I’d like to tell you about the most unusual art class I’ve ever been a part of, a class called “Figure in Interior.” “Figure in Interior” sounds normal enough, but this class was anything but normal. I specially designed this Thursday series of Intermediate Studio to shift the artist’s focus away from illustrating the scene as a collection of locked in static objects, or as a figure on a background, and instead turned the artists to record a sequence of observations over time, integrating movement and different points of view into a single composition. The father of this idea was Cezanne. You may remember from art history class that Cezanne occasionally painted with the Impressionists, and that his observations sparked cubism, but they always point out that Cezanne wasn’t in line with either of these art movements. He was doing his own thing. The thing is, the art history books never told me what that thing was. I had to discover it ass-backwards, by accident. I was studying how is is that my favorite painters like Alex Kanevsky, Ann Gale, Stephanie Pierce, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Giacometti, and more are able to record a sense of space, movement, and time in their work. This, eventually, led me back to Cezanne, and now I understand why the table is higher on the left than it is on the right. Cezanne, the table is higher on the left than it is on the right I wasn’t interested in studying cubism. What I was interested in were ways that artists can potentially integrate a sense of time and movement, as well as shifting understandings and changing points of view, into a single cohesive drawing or painting. One of the approaches we worked on was drawing the scene in fragments. I called it the “distributed” technique, for lack of another term. I’d picked this name up from a picture illustrating economics and systems patterns. In this approach, while observing a scene, the artist only records the placement of a piece of each object by making a mark that is at max an inch or two long, then the artist jumps to another location. When applied, this approach ends up looking remarkably, and quite inadvertently, like Cezanne’s work. Cubists revolutionized art by combining various perspectives into a single composition. They abstracted the objects into simple geometric shapes, and interlocking planes. Cezanne wasn’t a cubist, but he is credited for inspiring the cubists to make the leaps that they did. Bottle and Fishes c.1910-2 Georges Braque One of the things Cezanne did that put the Cubists on their path was that he often started to draw a scene in one location, then he’d pick up his easel and move to a different location, to continue to draw the same scene from the new viewpoint. (What nutty thing to do!) When the marks are made with straight lines and a distributed approach, this ends up with a fragmented image, and various integrated points of view, as seen above. It also ends up with tables being remarkably uneven, as seen below. Drawing the scene in fragments does a few more interesting things for an artist’s mind, and for a drawing: The artist is forced to slow down. This is a very different way of drawing, and it’s exceedingly slow. The artist can’t go fast, they can’t assume, and they can’t go on autopilot. Did I mention it’s slow? It’s slow. You have to go slow. Have you ever tried to walk so slowly you can’t hardly hold your balance? Going slow changes a process, and it changes a person. In the fragmented approach of drawing, only one small line or piece of an object is drawn, and then the artist moves to another place in the drawing. (This is something I learned from a brief doodle on the back of an envelope, by Australian/New York artist Fran O’Neill. I’m very excited she’s coming to teach at the League in February!) This fragmented drawing approach leaves objects incomplete. Completed objects tend to be closed, finite, solved. Things that are solved can become still, and even boring. Incomplete lines tend to be open, engaging, and they can vibrate. They reach for each other across the spaces, they talk to each other, they interact. The closer to each other they get, the more electricity they can produce between each other and on the page. They have a charge to them like Adam reaching his finger up to the hand of God in Leonard dV’s mural. This fragmented method of drawing tends to make artist’s feel lost, sometimes frustrated. (Cezanne was not known to have the most sanguine of personalities.) Without giving the individual lines more context, the artist can’t know if the lines are going in the “right” place. They don’t know what their drawing is going to look like, if anything is working, or if it’s just going to be a mess of random ill-placed bits. They have to trust that the drawing will coalesce, but that coalescence takes time – sometimes hours, days, weeks or months of work, and that’s quite a free-fall for an artist. That’s a lot of process to go through without product, and it’s a lot of letting go. Above: Leonard dV’s “Creation of Adam” mural, showing an electric charge between two parts that don’t quite touch. It’s amazing how many beginner artists recreate this moment and make the fingers touch or stick something in between the fingers to be funny, because of the strong psychological tension in the incomplete moment. It’s hard to leave tension unsolved!!! But when the lines are connected, they are complete, and the tension is lost. So the reason the table is crooked is that Cezanne drew one side, and then he moved, and then he drew the other side and he didn’t connect, or correct, the two lines. This added a sense of energy in the work, and movement. By integrating movement into the artwork, it also added a sense of time. And that movement and sense of time, is exactly what I have been looking for. So that’s a tiny piece from art history, and the most recent Intermediate Studio class. In tomorrow’s V. Note I’ll tell you about the most unusual student who took this most unusual class. She made – you guessed it – the most unusual artworks. I’ll be sharing more about this unusual class, and more drawings by other the other artists involved, in a series of V. Notes to come. Stay tuned!