How to art: learning approaches

Today after my portrait class, one of the artists who was painting me grabbed my hand and pulled me into the room where his work was being displayed.

I felt awkward and I had looked at it before. One of the works that captivated immediately was the self portrait drawing that he had done at 14. It was so clear, I imagined him looking into a mirror and not being able to tell which was the reflection and which was the drawing. That drawing was one of a series: one as a young man, one of himself middle aged, and one now.

Whenever he paints me, he always gives me serious, layered, intense, Russian eyes. To look at his art with him was a wonderful experience, but also frustrating. I don’t speak any languages beyond English except Spanish, and his English only allows for the most simplistic exchanges. I would ask a question, and he would get a confused look on his face, and answer something I didn’t ask. After trying to discuss techniques, colors, feelings with him, I gave up and just said stuff like, “Ooh, the texture here is very good” and “The use of light on the skin here makes her look so beautiful.”

This man has been an artist for at least fifty years. I can just look at his paintings and drawings to learn from him. Language is not it.

I learn about art and techniques is by listening to the instructors and students talk. Sometimes I can’t learn anything: “Okay, when we take a look at this, we ask ourselves about that… in relation to up there… see it?” I sure can’t. But through language alone I’ve learned so much about gestural drawing, color, lines, how important the size of the head is in every situation.

Talking to this artist was a different experience- no language, just demonstration. Weird to make the switch.  After all, art is doing, not thinking.  This is what I’ve learned.

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