March 23, 2015

The Wordless Skill

"If art has entered a Post-Skill Movement, so has the rest of life. There was a time when we had a different relationship to our hands, when simple skills of coordination required serious investment, and education was focused on the physical process. Our technology literally takes these skills out of our hands. Who cares about penmanship anymore? Just learn to type. What we lose in this, however, is that specular relationship to our bodies, the direct encounter with the material world sans prosthesis."
So writes MB Goodrich in this article on the art of shaving in Salon, and it made me think of something that recently happened to me. 

As you may or may not know, I am posting a sketch every day, as a promise to myself to practice at the art of drawing and improve my skills. There is nothing like a bit of pressure, and I am fairly good at putting some on myself. Sometimes, I have forgotten to do that drawing, and one night, I had already gone to bed when I remembered. It was a bit chilly, so I just reached for a handheld mirror and a piece of grey-tinted printing paper (I sleep some nights in my study, so these materials are pretty close to hand) and did my drawing lying down under the duvet, more or less. 

For a drawing that was initiated by a sense of duty, once I got into it, I executed it with some care, and was fairly happy with the result. I put some highlights in there, and so far, it´s the only time they have worked really well for me. I published, and felt pleased. 

A week later I ran into a friend who apparently looks at the drawings sometimes, and he complimented me on my skills. But, he said, that self-portrait you made, and he tut-tutted a bit, meaning that it wasn´t very good. You do not look like that, he said. 

I had to go back to it to see what he meant. Ok, so it looks like a person looking down at something, very attentively. I agree, not my prettiest face and certainly now how a man a bit taller than I would see me. But it never occured to me that this was a representation of me or that anyone would consider it somehow representative of how I view myself. For me, this was, and is, a pretty successful drawing, the subject being irrelevant. At another place in the article, Goodrich writes this about having to learn your face while shaving with a straight razor:
"Young women, too, learn their faces when they start to use makeup, but unfortunately they learn to see their faces for their flaws. But shaving is almost clinical. It’s about gradients and textures—materiality rather than image."
Drawing does that to your self-image, too, makes your gaze upon yourself clinical. The judging comes later, and is focused on the drawing, on whether or not I succeeded in transfering what I saw to the paper. That chin, is it a double chin? That line, is it a wrinkle? Words don´t come into it, it´s just the eyes speaking to the hand. (If you are a typist you know how this works: you can work at a manuscript, typing away at speed, while thinking about what to make for dinner.) Most adjectives are judging, either in themselves or in relation to the context in which they are used. 

I am pretty chuffed I have come to a place in my life where I can do this. I was pretty proud of this drawing before, I am even happier about it now. 

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