Friday, July 17, 2015

Castle Gate

The ancient art of drawing, of which this is not the finest example, because it fails, quite deliberately, to distinguish the naturalism of the original ("How vain painting is," Pascal once observed, "exciting admiration by its resemblance to things of which we do not admire the originals”) from the cartoon of the fairy-tale in which all castles truly belong.

Once upon a time (speaking of fairy-tales), the art of drawing, of verisimilitude, of precise and fastidious recreation of real objects in the illusory three-dimensionality of pencil or charcoal or chalk or crayon on a sheet of cartridge paper, was a mandatory course at any self-respecting art school; and perhaps there are still some who do, though they are few and far between. What use for such a skill, when a digital camera can do the job so much better?

The answer, I happen to believe, lies not in the art of drawing, but in that of looking - the same reason why so many people take such very bad digital photographs. When a woman I met on an airplane, and who turned out to have read one of my books, emailed me a copy of the novel she had written and asked me for my opinion, I replied with an evasive and yet not-really-that-evasive answer: "have you tried writing it out by hand?" I write all my books and songs and poems out by hand, and always in my best handwriting, because the slow pace and the word-by-word concentration invariably discovers faults and flaws that I would have missed otherwise, encourages better choice of vocabulary, enables rhythm and cadence and mood to be recognised and ameliorated. The physical act of writing, as opposed to typing, can be transformative.

So too the act of drawing, rather than photographing, because it forces you to look, not just at the generality but at the specifics. A good photographer does not just take Aunt Mabel on the steps of the Coliseum, but frames the Coliseum so that it becomes more than mere background, and places Aunt Mabel where the light is best, and waits until the pigeon has moved out of shot, and clears away the litter on the step beneath her feet. The one who draws goes even further, undertaking the photographer's exercise as well as the writer's, to produce something that is thoughtful, careful, precise, deliberate.

All of which, I guess, constitutes a plea to reinstate drawing as a formal course at every art school - and an invitation to read my collected poems, "Welcome To My World", which includes this tribute to Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the truly great photographers of his day, the man who invented photo-journalism, but also an outstanding draughtsman; "Photography," he once said, "is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation."

On Drawing

(for Henri Cartier-Bresson)

                           Drawing is observing. It is useless

                           to invent. This is no mere artefact
                           moulded on a potter’s wheel, or carved on
                           marble; this is the making of a tie
                           (for eye and hand are indivisible)
                           in which the act of drawing concentrates
                           the inner eye intensely as the act
                           of prayer concentrates the soul upon
                           the soul of God. A drawing is not less
                           than an entire universe, where eye
                           and hand, not imagination, create
                           the invisible with the visible.

I do not recall which castle it was that I drew, or even which family excursion led to it. Three other drawings - "Dark Dungeon", "Down in the Dungeon", and "Dungeon Door" - are companion-pieces from the same location.

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