Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harvesting Art

“An artist cannot talk about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.” - Jean Cocteau

Today we visited two different greenhouses located on upper UAF campus (West Ridge – where most of the university’s natural science departments and labs are located): the Agriculture & Forestry Experimental Station and the Institute of Arctic Biology*. We’ll start wandering around a bit more now, getting out of the drawing room and immersing ourselves into different environments, doing reference sketches based on observation. This is good for a more meaningful interaction and engagement with their immediate surroundings; the connection focuses them on applying abstract concepts to real-world and real-time exercises. Plus it emphasizes the value of always toting around a sketchbook, and always practicing, everywhere, on anything and everything.

UAF has a lot of excellent resources right on campus, and for honing skills like attention to detail and contour line the greenhouse excursions can’t be beat. And we get to thaw out in a lush, sub-tropical habitat while soaking up the O2 and take a therapeutic break from the harsh arctic outside for a few hours.

Plant forms are deceptively simple to study, once again students are confronted with a bewilderingly complex form that they must set about deconstructing the underlying structures and patterns, reducing the simple shapes, taking their “visual sampling” and “remixing” compositional studies.

Flogging metaphors further, in this way artist’s are like gardeners; patiently arranging & rearranging elements, picking and pruning until the roughs and thumbnails can be transplanting from sketchbook to harvested drawing, the fruit of their studies. Indeed, art is a wonderful opportunity to stop and visually smell the proverbial flowers; one of the roles or tasks of the artist is to bring back to our attention the quieter, intimate and reflective aspects that are too often tuned out, ignored, lost amidst the unending stream of bullshit vying for our attention every waking moment. Or maybe it’s just a great way to relax and unwind, done simply to enjoy for their own sake, and the resulting drawings can be used as illustrations, or tattoos. The doodles can also serve as mementos of a shared experience, documenting the time spent on representational works that re-present the many approaches to looking at the world around us.

Another benefit to these sorts of field-trips is literally opening doors into other departments and fields of study at the university. And it also might encourage cross-pollination of inter-disciplinary studies, or at the lest, allow exploration into a different side of their own non-art major, reinterpreting their knowledge and skill in, say for example, the sciences, like biology or geology. In fact, many of the best art students I’ve had in my classes over the years of teaching drawing have been from other majors – it’s almost like taking the 3-credit humanity elective necessary for their degree is a refreshing diversion from their normal filed of study. Hell, I’ll also point out a related observation in that one of the stereotypes of college is the dumb jock: well, sorry to break it to any artists out there, but the overwhelming majority of athletes in my classes have for the most part put art majors to shame. Must be something about discipline, drive, and determined focus, understanding the need for practice, practice, practice – not waiting for any goddamned muse or whiney wallowing. There’s a lesson there, one that I’ve also heard echoed from firsthand accounts of teaching art classes out on the military base: you bet your ass a soldier is going to get the work done on time and up to standard. Sometimes the average college art student s attitude can frankly be an embarrassment. But the flip side of that is reaping the obvious benefits of single-mined devotion, even obsessive passion, channeled into the creative arts.

But ok, back to the topic: here’s the point to all this exposition…

CRITIQUE #3: “ORGANIC COMPOSITION” Due Thursday March 19th

4 pages/panels of thumbs are due in class Tuesday March 17th

Charcoal or Graphite on 18x24”drawing paper

• Use a border, arrange plant elements experimenting with composition

• Include overlapping shapes to indicate depth - use foreshortening

• Use full range of values, emphasize contour lines

• Use and break the panel border as an element of design

• Think about horizontal/vertical panels

• Pencil lightly first, fix & sign finished piece

After an hour + at each greenhouse (shooting for an average of one study of a different plantform every fifteen minutes or so), and checking thumbnails for the “Personal Still-Life” assignment, and a couple demos on my sketching process – it’s off to spring break!

*Excerpts of this post were cribbed from an essay originally appearing in the winter 05/06 issue of “Agroborealis” magazine (vol. 37 #2) published by the School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences.

“You write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower
– and I don't.”
- Georgia O'Keeffe

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