to us.) As we learn to draw, we realize we are reclaiming a whole right-brain way of knowing, the source of much that we call creative.
c) Thus, a new opportunity for visual learning opens before us. But western education is built upon and dominated by the oral/written language systems of the linear ‘left-brain’ model, and there is almost no recognition historically of visual language learning as either present or essential to general education. Instead visual learning is relegated to arts ‘specialists’. Given this almost alien environment for visual learning that we live in, we are left to ourselves to literally invent the curriculum for learning to see. Here now is my answer to the question, ‘What’s Next?’
1. Be in a studio class all the time if possible (a workshop, a course, a plein-aire painting group, an open figure studio etc.) for two important reasons: a) as part of a serious learning group, you’ll learn and grow faster with the love and support of your community of art learners; and b) the humility inherent in maintaining a ‘student mind’ keeps your learning spirit alive in a way that handles the ego without having to think about it. That is why at TDS we have such a wide range of long and short courses, locations, workshops, open studios, drawabouts, to offer flexible ways for busy people to stay connected.
2. You need to start looking to find your personal ‘way.’ It can take a while, but it is there for you to discover. The clues are almost always physical—a feeling of being at one with a medium or a kind of art practice, or a direction of exploration that feels like coming home. (I still remember the day when I was 21 and my printmaking teacher Lee Chesney showed me how to engrave on a shining copper plate just like Durer had, and I knew I had found my way in.) Take a variety of media or method classes and workshops with different teachers. You will never regret the tour that expands your playing ground; at some point, I guarantee that you will know absolutely what your way is.
3. Find Good Teachers any way you can. Choose your teachers with attention. While a determined student can learn from anyone, it is more efficient to find teachers that are both masters of their medium and also committed to your personal progress. The TDS Faculty is a rich pool of these dedicated teaching artists. Indeed our community is rich with master teaching artists.
4. Whether in a class or not, you should also give yourself the space and time to work on your own. Even if all you have is fifteen minutes a day, make a start. Daily art practice opens your eyes and your heart to the world around you and builds rigor and commitment to your visual life. It is good to include the habit of the care and feeding of a personal sketchbook.
In this issue, we introduce a new category of course listing called “Fundamentals 3.” These courses, which are not limited to drawing, will nonetheless deepen and expand the skills acquired in Drawing Fundamentals, levels 1 and 2. Fundamentals 3 courses include three focal areas: color, composition/design, and intro to media/genres. If you would like some consulting advice for yourself, the faculty of TDS is ready to offer individual coaching. Call the office (620 0947) for an advising appointment.
—© Andrew Rush 2010
* In the Winter 2009 issue of the newsletter, we laid out a model of our curriculum at TDS.
**Tarot Cards, the precursor to modern playing cards, treat the suite of Pentacles (later Diamonds) as both art and magic.