Drawing for dear life

“We who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination.”

-John Berger

If I have stopped drawing, have I stopped journeying? Have I given up on “the incalculable destination”? What if my sole purpose here was always to see, and that seeing is made bearable only by drawing? Is the capacity to draw eroded by anxiety? The anxiety of utilitarian demands, or self-doubt, and the tyranny of expectation from outside, and the punishing superego within? What a babble of demons has assembled with the sole purpose of tearing up my paper and breaking my pencils!

“For the artist drawing is discovery. And that is not just a slick phrase, it is quite literally true. It is the actual act of drawing that forces the artist to look at the object in front of him, to dissect it in his mind’s eye and put it together again; or, if he is drawing from memory, that forces him to dredge his own mind, to discover the content of his own store of past observations. It is a platitude in the teaching of drawing that the heart of the matter lies in the specific process of looking. A line, an area of tone, is not really important because it records what you have seen, but because of what it will lead you on to see. Following up its logic in order to check its accuracy, you find confirmation or denial in the object itself or in your memory of it. Each confirmation or denial brings you closer to the object, until finally you are, as it were, inside it: the contours you have drawn no longer marking the edge of what you have seen, but the edge of what you have become. Perhaps that sounds needlessly metaphysical. Another way of putting it would be to say that each mark you make on the paper is a stepping-stone from which you proceed to the next, until you have crossed your subject as though it were a river, have put it behind you.

— from “Drawing,” Selected Essays of John Berger, edited by Geoff Dyer

“What sort of pleasure did I take in drawing? Here your fifty-year-old memoirist must put a little distance between himself and the child he once was:

  1. I took pleasure in drawing because it allowed me to create instant miracles that everyone around me appreciated. Even before I was done, I was looking forward to the praise and love my drawing could elicit. As this expectation deepened, it became part of the act of creation and part of its joy.
  2. After a time, my hand had become as skilled as my eyes. So if I was drawing a very fine tree, it felt as if my hand were moving without my directing it. As I watched the pencil race across the page, I would look on in amazement, as if the drawing were the proof of another presence, as if someone else had taken up residence in my body. As I marveled at his work, aspiring to become his equal, another part of my brain was busy inspecting the curves of the branches, the placement of the mountains, the composition as a whole, reflecting that I had created this scene on a blank piece of paper. My mind was at the tip of my pen, acting before I could think; at the same time it could survey what I had already done. This second line of perception, this ability to analyze my progress, was the pleasure this small artist felt when he looked at the discovery of his courage and his freedom. To step outside myself, to know the second person who had taken up residence inside me, was to retrace the dividing line that appeared as my pen slipped across the paper, like a boy sledding in the snow.
  3. This division between my mind and my hand, the sense that my hand was acting of its own accord, had something in common with the sensation of escaping into my dreamworld when my head stood still. But—unlike the chimeras of my strange dreamworld—I made no effort to hide my drawings. Instead, I showed them to everyone, anticipating praise and taking pleasure in it. To draw was to find a second world whose existence was not cause for embarrassment.
  4. The things I drew, no matter how imaginary the house, the tree, the cloud, had a basis in material reality. If I drew a house, I felt as if it were my house. I felt I owned everything I drew. To explore this world, to live inside the trees and scenes I drew, to depict a world so real I could show other people, was an escape from boredom of the present moment.
  5. I loved the smell and the look of paper, pencils, sketchbooks, and other art materials. I loved to caress the blank drawing paper. I liked keeping drawings, I liked their thingness, their material presence.
  6. By discovering all these little pleasures, I dared, with the help of all the praise I garnered, to believe myself different, even special. I didn’t like bragging, but I did want it known. The world I created through drawing, like the second world I hid in my head, enriched my life; even better, it gave me a legitimate escape from the dusty, shadowy world of everyday life. Not only did my family accept this new habit of mine, they accepted my right to it.”

– from “The Pleasures of Painting,” in Istanbul: Memories and the City (translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely)


See: https://www.google.co.za/amp/s/www.newstatesman.com/culture/art-and-design/2013/05/john-berger-drawing-discovery%3famp




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