Like a lot of kids, my first introduction to art was through drawing. My mom likes to tell the story of how when I was a toddler, she came out of the shower to find that I had scribbled all over the bedroom wall in her lipstick. No one in my family is particularly artistic, so I grew up drawing out of those "How to Draw" books you can buy at Michael's and magazine photos. At some point, I came to be labeled as "good" at drawing by my peers, and that eventually became an identity I was comfortable with and actively pursued. However, in high school I began to realize that such a label had actually become restricting to my growth as an artist. I had become obsessed with perfect technique instead of the ideas themselves in attempt to live up to expectations -- art was no longer fundamentally enjoyable to me. By the end of senior year, I had only produced two pieces, neither of which I was proud of. I wondered if I only liked drawing and painting because I was "talented" in these areas. But what does it mean to be talented at drawing and painting? To be able to draw something realistically? What is so special about that? My theory is that with enough practice and patience, anyone can learn to record on paper what they see. If Picasso had continued in his career as a fine artist, would anyone know his name today?
This was the personal dilemma that I was faced with coming into this drawing class. I had not touched paint or paper and pencil in the year and a half I had been at Duke because I knew that I was burned out and disillusioned about my place in art. I wanted to know if I was doing art because I loved it or because I wanted validation and furthermore, if I could create work that I was happy with both technically and conceptually. Luckily, I came to the right place.
This drawing class was probably the most challenging artistic experience I've had thus far, despite it being in the medium I had grown up with and am most comfortable using, It was a huge lesson in patience and time-management, as I was forced to be more prolific in a semester than I had been in a whole year in high school. Before, I would only start a piece whenever I felt inspired to which turned out to be very infrequently, and each piece would take weeks to months to complete. Having hard weekly deadlines gave me an idea of what the life of a professional artist must be like -- forcing yourself to sit down to create for a few (or many) hours each day and having to recognize that not everything you created could be perfect or even good. I finally realized the value in having to do a rough draft of each drawing toward the end of the semester when we had to integrate photographic elements onto a background. They were not supposed to look like photocopies of the final product; rather, they were an opportunity to put our idea on paper with a similar scaling as the final drawing but with less pressure to commit to it. I don't know why it took me so long to get that -- it would have saved me many hours of sleep.
For me, coming up with a concept for a drawing was the most challenging part of the process. I was tempted to stick with the same old tired subjects that I had already tried and succeeded previously in high school assignments, but this class has encouraged me to abandon my complacency. For the last drawing, I decided to impulsively complete change directions for the concept of my picture the night before the rough draft was due. I wanted to try a subject I had never done anything with but had been sitting in the back of my mind for a while, space, and I decided to experiment with using charcoal and pencil for the first time even though I've avoided charcoal religiously in the past. The process of combining such iconic yet contrasting images of tennis courts and the moon's surface, charcoal and pencil, was awkward and I questioned these choices constantly. Regardless of how the final drawing turned out however, I think that I was able reconnect with the feelings that made me love art -- the excitement that comes with trying out a new idea, having the skill set to create something meaningful, the satisfaction of having tangible and evidence of hours and hours of labor. I'm excited to say that I will be taking intermediate painting next semester with Professor McIver, and hope to continue to keep art as part of my academic focus for the rest of my time at Duke.