I have been of on a journey of the imagination of late. It started with a paper I read about supporting learning of Bede children in Bangladesh (A.K.M. Maksud’s 2006 paper The Nomadic Bede Community And Their Mobile School Program) with boat schools. Now I am off on air travel with Merv Moriarty to contemplate art education in rural communities in Australia.
Merv’s book The Eye’s Mind – the artist and the draftsman provides a fascinating insight into art and teaching. This is a link to an interview with Merv on ABC Radio Brisbane earlier this year. Merv believes passionately that, to make art that withstands the passing of time, technique, draftsmanship and an understanding of artistic structure are critical components of art. His book explores the link between these components.He offers an unequivocal ‘Yes’ to the question:
Can we connect with this other intelligence, not the one we use to tie our shoe laces or do sums, but the one that sees the connectedness between shapes and directions; the one that can see mathematical perfection between one shape and another and more than that, predict the turn in a line that will make the next mark resonate with those that went before?
Merv adds that:
We can employ the high speed mathematical calculations of the eye’s mind to arrive at a shape, a position of a shape or line, a direction or proportion or any other visual relationship we might require if we connect properly with the two spheres of our mind at the same time. We can let the deeper conscious mind calculate the perfect relationship between an existing line or shape and the one we are about to make. It is like being between thinking and feeling. It takes developed skill and is out of reach to the unpracticed hand and mind.
Merv discusses his interest in the deeper conscious mind in this interview. His book has a delightful passage in a section titled On Discovering Your Ability to Draw that will resonate with anyone working with learners:
The first marks that children make are marks only, or scribble. This is not early abstract picture making as the experience for the child may be the sheer joy of seeing the line form in the wake of the pencil, or the colour appear on the paper from a loaded brush. Slowly these marks become more meaningful and at a point in the child’s development through the medium of paper and pencil, he/she becomes conscious of a particular intention and will be annoyed when the mark just made fails an expectation. We humans are always changing, more obviously so when we are children and there comes the time when we want to draw the things we see and we want to draw them convincingly. Some of us develop this skill more easily and more naturally, yet the ability to draw convincingly is not just a talent given to some and not to others, it is a product of our intelligence and our physical dexterity and like other intellectual and physical skills it can be learned.
Thinking about Merv’s work and the distinction he draws between art and drafting took me back to a program screened recently about David Hockney‘s return to Yorkshire (David Hockney: A Bigger Picture). The program was filmed over three years and the write up of the DVD notes that “this documentary is an unprecedented record of a major artist at work. It captures David Hockney’s return from California to paint his native Yorkshire, outside, through the seasons and in all weathers. It tells the story of a homecoming and gives a revealing portrait of what inspires and motivates today’s greatest living British-born artist.” I thought the program was a master class in the discussion of perception during a remarkable phase of creativity in David Hockney’s work. His website reports that in 2008 “the subject matter of the East Yorkshire landscape in all its various seasons continues to stimulate Hockney. It is a landscape he has known since he was a boy when he used to work on a farm in the area during the school holidays.” That year he donated his 50 canvas painting, “Bigger Trees Near Warter” to Tate Britain.
I was fascinated by his use of photography and large format prints “as a means of production of the multi-canvas paintings to assist in the assembly of these massive works. His assistant photographs stages of the paintings on location and later makes prints in the studio of the individual panels in order to view them together at a smaller size to track the development of the painting. This method allows him to work on location yet in context of the work as a whole. (link)”
Reflecting on Merv’s thoughts and the inspiration of seeing David Hockney at work I realise that I need to explore perception issues more carefully. Whilst I am at it I ought to resolve distinctions between ‘gaze’ and ‘look’ too. I am wondering if art is to coaching and teaching that draftsmanship is to organising and instructing.