Yesterday, I wasn't sure what life lessons I'd learned at drawing class, but when I went to bed last night, I slept the way I most like to. I lay down and woke up nine hours later, to the sound of mynahs chattering, doves cooing, and the nuanced melody of rain in the gutters. I brought my hands up to my nearsighted eyes to check that I’d returned to the correct body, a habit I’ve had since childhood—my dreaming is so vivid, so far away and real, that I’m never quite sure until I look at my familiar freckled hands that I’ve come home to the body allotted me.
That half state between the otherworld of sleep and alertness is a rich place to daydream. Ideas and insights bubble slowly in that gray space, floating unattached to agenda, and can harvested if I’m careful. This morning, my mind wandering in the half-light, I began to know a deeper insight about what was wrong with my drawing.
The Resistance wasn’t as bad this week—not because I anticipated class with any more enthusiasm, but because I’d trounced Resistance so thoroughly last week by not only pushing through, but exposing it. Resistance thrives in the dark where we shamefully hide it. There Resistance grows, and chews on our vulnerabilities like the terrible swamp monster it is. Whenever light is shone on it, its power is lessened. I felt the residual of that victory this week in slightly less overwhelming dread and no active escape planning.
The model was the same lean, dignified, proportionally beautiful man the master called “as perfect as one of the Russian models I had when I was studying.” We also now had an hour do to our drawing, and standing before the paper, I just knew familiarity with the subject and more time would help me get to the next level. I sharpened my pencil and leaned into the board with a feeling like putting on the gas when heading for a stretch of open road.
But alas. More time just became more frustration as my midpoint, the exact tip of the model’s penis, wavered and bobbled as the drawing’s dimensions expanded and contracted, first the shoulder a hunched monstrosity, then the feet as big as a hobbit’s, then the arms bowed and thin, elastic-looking like Stretch from Fantastic Four. I erased the paper so many times it became rough and velvety, my eraser kneaded with the sweat of sticky hands.
I also attracted the passionate ire of the master by saying something about creativity. “I’m here because I need to exercise the right side of my brain.”
This was apparently a trigger for him, because he disagrees with the premise of the famous Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain book, which was the book I’d read in the 1990s and found helpful. My sister, with a twinkle in her eye, additionally threw me under the bus by telling him I was “a psychologist.”
The master parked himself in front of me and for twenty minutes we haggled the finer points of perception, neurology, myths about art, and studies of split-brained trauma victims. He despises the undisciplined daubing of artists who have never studied.
“True art comes from mastery.” He cocked his head, toned arms crossed on his chest as he eyed me speculatively. “I see what you are doing, now,” he said, with a flick of fingers at my execrable picture. “And why you are frustrated. You are trying to be creative. There is no creativity here, in this class. This class about is mastering the ability to process three dimensions onto two. Once you have done that, perhaps then you can become creative. Here, there is only MADS.” And once again, he wrote it on my paper.
I’m the only student in class to have MADS written on her paper three different times on two different days.
“Yep, I’m special,” I mentally told the shaming voice of Resistance. The student beside me smiled sympathically, almost patting me on the back for comfort as the master finally moved on with his laser-like attention to someone not as crippled by years of bad instruction as I was.
I took that opportunity to leave the scene of the latest disaster and wander the room to see what other students were doing—and that’s when I began to see how my drawing was different. The drawings that were going well were boldly marked into quadrants. Great arcs of confident angle strokes kept the model’s body nailed to the cross of the directionality the observer had chosen. Midpoints were clear and non-negotiable, and there was a solid blockiness to the work, as if a spike were sunk into the paper. One of the artists is clearly the most experienced, a European woman in her sixties. Her drawing rose off the page and breathed, his nose the proud prow on the face of our model.
I don’t even get to blame age for my ineptitude. Ah, Resistance. Always faithful to jab me in the soft parts.
Today, in the gentle dreamy state of early waking, lying in my bed and thus outwitting Resistance’s judgement a little longer, I mentally compare my drawing to the others I saw in the room.
There was a tentativeness to my rendering, a subjectivity, a questioning quality. Contained within that was the love of curves and sensuous movement versus structure. The drawing resembled a balloon being blown up and twisted to assume a shape, rather than something that emerged from a true grasp of form.
On the plus side, my drawing had a distinctive quality—a certain naïve sweetness. It was incorrect, but it was still appealing. “I see what you’re doing now,” the master had said. “Trying to be creative.”
Captured on my paper for all to see is my rebellious desire to do it my own way, and not the way being taught.
I don’t like measuring. Or plumblines. Or following lists, directions, or rules, for that matter. I’ve always been smart, and not had to do things the same old way as other people. I could learn faster, invent shortcuts, always able to think of easier ways to do difficult things. I’ve done this my whole life, and it’s a deeply ingrained habit.
“Talent isn’t enough,” the master told me unequivocally during our debate.
“But talent and perseverance are unbeatable,” I said, my personal mantra for writing, and for life.
“Talent must persevere and be disciplined,” he acceded, as we both turned to contemplate the wrongness of what an hour of serious effort on my part had yielded.
Four weeks in, I still hadn’t brought the plumbline we were supposed to have on the first day of class, even though, after the third class, I finally understood why a plumbline was important. I don’t have the right pencil I’m supposed to have, or the paper I’m supposed to use. I keep borrowing from others, using different grades of paper or a different instrument.
The master keeps catching me at it and calling me on it.
Yes, in my cute, smiley, friendly way, I’m the redheaded rebel in the class, relying on talent and charm to let me get away with doing things my own way. A nice rebel, but still—scratch the surface, and I’m stubborn to the point of hurting myself.
I will bring a plumbline to class next week, and I’ll even try to get the right pencil and paper and quadrant the paper. Because, even though I’m a rebel, I agree with the master, and I want to learn.
What’s true for writing is also true for drawing. On some level I knew that, but I never knew how rebellious I really was about how I went about things in life. In light of this insight, I see my writing style, my self-publishing, my continuous need to try new genres and forms rather than sticking with what works, as part of the whole. I’m not one thing—I’m an artist, and that art just takes different forms.
But in everything, talent must be disciplined, and then persevere—or Resistance will win.