Thursday, September 2, 2010

Seeing and Being Seen

This blog is often fairly impersonal. I'm sure something of my personality comes through, but we're usually talking about art in a kind of a detached way. That's how an observer or an analyst can choose to look at art. But making art is a personal thing. Who you are as a human being becomes implicated in your work. You lose your ability to say, "This will be so - that will not be so." If, one day, somebody had to make a determination of who and what you were, your work could be fairly cited as evidence. I'd like to talk about a few tiny facets of that implication.

First of all, Claudia wrote a lovely post about working with me on her blog. I'm very proud to be featured over there - it's a wonderful blog by a person I like a whole lot. Check it out. She posted a really nice picture of the painting we're working on too...

Second thing, also about working with models. You are in the room to observe them. But they will observe you too, and your work. This can feel very much like being naked sometimes. In fact, I don't think it is possible to commit strongly to rendering what makes a model a living individual, without becoming vulnerable to the model catching sight of who you are.

Two examples, one of them one of the nicest things a model has ever said to me, and the other one of the kindest.

Model A: I was doing a preparatory sketch of her, seen from behind. She was trying to describe the drawing to a friend at a party we were both at later in the day. She said, "He drew in all the cellulite that I hate so much on my butt and the backs of my legs. But because he thinks it's beautiful, it looks beautiful in the drawing." I participate in this idea that the artist is trying to tell you that everything is beautiful. Hearing this evaluation, unprompted, from somebody, about a feature that people have a really hard time with in themselves - it made me very happy.

Model B: We were talking about an online quiz on personality type that I had taken, which had come back, "You're kind of a hardass." She said, "Well, you know, you come across very friendly, but there's barbed wire underneath." This is true. Not obvious, but true. And this model, who does not know me very well, had watched me closely enough to figure that out. To say so was the kind thing - we all want to be known. I am not afraid to be imperfect. I am afraid of creating an illusion of who I am so compelling that I become unknowable.

And finally, there is Claudia. The goodness of each person is different in kind. Claudia is generous. But there's generous, and there's generous. Some generosities are those that are offered when the giver has more than enough of whatever is needed. Other generosities are offered regardless. My wife, Charlotte, is generous in this second way. I don't know Claudia well enough to say, but I think she is generous this way too, generous by deep nature. You'd be lucky to work with her, and I'm honored to be on her blog. Thank you Claudia!


  1. You are so right. You know my work. I insist that my work resemble the model in likeness and character. I stare hard. I have felt that vulnerability on numerous occasions when drawing. I will look up from the paper find the model looking at me. It is sometimes a long moment of intense locked eye contact where I feel I am not being looked at, but that I am being looked into. Their search for details is really not that far off from our own.
    I am thankful for having some wonderful long lasting working relationships with a few models.
    I only wish Claudia could be one of them. jpisarcik

  2. Thank you very much for writing up your own experience of this type of interaction. I do know your work, and I can see the intensity of your search for the meaning of the model in it; I particularly like your work with Hannah. It's good to hear that you've had a chance to develop your work with models over time. I think there are some aspects of personality that do not emerge until you've been looking for a while and know better what to search for. I think this practice gives the work more substance - more psychological substance, more ethical substance. It is an outcome of committing the time required to move past appearances.

    Thanks again, and be well -