Friday, November 28, 2014

On Drawing and Neurosis

One of the nicer things I was told freshman year was that I looked like an engineer. Fresh off of high school where I was quite literally taken as a joke - recipient of 7th grade Stand Up Comic Award (should've won Best Hair) (still upset about it), being perceived as an engineer made me feel smart, dexterous, full of ingenuity. The reality however was that I was not an engineer, I couldn't even find e-quad. I was an artist - albeit, an insecure, fearful, and fully in denial artist.

Drawing at Duke has brought up a lot of these insecurities. I declared a Visual Arts minor my sophomore year haphazardly. Hadn't taken any classes, didn't really plan out when I'd take them, and wasn't sure that I was actually capable of making my creativity tangible. In spite of those hesitations, I declared the minor, focusing primarily in film classes. I took art in high school, where I concentrated my work in painting (primarily watercolor), but stopped after tenth grade to pursue more "legitimate" studies. I remember Ms. Mahan-Cox taking me out of class, convincing me that no one really needs AP US History and that I would be doing a great disservice to myself by discontinuing art. I never liked Ms. Mahan-Cox, so naturally, I completely rejected her advice.

It only took six years to come full circle, finding myself in an art studio. I took a step away from the policy classes and critical theory courses to evaluate what actually gave me delight. Pleasure. What actually makes me feel good, and not what I was supposed to do to be a *real* Duke student.

The first drawing classes were very therapeutic. I can't recall the last time I sat still and concentrated on one given task. The still observations were an exercise of my subjectivity - my hyperawareness of details, obsession with relativity, the tension between aesthetic illusions and *objective* realities. I felt more adept than I did in high school, more confident and more legitimate in my position as "artist." It was all happy and zen until...the landscapes. Staying focused and present wasn't hard in the studio; but in the real world, I lost. Pathetically. Unless I woke up at 3 or 4 am, I was assaulted by sensory overload. If I did get into what I was drawing, I'd spend hours meticulously creating shadows on a pole, only to realize that, shit, I have 95% of the rest of this landscape to draw. With each assignment, I could feel familiar fear boil under my skin. I wasn't content with mediocre, but I was afraid to create something I knew I was capable of. I knew that the time I spent on it would be directly correlated to the product, but I wasn't willing to put in all the time I knew was personally necessary to create a drawing that I was content with. I spent an average of 12 hours on an assignment, which really wasn't enough to capture the detail that I was looking for. Explaining to friends that I couldn't go out because I had a drawing to do made me feel...well, unjustified. How could a drawing possibly be that hard? Rephrasing the question adjusted my framework - How could using your eyes, as a camera, to capture the image in front of you, as it is, and transferring that information to your hands and to a pencil, and subsequently on paper, not be difficult?

The answer is - it's not difficult; it's downright unbearable. Consistently challenging your perception, and making you realize that your way of seeing may not always be consistent with what is actually there. That that line you thought was curved is actually straight and going at a negative 45 degree angle. In a melodramatic sense, it's a little destabilizing. But like all things, our perceptions could use a little deconstruction, and drawing became a tool to challenge my visual assumptions and a tool to acknowledge what was present.

In the time since my freshman year, I've worked through some of the fears that prevented me from pursuing creative acts. If I were to give some words of advice to freshman Yohana, I'd tell her, "the closest you'll ever get to an engineer is eating a Chicken Bacon Ranch wrap at Blue Express." I'd swiftly follow that with a light punch to the pre-Kickboxing bicep and whisper, "but you're an artist. An impatient, frantic, neurotic artist, but an artist nonetheless."

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