Drawing is Difficult: corrections and the minds eye


In our minds eye, we store a precious image, a schemata, a childlike representation of a generic eye. Looks a bit Egyptian, really. If you ask anyone to draw an eye it is this minds eye they draw.

And it is always full frontal. Never a side view.

If you ask for both eyes, they will be shown the same size, full front.

In fact the two eyes are almost never seen full front. The eyes are seen side on and are different sizes, the far one seeming smaller.

When we draw, it is the picture in the minds eye that guides us. It provides the mental map. It's a diagram, a functional representation, a practical device. Concept overriding percept. The problems begin when our subject looks at our drawing and declares "That doesnt look at all like me!" Clearly my mental map and yours differ.

Enter the idea of objective drawing. Drawing that is independent of your schemata or mine or anyone else's. Drawing based on measurement. Drawing based on Plato's conjecture of a realm of perfect forms, that behave predictably under given conditions. Conditions that themselves could be calculated. Distance, lighting, even shape changing, depending on viewpoint.

Objective drawing is the Renaissance. It is inseparable from Humanism, science and the rest of it because, paradoxically it elevated the observations of any individual. Provided those same observations could be made by anyone else and confirmed. Empiricism is the new test of truth, not faith or authority.

There remains a puzzle. If this new way to draw is so objective, how come each artist is so easy to recognize? Why arent they all the same? It appears my mental map is still with me, constantly "correcting" my drawing, and by increments leading to a personal style.

My mental map is telling me that eye should be larger. But I just measured it, dammit. Is it really that small? "Cant be" says mental map, so in doubt, I measure again. The mental map is extraordinarily persistent, and convincing. Ironically, it takes an act of faith to trust measurement.

Instructors are full of tricks to minimize the mental map.

"Draw the whole thing upside down. Draw ignoring the fact that its an eye and look only at lines, shapes, or abstract properties. Draw using half a brain (the left is right). Draw using a black glass, a viewfinder, a mirror, red perspex or a reducing glass. Try binoculars back to front. Squint a lot."

The minds eye will not be denied. It corrects line length and angle, moves objects around in space, distorts colour and tone. Eventually we realise that drawing is the outcome of a dialogue between the minds eye and the objective world. How we deal with that conflict defines in large measure the sort of artist we are, and the sort of drawing we produce.

A final irony. Only when we get the influence of the mental maps of the minds eye under control can we produce that drawing of our subject which is met with" my God, it looks exactly like me!" The minds eye of both artist and subject are appeased by the objectivity.

What I have learned here in New York is that such beautiful drawing is possible today. It was possible before, but for some reason (we keep blaming the horrors of the twentieth century), we have excluded ourselves as makers of beauty.

The mind's eye at its corrosive worst induces self doubt. It is not the world that has become ugly, evil or false. It is the modern mind's eye that is seemingly blind to beauty. We have become uncomfortable in its presence.

Descartes built a philosophy on doubt. It was not for Rubens or Bach, Bernini or Mozart.They all posessed a God given certainty. It would seem that the contemporary artist who aspires to beauty needs to fashion or find an aesthetic beyond doubt.

It is by no means certain that this is impossible.

Brian E Deagon. 2014


Nick Leavey