Creative arts: Drawing a line under my lack of talent

Posted on: 28 October 2010 by Anthony Martin

Martin Goodkind muses on the creative spark that has seen elephant dung and unmade beds turned into an art form and wonders where it all went wrong for himself.

It is a fact that certain words are inextricably linked and that the use of one immediately conjures up the other. More often than not, ‘happy’ follows ‘deliriously’, ‘poverty’ follows ‘abject’ and ‘disaster’ follows ‘unmitigated’. We also find it difficult to divorce Tom from Jerry, gin from tonic or stewed apples from custard (well we could, but it wouldn’t be the same). And if these are the positives, there are also the negatives, words that could never be conjoined – ‘compassionate’ with ‘despot’, ‘squeamish’ with ‘axe murderer’ or ‘full agreement’ with ‘European Union’. But on a personal note the word pairing that presently haunts me are ‘myself’ and ‘art’.

I am in the midst of a two-year course covering all the aspects of three-dimensional design, modelling and sculpture and have, up to now, produced my output on time and to an acceptable level but, until now, I have not been called upon to put pencil to paper and perform that most basic of skills – to draw. The word itself fills me with panic; it takes me back to early schooldays when I would hunt for a convenient illness or feign a strained wrist, anything to keep me away from the art class.

I am sure that somewhere, buried away within my subconscious is the reason why my brain and my pencil holding hand do not communicate. Was I as a child, poked in the eye by the school bully wielding a HB? Did my parents, to improve my deportment, force me to walk around the room with a drawing block on my head?  Perhaps I should I let a psychiatrist take me back to my childhood and discover the roots of my phobia. We have all heard of ‘writers block’, being faced by a blank piece of paper and not knowing what to put down but this is almost the opposite, knowing what and where to put it but physically unable to do so. Perhaps there is a condition called 3D dyslexia? My class neighbours, one a fine arts student, the other an architect think this is hilarious and double over with laughter as they watch my pencil moving across the page producing a line that imitates the meanderings of an inebriated ant. No matter how hard I try I cannot produce a two-dimensional sketch from a three-dimensional object for I cannot handle height, width or perspective. To use a hackneyed expression – I cannot draw a straight line.

I’ve bought the books; I’ve read about grids, vanishing points, that eyes are always halfway down the face, about shading, cross-hatching and particularly free-form gestural drawing when the strokes are loose and free – almost scribbled but as far as I am concerned learning to speak Inuit would be easier.

And next term we start with life drawing – a real live naked person. A real live naked person with rounded parts and dangly bits. The nearest I came to representing that on paper was playing hangman with the kids and somehow I don’t think that I can get away with calling my work an impressionistic view of the subject – or a homage to Miro meets Brancusi – meets a five year old child.

Is this why Chris Ofili works with elephant dung, Damien Hirst stuffs sharks and Tracey Emin unmakes beds – can they not draw either? And Jeremy Deller, he who won the 2004 Turner Prize, admitting later that not only could he not draw but neither could he paint or sculpt and that he was banned from taking art at O level. It’s a strange, this art subject, for these are the people who share Tate Modern wall space with the greats such as Paolozzi’s square of brown canvas with a diagonal cut, Klein’s plain blue rectangle and Malevich’s white clay painted board with added texture. As I said, strange, for we look at these three pieces and think ‘I could do that’ but of course we can’t.

But back to my problem, either within the next three weeks I learn the basics of drawing, overcome this irrational fear of pencils and paper, or learn how to cheat, which is, putting aside the life drawing, by far the easier option. It is just a matter of setting up the objects to be drawn, digitally photograph them and set the computer to print the image as a line drawing. From there it would be simplicity itself to trace the image on to paper, add a few erased ‘mistakes’ and present the finished work. But I couldn’t do that – or could I.

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