I was struck by the following passage from Alison’s reflection:
It’s been almost two months that the Visual Thinking course started, and in this short amount of time, I feel it has brought me so many things. First the discovery of new art tools but also a better notion of space and light. But it has mostly brought me, not a better capacity to create art, but the capacity to approach art differently. By making me work on patience, on self-confidence, and on my ability to let go of my mistakes, this course has offered me the opportunity to work on myself as much, if not more, as on my art.
This work on myself that I ‘m talking to you about, can simply be reflected on the comfort of showing your creations to someone else, which is now much easier for me.
But the thing that strikes me the most about this class is being able to not feel alone anymore in the art process, we are ALL working on the same project, we are ALL confronted to the same problems while doing it, and we are ALL paying attention to others work and appreciating it.
And with that proximity and exchange with other artists, you somehow develop something that goes beyond any knowledge that the teacher, alone, will be able to give you.
I boldfaced the ideas that I especially want to acknowledge. These ideas cannot be attributed to a single “teacher” but instead result from group contributions. The student herself must be open to being open, and that only happens when the temperature of the studio is just right. She feels her peers are for her and not judging her, and so feels open to risk and to develop her capacities and approaches. This passage that Alison wrote is a tribute to the effort of the Fall 2014 Visual Thinking class –which has a level of gravitas and contentment that is yielding surprising results. Alison captures beautifully that this is “something that goes beyond any knowledge that the teacher, alone, will be able to give you”
This artist’s post is thoughtful and well-written and even “thesis driven” in that she shares a cohesive connection to the idea of “should” in her concluding paragraph. All of her previous posts are also worth reading!
Originally posted on Sydney M. Art160 Fall 2014 ASC:
Drawing without instruction always seems like a good idea initially. You feel inspired, you’ve got all your pencils sharpened and your erasers clean and at the read. Perfect. Usually you have an idea in your head of what you want the final result to look like. Maybe you have your drawing subject put in front of you. Either way, without instruction and without a clearly defined process, you will fall short of your expectations. If you don’t then I will just admit that I do. Usually.
This beautiful drawing to the left is of a chair. It is far below my expectations of what my drawing of a chair should look like. I had no goal other than to draw a chair. I had no purpose other than to see the end result. I wanted my end result to look ‘correct’ and it did not. It looks similar to ‘a…
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Sometimes a teacher gets to hear something like this:
In the second portion of the class, when we chose to draw something other than our hands, I chose to draw a classmate. While drawing her something unexpected happened. A sort of emotional transference. Through the action of simply seeing her without the expectation of reproducing anything visually pleasing, I began to truly see this individual. Not only did this task of drawing her take on an entirely new meaning, it became emotional and perhaps intimate, as though I began to see something that had been hidden and unseen by myself or anyone…
The act of drawing someone is an intimate experience, perhaps more for the artist than the subject, because through our truly seeing the other, we begin to truly see our lack of sight, our lack of comprehension of the complex nuance of the individual experience… its wonder and incomprehensible nature.
And when a teacher reads that kind of thing about a classroom situation that she set up, she gets this warm satisfied sense that she is in the right line of work, and that her work is meaningful and powerful. I have to say, it’s a really good feeling. Read the whole post. (thank you for articulating this Julia!)
The process log is simply a blog for documenting the process, support and insights of your visual thinking work. The log provides a venue for you to reflect on what you make in order to consider relevance and meaning for your work. Ideally through the process log you can see specific work in the context of your larger learning. In a class log, observe specific projects within the whole of the class. In multiple class logs over time, see your semester in the context of a year of learning, or the year within the four-year experience, etc. Learning and meaning emerge through reflecting on the specific experience. The process log is meant to create a mechanism for forming a habit of documenting and reflection.
The log can provide you with references and benchmarks to make visible patterns of interest that you might not otherwise notice. These patterns can lend insight for making sophisticated choices for further study, or simply provide a vehicle for getting to know yourself better: what you like to study, what approaches you seem to prefer, and what doesn’t work for you.
Use it as a repository for annotated research (a live bibliography), and for a reference “image bank” illustrating your increasing skills. Use it to review world-wide images with live links for accessibility, annotation and to provide paths to follow for further discovery. Post as often as you like but regularly enough so that it becomes a habit. Observe the time of day/week that are most efficient and effective for you to stimulate your learning. When are you most engaged? When is the best time for you for reflective writing and thinking?
How To Begin:
Any blog software will work. This blog is created in WordPress which is flexible and versatile and provides good support. It’s also free of charge at the basic level. But any blog software will work–as long as viewers can directly comment (important: please ensure that commenting does not require any kind of password or image word translating—I have found that that inhibits free comments from your peers because it is too much trouble). You are welcome to set privacy settings so that only your classmates and instructors can see your p-log if you would rather not yet go “world-wide”. www.wordpress.com will help you get started. Google’s Blogger is an excellent choice as well, and may work more seamlessly with course content. Lynda.com offers tutorials for you with tips on blogging and various softwares. Using tags and categories will make for more efficient and meaningful resource mining as you expand your site.
Post daily. Use your images and screen shots of where you are in your work (this is a great way to show your work as it changes, especially as you work in PhotoShop and make significant changes to the iamge). Try to make sure images are in focus and position yourself so that the subject you are shooting is uncluttered. For examples and further reading see Links under P-Log hall of fame to the left of this post, and read Bees, Being and Blogging, a post inspired by the June 2012 Summer Visual Thinking course. You can see a more general discussion on the process log on the “about” tab in this blog.
“Trying to create a realistic, accurate likeness of yourself is a quietly revolutionary act. To do so is to state that your own face is a valid subject for art as it is, without the sort of prettifying symbolism that the left brain traffics in.” (baker160)
Typically my class content changes every semester, simply because new projects keep me more engaged in the day-to-day process of teaching. Fresh content provides new opportunities. One major exception is the erasure self portrait project that has become iconic in my section of Visual Thinking (art 160). I think I’ve included this project every semester since the first time I taught this class over ten years ago. I don’t seem to be able to let it go, although I have tried. One major reason is student demand. The semester before last I had dropped the project from the syllabus only to be implored by the students to bring it back. I learned this semester that people enroll in the course because of the project, or at least in full anticipation of it. It’s easy to keep because is offers a great mechanism for teaching about value (the grey scale aspect of the subject–its relative degree of lightness and darkness) and about other observable truths like proportions and relationships of shape, and the manner in which light creates form. It’s a good tool for teaching direct observation–the subject (you) is always at the ready. No worries that the model won’t show up, at least physically. As I like to remind my students: I am always there for myself. The subject of self is always of interest to the artist, although rarely liked–and this is where it gets exciting for me. One of my overarching teaching motivations is to remove the idea of judgment from work in favor of the notion of discernment. Judging implies reducing all things to a level of good and bad, whereas discernment expands definitions and repertoire. For example, “this media isn’t serving this drawing and is therefore bad and I can’t use it” might become “this media is too dark/light/whatever for this drawing so I will save it for a drawing where I wish for a dark/light/whatever outcome and now explore other media”. The result is the same (putting aside the current media), but I find the method that employs an approach of openness and non-dismissal creates a habit of expanding into creative work and promotes discovery and risk-taking. It is simply a practice of working that opens rather than limits. In the matter of a student looking at her own reflection, the idea of removing judgment is against every habit she has formed. In our world, a young woman (any woman, and increasingly men too) has typically learned that the value of how her face looks is synonymous with how well she adheres to some ideal of beauty outside of her own particular looks. (Although the ideals may vary widely.) One aspect of this assignment that I value is that the student spends 18-30 hours looking at her face in search of clues as to how to accurately portray the way light falls on her features to express accurate peaks and valleys. Success comes in comparing her drawing to her specific face, not in comparing her face with some outside ideal.
The method of “erasing” ones face from a toned drawing is confusing at first. The artist must reconcile the mechanical variation of erasing the form into existence. The time necessary to work this out, helps to subvert any automatic or “encoded” symbolic drawing. The artist can’t draw like she usually does, simply because she doesn’t know how.
“and so, the final project begins. I have yet to get comfortable with the method, which is quite counter-intuitive for someone coming from a very sketch-based drawing background. whereas I am used to plotting out my work beforehand, then building layer after layer upon a firm foundation. instead, this project takes a different approach that involves basically everything that it has been engrained in me not to do – extensive erasing and focusing entirely on one piece of the drawing, finishing it completely before moving on to the next bit.
like all of the other projects we have done thus far, this assignment has really shoved me outside of my “comfort zone”, even more so than the others. however frustrating it may be, I feel as though I have already learned more from this project than any others – hyper focus, awareness, erasing symbolism, and more than all, patience.”
It is typically frustrating at first for the simple mechanics involved in erasing into light instead of making a dark mark. And then the thought of not composing or sketching a map of the face, but instead making it whole from the center (no value can be added unless it touches the previously completed shape, and until the previous shape is finished) releases the artist from “known” thinking (this is how I make a face) and enables her to remove herself from seeing her own reflection judgmentally, because she needs to look at her face as a reference, in order to study the intricacies of light working across this complex surface.
“I got lost, in a good way. I had a dialogue with the light hitting my face, the shapes and the value. It was like I was in a space of discovering truth. Even though the project requires us to not think of symbolized versions of facial features, there were moments where I caught myself wanting to make it look like something different. Whenever I would try that, the drawing would disconnect with me. For example, I started to think of drawing shadows. That’s when I got stumped. I was focused on the mechanics of making a good shadow, instead of focusing on the changes in value on my face.” iscoloringatalent
It’s an intentionally subversive way of framing re-seeing. A quiet revolution seeds itself: the stalwart presence of these planes of light, their solidity and strength cemented through black charcoal and hours of time spent respecting and expressing their accuracy deliver the message. There’s no denying it, here we are. baker160 has eloquently written about the experience in her blog (follow the link to a beautiful article on the topic)
“Generally, when a woman is sitting in front of a mirror for hours on end trying to perfect something, she’s not striving for her face to look exactly as it does. There’s a cultural beauty ideal in place that bears no relationship to what anyone actually looks like, though woe betide you if you try to ignore it. Flipping the script such that the ideal you’re striving to replicate is already on your face—it is your face—is a necessary component of drawing a likeness.”
Nell: wow do I love this:
“I have as well been having trouble this week with my other classes and this project has helped to calm me, and to realize that imperfection can make a more significant mark than pure perfection ever can.”
I didn’t learn that ‘til age 50! How much more interesting is your (imperfect) take on the matter than anything authoritarian and perfect? How much more inclined am I to participate and relate if it is not perfect? How much more curious I am and accessible you are in the imperfect expression?!
What about redefining perfect as having the perfect experience rather than the perfect product. So, for example if the experience leads to discovery it’s perfect. When you abandon the notion of a specific result, it’s a perfect experience.
Celeste: So life is perfect, no matter what happens, just because we are living
Nell: yes. Like.
The process log is a means for telling the story of your learning in words and pictures. Like any good story-telling technique, a great process log embraces all the ways a concept might connect the maker to the “reader” and takes full advantage of what words can provide. You might create a provocative headline “This is how you stop time”; or a compelling topical sentence “ignoring where our waste is going and chastising those who help in that process is a way for people to deny their responsibility“; or exciting content “the first known valentine message was sent by a prisoner of war in 1415”; or humor on occasion: “I never knew that a chair could be so hard on a lady.”. Language is a tool. Well-crafted writing helps me disappear into the specific flavor of another person’s story.
Imagery, like words, has its own language. When a maker uses the distinctive properties of visual messaging, she makes her story stronger. A photograph created from an unusual point of view, or in the dramatic lighting of a particular time or day, or depicting unexpected subject matter, can lend details to a story that words can’t capture. A picture strategically placed may indeed be worth a thousand words.
Images can perform what text cannot. Words can reveal what images cannot. In a blog, both languages well-crafted and working in tandem can create a compelling transporting experience.
The right relationship of word and image comprise the main content and message of the blog, but the presentation of the work is an essential component for consideration. What is the overall format of the work? (In WordPress this option can be explored in the menu under “appearance”, but these principles apply to any visual framing device.) How one critically applies her knowledge of the elements and principles of design in order to best present her idea is a critical factor in creating engaging visual impact. A good rule of thumb in making format choices is to never choose a framework that detracts visually from the content. Formats aren’t yet standardized for digital media, so an artist can (and must) rely on her own critical eye to make good design choices. This compares to a general “standard” for turning in essays that are typed, double spaced, contain a 1.5” edge margin, and 12 point type; or to the white walls of a gallery with all picture frames on center at 60 inches from the floor. In the absence of an accepted standard format for digital presentation, the maker must ensure a strong “frame” that highlights, rather than competes with, the work.
A successful example of good framing is in textovernebula’s blog, where the quality and variety of the images are “read” immediately because of the careful choice of a design style. The template they chose (Theme: Imbalance 2 by WPShower) features a simple meticulously structured format that focuses on the strength of the images and headlines in the blog and avoids disruptive decorative clutter. It is as if the page were a museum with walls that embrace the carefully curated work and invite us in to view them. I expect to be served tea. The white area surrounding the columns of body text suggests an abundance of space, fresh air, and time. The images shine through like intricately wrought chocolates in a delicately packaged text box of goodness. I want to select and savor them, one at a time. I am welcome here! Delightfully, when I click into the specific stories I am not disappointed. The photographs are nourishing, and the writing is strong in craft and interesting in content. Their blog connects me to a deeply considered and personal point of view.
Exciting visual connections and engaging, thought-provoking work that elicits an authentic experience is also found in the blog of baker160. A typical response from a student to an assignment that asks you to describe a class project sounds like a very dull subject to report on. So it is a double the thrill to read a work that expands the experience into an expanding complex of interwoven details. This process log is filled with delicacy and rigor and includes references ranging from the universal to the commonplace in an exciting subtle and smart interplay of personal narrative. It is a joy to read. It’s sort of a Renaissance blog, linking big (human) and small (personal) ideas with social and political content that is current and relevant. baker160 uses the power of the web to link thinking with evidence through her wide-ranging linked references that include mathematical formulas, the first recorded valentine, videos of gulf shrimp deformities and a shaky guitar player singing an acoustic valentine. Sample excerpts below give you a flavor for the blog, but I recommend reading–and subscribing to–it!
“At the house across the street from Rachel and John’s, a crew has vacuuming bees out from inside the walls. A colony of honeybees had established a hive inside the kitchen walls and had been rapidly expanding into the rest of the house. There was honey inside the walls and on them. I love that image—a kitchen that is being used to make food for a colony of bees. The house had mostly been cleaned by the time I could get a photo; I’m a bit allergic to bees, and I wasn’t getting too close to them while they were loose.”
“This is something of a change for me. I’m more of a fan of words than images to convey ideas. It’s not that I don’t enjoy an idea expressed well through images, but I tend to think that there are very limited circumstances in which words aren’t the more precise way to convey a concept, philosophy, or argument. The well-explained graph or infographic is my ideal for words and images working together. Images can enhance and clarify a verbal explanation, but I always thought that whoever said a picture’s worth a thousand words was getting a terrible exchange rate. This is left-brained chauvinism, and I clearly need to think more about ways to convey information in a right-brained way.”
I have found that a great process log, like any great work of art, delights me with careful craft while a big idea sneaks in and makes its bed in my heart:
“I had a surprisingly similar problem with a pie I baked for a party this weekend. I intended to garnish this in the center, but there was an off-center ripple in the filling from when I’d moved it from the oven to the refrigerator. I knew it was off-center, but it was compelling as a place to put crushed Girl Scout Cookies and strawberries. I wound up correcting for it by expanding the garnished area to include the actual center of the pie. It’s interesting to me to see that there are so many circumstances in which patterns or design features make me think that I’m looking at the center of an object, but I’m really not.
It’s fascinating to me to start seeing these systematic errors in my visual thinking. It’s like taking a logic class for the first time and realizing that your closely-held opinions are based on fallacies and what the TV news lady with the pretty hair says.”
Attention to the craft of visual and written language makes the structure disappear, and lets me revel in the experience of ideas. The maker reveals who she is in her manor of writing and showing, and if she’s honest about that, I am interested and engaged. When you share experience and it feels true to me, you leave me asking questions about my world and I can see how your truths apply to me. Your experience increases my own.
Reflections on critique:
I’m not going to lie, I love looking at drawings I have been lucky enough to witness in the making. There’s an undeniable accomplishment up on the wall that is simply waiting for affirmation—like the makers and I both see the effort represented in these pictures, and it simply awaits a benediction. I guess that’s how I see critique these days–as the explicit sanctioning and recognition of the practice of creative process. The sincerity of the marks in this situation seem to never be “wrong”. Each picture has its own humble offering, and in critique we can make it real—like in the story of The Velveteen Rabbit…each artist comes in with a well-loved, worn and threadbare stuffed animal that wishes it could hop, and as we acknowledge each drawing its little heart starts to beat, and ultimately it skips off into the woods into its life as a real live bunny, with the magic generative ability to BE (hopefully it reproduces like a rabbit). Through the act of sitting together looking at the drawings we find distinctions and mutual understandings that make the drawings come to life. This discussion is an essential ingredient to the studio community—an ability to make meaning of the process through looking at a map of the work. Ironically, the end product (the map) always carries value. Even though I ask the artist to completely forget the end product, to make a mess of the page, to simply concentrate on getting the lines right—there is always a fascinating vitality to the page. Likely the interest of the image is because of the artist’s attention to making an authentic accurate line, and liberating herself from the burden of a perfect end-product. Little real moments are always more interesting than perfection to me, and add endless life to the line itself and to the classroom.
One of the most difficult tasks of the artist is to put her work on the wall, weather it’s pinned to the clumsy cobbled together ten-year-old wall of a working classroom studio space, or framed on the wall of The Museum of Modern Art, to SHOW our work is to show ourselves undefended. Super scary! And yet, it is the work of the artist to do so, indeed it is why we work: some inner drive to seek, to show and to make ourselves known. The task then, is to show our work and receive its critique without getting hit with the information as if it were some bullet into our soul, but rather receiving the words to increase the meaning and efficacy of the work itself. When we can remove ourselves from the work, and see the imagery as separate from us, we gain a great deal from the insights of others. It is in our capacity to gain understanding that the horizons of the whole venture expand. In my view it is essential that the wall we pin our work to, and the people who surround the work be trustworthy, valued and valuable. We need to know that they will be direct and honest and speak in the best interest of the work. Of course we can’t always be sure that this will be the case, and can only build trust through the experience of risk—in sticking our necks out we become strong. In trying, we grow. I am grateful when the circle of influence generated by the effort of a class works this way. The environment of a critique may be influenced by me, but it is realized through the honest effort of the community of the class. I am exhilarated to walk into a room and see the risk on the walls, and the attentive engaged energy of the artists in the room. In the critique space we realize our effort at building a relationship with each other, with language and with our work. I am heartened to see that strong sense of trust reflected in the words of my students. The quotes in this passage are linked directly to the students own writing.
For some reason I felt really comfortable talking and sharing. It was definitely more than the small class size and the fact that other people had similar issues as me, it’s that I feel like the class is a no judgment zone. Other classes I have taken were supposed to be judgment free or just really free in discussion, but I find that this is the first class I’ve taken that really felt that way and it is great.”
Part of what can be scary is the lingering notion that perhaps you don’t really belong in an art class, because your work can’t hang (pun) with the other “artists” work. This is a common and pervasive insecurity, probably linked to us being human. In an introductory art course, seeing your work in proximity to other work is reassuring–you can see that your work reflects your effort, and that your effort is just fine. Another place where you can make a direct observation and SEE what is really there — draw conclusions from what you see and not what you know. Critique then becomes another opportunity to move away from the limiting categories of Mr. Bossy Controlling Static Brain, and open into the possibilities that the fluid responsive present might present. (as a present). ; )
“My chair looked alive and in no way inferior to the rest.”…It took time and effort to draw the second drawing. I learned that progress is possible. I learned that talent has nothing to do with the skill level of an artist. The professor stated that “you can all draw. Like anything worht something, it’s going to take time”… If you take it seriously and commit yourself to the project, the results will reflect that attitude.”
Critique provides space to reflect on the drawing experience, to see what you learned and in many ways to detach from the work so you can “hear” it.
“I had a firm picture of what the chair should look like. However, the drawing spoke to me. In many ways, the drawing drew itself. The critique was nothing like a public stoning. It was more like a time for us to discuss where we have been and where we will go.”
“I really enjoyed [critique], expressing my struggles with the projects and hearing how other people had trouble even if it was not the same as my own. It was especially relieving to hear that the people who hard art experience still struggled with the projects and that it wasn’t just the rest of us. …
“Over all the critique wasn’t as bad as I thought. We were not critiquing people’s work and saying if it was good or not. We were discussing how we went about with the assignments and how we felt during the process. It was interesting to hear that I wasn’t the only one that was lost or confused at the beginning and also it was good to hear that for almost all of us we found it difficult to at some point during the process.”
“Throughout the sketching process, I was concerned that my lines were thick and dark, while most other students’ lines were much thinner, lighter, and straighter. I thought I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t manage to draw thin, light, straight lines, so I continued with my dark lines. Looking at the drawings during the critique confirmed that some people indeed drew their chairs with much thinner lines than mine, making their chair appear less dark on the page. However, that doesn’t make my chair inferior.”
The blind contour drawing experience usually elicits strong feelings one way or another, which is why I always like to include at least a day of it in the visual thinking class. Some artists consider the blind contour an excellent way of warming up to get ready for a precision drawing based on observation, while other artists use the technique as a destination skill–a way to capture the essence or spirit of an object without the burden of realistic rendering. Elle describes everything I would hope a student could get from this lesson in her sensitive, well-written and descriptive entry “Drawing with my eyes Closed” (excerpt:)
Then it clicked with me: this isn’t an exercise about drawing, it’s about seeing. The lines on the paper only tell the story of what you saw, kind of like a lab notebook in squiggle form. The drawing is not supposed to be photo realistic. What matters is that I connected my eyes to my arm and recorded the lines I perceived in the hand.
Check out the range of experiences of this exercise. Alex said:
I really hated it! I felt so out of control….One thing I found interesting was that I was less frustrated when I was drawing blind contour with my left hand. I think this was because since i am right-handed, I felt better about drawing “badly”. It was like because I was drawing with my left hand, I was given permission to draw badly and be out of control.
But Elle said:
This class in particular was relaxing and a real pleasure to participate in….the further on in class we got the more comfortable I was with letting go and letting whatever happened happen. When I looked at what I had done I was always surprised. What I drew and what I saw in my head were completely different.
Other interesting ideas that came out of the day are Anahita’s thought:
there’s so much you can’t see in an object (or a face!) at first, second, or even third glance, but being forced to look at the same lines over and over really makes it impossible not to see how they relate to each other. Quite apart from that, I found the drawings just plain fun (when they weren’t mildly exasperating).
and Polly, who made me laugh out loud in her post when she said: “I actually love myself”. She was talking about her portrait, but it reminded me of one of the reasons I like this assignment, which is that it forces you to drop the idea of seeing your self as something to judge as good or bad / ugly or pretty, but instead to see it (your body/face/hands) in terms of form alone, which seems pointless to judge. I mean, is a triangle more perfect than a square? [Only when the triangles in power need the squares to fail...but I digress.] Polly offers a sensitive take on the assignment in her process description “Stinky Feet” (provocative header!):
Drawing blindly is extremely difficult but it definitely frees your mind and relinquishes your control. I don’t believe that even if you tried to have control over this activity that you could.
The arty brain side takes over no matter what because you are BLIND. Especially, with music on in the background.