The Love of the Thing

Today during life room Juliette demonstrated drawing for first year students. We are at the part of the year where poses gradually become longer. We began with 5 then 20 minute poses that changed throughout the morning, then we had poses lasting 3 hours, or the length of the morning session. We have moved onto two-day poses and eventually we will draw monthlong morning poses.

Longer poses are intimidating. Imagine slogging through a bad drawing for a month! It’s very important to see your teacher draw. There are so many micro-lessons in watching masterful artists use their materials and approach the paper or subject. Sitting behind them and endeavoring to share their vision of the model so that you can understand why they made this mark or erased that yields a lot of understanding for new artists. Many questions are difficult to ask for the uninitiated, like when you go to get a new hair-do and have no idea how to describe it and no knowledge of hair style terminology. We are learning the language and the technique simultaneously and struggling to use one to describe the other. Observing alleviates much of the need for accurate language.

At the beginning of the demonstration Juliette took a minute to look at the model who sat turned 45 degrees. At first glance she was attracted to the design relationships she saw. The front of the model and the back of the model had nice complimentary lines and the whole torso had a powerful diamond shape. Towards the end of the drawing some one asked if she consciously tries to express the designs she admired at the beginning. Juliette said no that the design was a starting point and that you have to keep in mind the love of the thing. And went on drawing. Intrigued, I asked if she could talk more about “the love of the thing.” She answered, It’s CS Lewis, you know:

“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”

Her advanced students lovingly joke that Juliette speaks in haiku. That she’s so brilliant and that there’s so much knowledge in her head that it is sometimes expressed as cryptic poetry. Thankfully I don’t find this to be the case in her teaching of basic drawing technique or even in interpersonal conversation. I will say this, she is not one for small talk and she makes long sustained eye contact which sometimes makes you forget what you were even talking about. She goes real deep real fast into philosophy and literature and pulls analogies from the entire history of human consciousness to describe thoughts as big as free will and as mundane as the capricious nature of Google Maps.

Obviously the advanced students are being hyperbolic, but I catch their meaning when she answers questions about art philosophy. Her understanding is an ocean and ours is a thimble and so she must make bold decisions quickly about what droplets to share, about what points are relevant or useful to us now.

The love of the thing is about humility and the drive to draw what is there and not make anything up. The tradition of classical realism values a purity of vision and Juliette herself values a Designer who’s work is divine and who yours would look foolish trying to overwrite. We’ve all been in that position so driven by our own ideas, struggles and of course our own cleverness that we become blind to our essential objective and endanger the integrity of our work.

After quoting CS Lewis and drawing a bit more she joked, “You know, I didn’t wake up this morning and think ‘I want to desecrate Nature!'” She laughed and paused, focusing on the model, and continued drawing. “We have to push ourselves for accuracy.”

(Featured image: Study for a Seated Joseph by Botticelli c.1480)