Thursday 15 March 2007

1st Critique of my Trilobite Drawing

When I was in University, a few years back, science and art were not supposed to be particularly good at intermingling. I was a Fine Arts major at York University in Toronto. There was something unwholesome about the subject of science in artwork.

For some who may not know the difference, a drawing is different from a sketch. A sketch is your rough work. A drawing is a loftier thing, a final work, a finished and grand piece just as valid as a painting or installation. Often, artists have a hard time regaining the "energy" of their sketch...something in the careless hurried strokes can look more appealing than a final drawing where slower, careful strokes have emerged from the process of copying.

I remember the first time I had included a couple of trilobites in a piece of mine, I eventually called Lord Extinction Yawns. I was in a third-year painting studio class, and working on this drawing for myself outside of class. I work mainly with a .3mm pencil, a teeny-tiny lead that snaps whenever you breathe on it. And trilobite exoskeletons have so much detail compared to say, the relatively smooth skin of Diplocaulus (a small boomering-headed marine reptile, now extinct) that these blasted little things had taken me forever to finish.

One day, I was passing my studio professor in the hall, and asked him to take a look. He had taught me in a first-year drawing studio as well, and it is important in university to shove your work under the gaze of each professor as often as possible in the hopes of bettering yourself and maybe (just maybe) being remembered from week to week. This prof was a very friendly fellow and not dismissive, encouraging, and who, like all at York, remained active in his own artwork.

I asked to show him the drawing. I was immensely proud of the quality of my lines and composition, the importance I gave to the shape of the negative space.

He took a look at the trilobites, pointed toward them, and said, "Oooo, I don't want any of those in my soup." And continued on his way.

I was mildy devastated, to the same extent I had felt mildly superior for what I thought were my evidently genius-like skills at rendering extinct creatures. This was the best this noble mind of a practicing artist had to offer?

Let's be fair. Perhaps he was on his way to a late lunch; I was stopping him in the hall after all. Perhaps the soup was clearly framed in his mind, as something he needed to exquisitely focus his attention on no matter what happened or who stopped him so that he would not forget to eat it. He may not have known what triobites were on first glance. Perhaps he knew them intimately and thought mine were appalling. Perhaps he wanted to give me a scathing critique, and felt the middle of the hall on the way to eating soup was not the place to do so.

What I remember, is how this led me to bring more scientific subjects into all of my work, and into the "crit" classes where we all politely disparaged and exalted each other in turns. I wanted to keep bringing it up. The same professor kept encouraging me to move away from this science stuff, and focus on subjects in my own backyard, things I really experience. Like my 90 minute each-way subway ride to class.

I wouldn't do it. The subway ride ate up enough of my life. I had spent the first two years at York doing art I thought they wanted in class and art on the side that pleased me. Well, science is something we all experience, the fruits of testable knowledge, the beauty of discoveries. The trilobite fossils you can unexpectedly pull from the ground, and marvel at how beyond ancient they are.

The 1st critique of my trilobite drawing gave me the focus I had been lacking.


Anonymous said...

Your Prof sounds like a tit and a half; don't be too impressed by them. I too am keen on diatoms and fossils, natures forms are fabulous, tie that in with the geological span and there is great wonder.

Glendon Mellow said...

Despite my complaining, I really did like university. The art history courses were all excellent it was just that I found the studio courses were basically unstructured, with no techniques being taught until we complained enough. If you are interested, I will be continuing to post about one piece a week on here. More diatoms and fossils to come; and I agree, there is great wonder. That is the inspiriation for my work.
Thanks for the taking the time.

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Posts over 14 days old have their comments held in moderation - I've been getting an unusual amount of spam for a guy who paints trilobites. I'll release it lickety-split though.

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