This week’s model has skin the exact shade of Werther’s chewy caramels, and she’s named for a Norse goddess. Her breasts look like scoops of vanilla ice cream with hazelnuts on top. Her legs are so long we all have to keep revising our pictures to fit them in. Though this is her first time doing artist modeling, our latest victim sits perfectly still, hardly breathing, her whole being seeming to vibrate with earnest intent to do this right.
Where does the master find people willing to pose stark naked in front of us for hours, being objectified into Mass, Angles, Distance and Shapes? I mentally compose his ad on Craigslist as I make my initial assessment of the woman on the dais: “Seeking physically beautiful models for hours of naked boredom being drawn by students. Must be comfortable with being talked about as if you aren’t there. A laser pointer will be randomly aimed at your private parts while their dimensions are discussed. Nominal fee.”
My sister and I missed a week. I doubt any of the three of you reading this blog even noticed, but I was at a low point. I was willing to let Resistance win. At the previous class, the master announced we’d be doing a nine-hour drawing. At that point, I had been unable to produce even one salvageable drawing. I was going to be spending NINE hours making a crappy image that would only document my shame and failure?
The time off did me good. I was ready to get back into it this week, had even come up with a plan to deal with the extended nature of this latest drawing. That’s something good to remember in the war against Resistance—sometimes a retreat is okay, as long as it’s used to strategize a new approach and renew your commitment to overcome.
Things got off to a rocky start, though, when the master confused me with a new concept right as I was beginning to quarter my paper and vivisection the Norse goddess.
“This is a seated pose. It’s almost a square.” He took my pencil and stood in my personal space, smelling faintly of lemons and self-discipline. “You must establish the height-to-width ratio. That is more important than the midpoint.”
This smacked horribly of long-ago struggles with geometry, and my mind refused to process his words. “Height to width ratio? It’s a new way of measuring? Can you tell me again?” He explained again, making gestures with the pencil, indicating that there was some new midpoint to be found.
He said words. He said them again. I still couldn’t make sense of them. I was so rattled by the time he moved on that I fluttered around in front of my paper, afraid to make a mark on it, my confidence totally gone.
The model sat elegantly, long legs folded into interesting angles, a counterpoint provided by her elbow. Her gaze was focused on a point somewhere off my left shoulder but her face was turned directly toward me, and for a second her eyes met mine. There was compassion in that look, and camaraderie. Here we are, trying to do something difficult, her tiny Mona Lisa smile said. We’re in this together.
She'd told me at the beginning of class that she'd come back from Africa, and she'd been stared at so much there as the only white person in the village that she developed a phobia. “I'm here to get over my fear of being looked at,” she told me. She was so sincere, trying so hard to be still, to let us record her, not to mind our discussion of her body. Her courage calmed me down.
I didn’t get what I was supposed to do, and I didn't have any confidence I could do it, but she deserved that I at least try.
I went back to what I knew, sketching what I saw. Miraculously, it looked much better, even when I stood back. The master returned from his lunch break and viewed my initial attempt.
“Very good,” he said. My drawing had a look I’d begun to recognize was my “voice” on the paper: a certain idealism, a rounded delicacy and ambiguity of form that was visually pleasing. I exhaled a breath I hadn’t known I was holding.
Then he leaned in. “But this. Is this mark where your drawing should end?”
“Yes,” I said, grimacing.
I’d done it again. Sneakily not conformed to the parameters, therefore the drawing was off. Not accurate. Not what was really there.
What I thought was there, and wanted to be there. An interpretation.
I fought down tears as the master moved in to redo the entire lower half of the drawing. The Norse goddess’s legs were at least two inches longer than I’d made them, her feet bigger, her knees boulder-like masses. And yes, now it was accurate. I confess I liked my imaginary version better.
Later my sister and I were talking in the car and I said, “I don’t really know where I’m going with this art thing. I thought I’d stimulate my creativity and I just stimulated frustration.”
“We are so product oriented, and everything has to have a purpose.” Bonny's been thinking a lot about what’s going on, too, and at this point she’s doing a lot better than I am at learning the master’s realism technique. “I’m starting to realize it’s all about the journey. Would it be so bad if art was your hobby, and you just enjoyed doing a hobby?”
“I’m not sure.” I try this thought on for size. It feels uncomfortable. “Writing is a lot like visual art. I had some initial talent, and then I applied myself seriously for years, hundreds of thousands of hours, before I began to be consistently good. It’s an endless mountain to climb because you could always be better, learn something new. Visual arts is the same. I have a little talent to start with, but I would want to be good at it. I don’t know if I can accept anything less.”
Therein lies the crux. Holding my (wrong type) of pencil in hand, I’m looking at another mountain. Do I have what it takes to climb it? Can I accept being mediocre and having it as a hobby, just “enjoying the journey”?
I really don’t know the answer to that.
What about you? When did you face a mountain and take it on, and when were you able to accept living in the mellow foothills?