How come I can’t draw a person?”
You’re not alone. My colleague, who is as astutely savvy as he is kind, had a similar experience. When he was a college student in the ’80s, he drew a man in a bar. His students asked him to revise. No thanks. Their teachers had taught them better and were happy to give it up for a chance to have the man in a different pose, and he obliged.
It turns out, however, that drawing a person who can’t speak up doesn’t teach you anything about what it’s like to be a person. What an artist learns is not what the pose is like to breathe or to hold one’s breath. What he or she must deal with is what it was like to hear the person speaking, and what that person has to say. The first principle—that art should be true to its subject—has a powerful intuitive appeal, but the second principle is also as relevant.
What makes these two principles more powerful is precisely the fact that they exist in their own world: the world of drawing. In doing so, they reveal the deep truth that all art is made from within one’s life.
I once saw a man who had taken a wrong turn and ended up in a strange bar and told the bartender that he couldn’t breathe. A barman asked him if he was fine or had asthma, and then said: “Don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with you. You look terrible. Are you on oxygen?” The bartender looked at the man who had been talking to a woman from out of town and said: “Yes, yes I am. Did you have asthma? What do we do about it, doctor? Do we cut it out? Are there prescription drugs? Are there breathing solutions?” He just couldn’t believe he had walked into a bar with someone whose eyes were bloodshot. He was mortified, which he was supposed to be feeling, but what he did with the fact that the man couldn’t breathe he couldn’t tell.
He walked out with the woman who asked him if he had asthma. They talked for minutes and had sex. He couldn’t tell his friend what they were talking about because she wouldn’t tell him, but she also couldn’t tell why and because of the man’s inability to breathe he was able to figure out a few things that he never would have known otherwise. He realized that she didn’t want him to quit smoking.
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