When I set this up I did not really envision joining the rantosphere (aka blogosphere). I had it in mind that the pictures from the exercises would be worth the proverbial 1000 words and there would be sufficient amusement value for anyone monitoring my struggle to master the pencil for drawing purposes without me saying any more. However, events unfold behind the scenes and my experiences in this venture certainly merit a few more comments. I shall try to stay brief and on the point.
Initially I was going to supplement my Betty & Me exercises with an eight week community college course. An interior designer friend said that she had learned to draw by taking a local course and so I signed up for it, very keen to be a student of the much vaunted teacher who was passionate about teaching drawing and had 15 years success in doing so with this college.
Imagine then my chagrin to find another teacher in his place. Imagine further my despair when suddenly it was Grade 5 again and the exercise was: here are a bunch of objects. Draw them.
There was no tuition and, worryingly, questions such as: “Who doesn’t know the difference between graphite and a pencil?” In other words, ‘Hands up everyone who is ignorant.”
So here was someone who, in my view, knew nothing about creating a supportive teaching environment and, as she explained her curriculum, it became clear that we were no longer there to learn to draw but instead to have ‘art’ classes. Suddenly, rather than ‘working through the many elements of representational drawing’ as described in the catalogue, we were going to be going out into the yard to find twigs to do experiments in textures with ink and we were going to do a ‘conceptual self-portrait using collage’!
And so I began to wonder if perhaps one of the factors that impact on why drawing skills are not as commonplace as writing skills is the problem that many who can do cannot teach. I cast my mind back to school days and recalled art lessons by those who could teach but could not do (although Sister Susan could hit a baseball right over the school, neither she nor any of the other nuns at my school were much good at drawing). I recalled my last art teacher (Grade 9), who was quite talented but clearly hated having to earn a crust by babysitting hormone-crazed teenagers for 2 hours a week. Mostly we did pottery (badly) that year. After Grade 9 art was not a course offered at my high school.
I wondered also if perhaps some things have to be learned young. For example music is one of those skills that, like art, is thought to be something one either has a talent for, or not and is best learned in childhood. Yet I learned piano and sight reading as an adult without much difficulty. In my opinion, music is easy to learn. I found a teacher who was prepared to treat me like all of her other students (most of whom were about five years old) and I started with the same music books as them (all helpfully illustrated with images of Tommy Thumb who is number one!)
So what is the learning-to-draw equivalent?
Immediately following my disastrous community college class, I went round to a friend’s house to work on our writing projects. This friend is a graphic designer and architect and, at a glance, remarked of the course work I’d attempted: “That’s not beginner level.” (See the pathetic results of my class endeavours below and judge for yourself).
In real terms it seems that the class I had taken would have been comparable to starting to learn music by hearing a tune played on a stereo, being given the sheet music and having the teacher say, “Have a go!”
And so the next day I got my money back from the college course and I commenced the search for the course equivalent of music lessons as-if-one-were-a-five-year-old and so far, have found nothing. I’m not even sure that there is the drawing equivalent of the little old lady piano teacher. And, as anyone seeing even this first week’s efforts using Betty’s exercises might have gathered, teaching oneself from a book may indeed be what is commonly known as ‘doing it the hard way’.
Which brings me back to my wider issues about visual literacy. I am not convinced that the educational system has changed when it comes to ‘art’ lessons. I am not sure that there is a properly structured way for either children or adults to learn the fundamentals of drawing. If I am right, then we have a problem. I believe that visual literacy –being able to draw with the same fluency as we now have with writing – is a crucial skill for the future. Am I crazy to think this or are there people who share this view? And if so, what can we do to change things?