So here's something a little interesting. I was at Spring St. the other night, drawing Leah (of course). These sessions end with two 40-minute poses (each broken into two sets of 20). This was what I drew during the first pose:
Daniel Maidman, Leah’s Torso from the Side, 2012, pencil on paper, 15"x11"
And here's what I drew during the second one:
Daniel Maidman, Leah, End of a Long Day, 2012, pencil on paper, 15"x11"
If you study them a bit, you'll find that the first one is much more distinct and specific, with a higher value range and greater detail to the structures. It is, however, a little wonky in its proportions - the torso is slightly elongated.
The second, in comparison, is flatter. And yet the second one has a more cohesive sense of the entire body as a single unit relating to itself in three-dimensional space.
The first one looks more real; the second more right.
Here's what happened. This second pose was taking place from 9:20 to 10:00 p.m. at the end of, as the title would imply, a long day. My eye was starting to lose its sharpness. And the pose itself was kind of a leaning-forward affair. So Leah was tending to lose altitude: she gradually pitched forward during each of the 20-minute sittings. Ordinarily, I can compensate for a fairly large amount of change in a pose, but with this one, I was out to sea - the lighting changed, the angles on all the major structures shifted significantly; her face was nearly hidden by the time the bell rang.
This is not a knock on Leah, by the way. It happens with every model now and again.
Since I was dealing with an unstable visual reference for the drawing, I had to depend much more than I usually do on what I knew rather than what I saw. I sketched out important structures and shapes at the start of each of the two sittings, and then filled them in throughout the pose on the basis both of what I saw, and of my understanding of proportion, anatomy, light, and shadow.
The first drawing is informed by my knowledge, but dominated by my observation. My observation, traveling as it does part-by-part, introduces proportion problems into the drawing. The second drawing is informed by my observation, and dominated by my knowledge. The proportions are pretty good, but the details are vague.
We have discussed this dichotomy before, but I'd like to present here a comparison of the work of several artists in relation to the two-dimensional space suggested by the observation/knowledge dichotomy. Consider the space:
You will notice that I've pulled a bit of a fast one with you here - The vertical axis discussed not prioritization of knowledge, but amount of knowledge available. I think it's more useful that way. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.
In quadrant I, I would place nos ami Pierre Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823):
Seated Female Nude, Pierre Paul Prud'hon
I'm almost sure this is the drawing that, one time, I saw the drawings by the guys on either side of him in the life drawing workshop. They showed the same pose from slightly different angles and, yes, this was a real chick who actually sat like that and clearly kind of looked like that. But Prud'hon, being a knowledge-prioritizing guy who knew the jesus out of his anatomy, stylized her structure and smoothed out what he was looking at.
In quadrant II, you will find blog favorite Stephen Wright. Steve, like Prud'hon, knows the jesus out of his anatomy:
Undated Elbow Joint Study, Stephen Wright
But he is a high-observation artist, not a low-observation artist. His knowledge serves as a foundation for his exploration of what catches his eye. When the thing he sees contradicts the thing he knows, he throws out what he knows. When the thing that interests him contradicts what he knows, he throws out what he knows.
fun challenge: see if you can spot the proportion error
In quadrant III, let's place French savant and lunatic Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)(note: not actually French). I can't be bothered to read a biography of Van Gogh, but based on looking at his work, I'm going to conclude that either he totally rejected, or never really integrated, a thorough understanding of anatomy as a hierarchical outlook on the structure of the human body. On the other hand, he observed intensely, atomistically. I am thinking particularly of his 1882 drawing Sorrow:
Van Gogh, Sorrow, 1882
Incidentally, this is his prostitute girlfriend who eventually ran off, like everyone else he knew, because it was impossible to sustain the intensity of his company. What's interesting about this drawing is that in some respects, it's very like the totally naive drawing of a child. A child who is working on drawing from observation will awkwardly and directly trace out the shapes of the thing observed. Sometimes it comes out right, sometimes wrong; but there is a sort of ignorant fidelity to the seen. It is as if Van Gogh has been drawing in this naive way for decades. He has refined it, become artful with it, but has never seen any particular reason to puncture the conceptual boundaries of childlike representation. And, in fact, I think this grass-and-soil-level perspective characterizes all of his work. He dissolves in his subject, armed only with his ignorance. But his ignorance is a mighty sword.
Van Gogh, Portrait Of The Postman Joseph Roulin, 1888 or 1889
Finally, we come to the seemingly perverse quadrant IV: less knowledge, and less observation. Whom could we find creeping about there?
Renoir, Les Baigneuses, 1918
Contemptible sack of shit Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), that's who.
I am amenable not only to my individual classifications here being off the mark, but to the idea that the entire system is a matter of classification-for-classification's-sake. It is not necessary to make a system out of every little thing. I just thought it was kind of interesting, when I thought about it while comparing the Leah drawings I was drawing.
While we're on the topic of Leah - and, lately, when aren't we? - let me clear up a little misunderstanding which has crept into the discourse. In the time that I've been working with her, Leah has become prominent on the New York art modeling scene, and is the subject of fairly many drawings, paintings and, most relevant here, conversations. During these conversations, I will often hear Leah described as looking like a Renaissance painting. Wrong.
"Renaissance painting" is not a generic term denoting "the opposite of rough on the eyes." Here's a Renaissance painting:
You know who this looks like?
Leah does not look like a Renaissance painting. She looks like a Gandharan Buddha sculpture of the Hellenistic period.
I'm glad I could clear that up for you.