Thursday, February 25, 2016

To Draw, That We Might See: Part the First Feb ‘16

It’s not every day that a voice emerges from the pages of history to give a ringing endorsement to an educational notion you thought you’d scraped off a mossy rock somewhere in Devon some fifty years ago: but precisely such a great pleasure befell me This Very Day. I was fortunate enough to make the online acquaintanceship of the arrestingly titled The Book of Life, and in it the chapter that effectively shut down all other activity for the day: On the Importance of Drawing.

Those among you who have read my book, Entropy Academy, may remember that I waxed most enthusiastic about the benefits of drawing—not because cameras were so unwieldy and expensive way back in the 1990’s (which they were), or because film was so temperamental and annoying to have developed (which it was), but because drawing trained me to see!

I had discovered this during my son’s Special Olympics soccer practices, which lasted about an hour and a half. Hour one was easy—the dog and I wore ourselves out with a speed walk of roughly 60 minutes’ duration. The remaining 30-40 minutes lent themselves admirably to a more sedentary pursuit: finding a flower, whether two feet high or the size of a grain of rice, and painstakingly committing its details to paper. I was familiar with the parts of a flower from the enormous amaryllis we grew indoors every Christmas, and the more I drew anthers, stamens and pistils, the easier it became for me to recognize them in the field. (Incidentally, for those who care, moss doesn't have flowers.)

So picture my delight when I read about John Ruskin, a famous English art critic of the nineteenth century. Ruskin noticed that people have an innate desire to capture beauty and try to preserve it. In Ruskin’s day, the newly invented camera was about the size of a grandfather clock, and thus quite unsuitable for slinging around one’s neck on a visit to Niagara Falls. The only way to capture a “souvenir” (French for “memory”) was to purchase it from one of the aptly named souvenir shops that sprang up like mushrooms at every scene of great natural beauty, and have remained there ever since.

One might assume that Ruskin would have been thrilled by today’s tiny cell phone camera, which boasts some ridiculous number of pixels per image—far more than even camera cognoscenti can appreciate with the naked eye. Surely, technology that puts such creative power into the hands of your average Joe Sixpack enjoying his annual two-week vacation on the rocky expanse of Brighton Beach would have allayed Ruskin’s suspicious mind, and caused a hearty endorsement on his part?

You might well assume so: but the answer may surprise you.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for my next blog to find out.

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