Sunday, April 21, 2013

Drawing to Enhance Experience

Yesterday and Friday night I had the fun of spending lots of time watching my son and his two children taking part in a group testing session for Tai Kwon Do levels.  The testing took a long time-- all told about seven hours.  I took a few pictures and videos on my phone, then handed over the phone to my granddaughter, and I settled in with my journal and did this sketch.

I was following advice from Alain de Botton in his excellent book The Art of Travel, in which he writes about and quotes John Ruskin, who suggests that the optimal way to "possess beauty" is to sit quietly and take a long time to draw or "paint word pictures."  Ruskin, writing in the 19th century, said that drawing could teach us to see, and therein lay its value.  DeBotton paraphrases Ruskin when he explains that "In the process of recreating with our own hands what lies before our eyes, we seem naturally to evolve from observing beauty in a loose way to possessing a deep understanding of its constituent parts and hence more secure memories of it." (p.217)

De Botton (and Ruskin) maintain that careful, detailed description-- painting word pictures-- can have the same effect as drawing.  But that whether drawing or writing, one needed to take time and attend to details.  Ruskin deplored the new rushing about that people in his time did.  He was actually a fan of photography, but not in the context of possessing beauty.  He said that photography actually diminished pleasure and memory for the majority of its users.  "Rather than employing it as a supplement to active, conscious seeing, they used the medium as a substitute, paying less attention to the world than they had done previously, taking it on faith that photography automatically assured them possession of it."  (page 219).

DeBotton (and Ruskin) insist that this kind of drawing is not about producing art, but is rather a wonderful way to enhance memory and deepen our experiences.  The sketch that I did is full of flaws on the level of "art," but I felt happily engaged in the event while I was sketching, and I began to notice the interesting contrast between the whirling dervish-like TKD practitioners who were taking their tests and the calm, thoughtful, sitting judges.  It all began to seem like a dance, and the entire group-- testers, judges, audience-- seemed to me to be one pulsing, changing, living organism.


  1. I love the contrast here, and the fact that you did this means not only were you very present at that event, but your son and his kids will forever know that. Funny, I did some pages with this idea in a jump rope class my kids took. It was a bit like drawing zoo animals (your subject is constantly moving) and I am very glad I did it. It make me really take notice of the nuance of jumping rope, which I thought I knew. We could all benefit from drawing word pictures.

  2. I agree totally in that drawing slowly deepens our experience and heightens our perception. But I think there is also a place, a different place for photography. It is not always possible to draw a particular experience, whether because of time restrictions or other impracticalities. ....and looking through my better photos from both my travels and my day-to-day can also bring a rush of pleasure and intense memories. I love the movement here, Gwen - I find it so hard to draw people moving - I try often at airports and as soon as I start, people seem to shift and move about constantly!

  3. i like the composition, the flaws, the generous gifts your pen discovered. i lie the attentiveness. i have hours of boredom at meetings, and sometimes hours of anxiety at work that i could focus more attend more through drawing. recently i did that, and you're so right. this tickles me and reminds me of my HANDS' EYES (if you will) who often know so much more than my still guarded/trained eyes.

  4. I love your comments, Jill, Linda, and Velma. WHen I started drawing this page, I went to the easy part-- the judges who hardly moved at all. Then I found that I was slipping into my critical self and saying "It's imposible to draw the people in action. I don't want to mess up this drawing." And then I said to that self, "Hmmmmm. And this isn't an art piece. This is about seeing and feeling." So I dove in and started doing gesture drawings without even looking at the page some of the time. I began to love following the movements as they happened. After about an hour I realized how much I was sensing about the community of people, the various movements and stillnesses.

    I agree, Linda, that photography has a good place. But it's not the same experience. I ended up deleting most of the photographs I took, didn't even remember taking them. (I am NOT a good photographer for sure, plus Maya took so many videos that my phone told me I was almost out of storage space and had to delete!)

  5. I spent years watching and participating in taekwondo competitions and testings like the one you drew. You did well to capture all of the activity and energy! :)