Both the “optical” and the “constructive” drawing approaches are useful, but they don’t make successful pictures on their own. Drawing systems, like all techniques, are servants of a higher overarching purpose: design. Design transcends styles, techniques, and media. Techniques are useful tools to learn, and it’s never bad to expand our abilities; but it’s also easy to get stuck if you elevate a particular technique (like “realism“) into the goal of art itself. The technique is just a means to an end. The real point is to make a powerful image, and the power of an image ultimately derives from abstract qualities we call design and composition.
May 29, 2018. A family-friendly movie review site is cautioning parents about last Friday’s release of the new “Sesame Street” movie. The beloved series from the Children’s Television Workshop was given a big-screen greenlight last year, but producers sought out a refreshed vision for contemporary, global audiences. After negotiations with Lars von Trier fell reportedly through, Canadian director David Cronenberg was selected.
Box office performance has been strong so far, but Wendy “Pam” Dorset of the family film review site shieldtheireyes.biz is concerned that Cronenberg’s grotesque, chaotic body horror might be too cinematically advanced for younger children.
“We’re hearing kids ask, ‘Mommy, why is Grover’s face melting off into a puddle of acid?'” Dorset said. “That’s just a very adult kind of question, and some children shouldn’t be exposed to indie-thrillers with such moody, erotic undertones.” She added, “Let kids stay kids, for Heaven’s sake. They don’t even need to know what happens to Maria.”
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, is one of the best drawing instruction books ever written. It is rightfully recommended to beginner artists all the time. It gets undeniable results. If you’ve never drawn before, or if your drawing hasn’t progressed past your childhood abilities, DotRSotB can provide critical skills that you will use for the rest of your artistic life. The before-and-after images say it all. Students of Edwards’ method show dramatic improvement after only a few days of instruction and exercises. There are few other artistic curricula that can boast the same degree of improvement in such a short time.
However, I hear a frequent question from novice artists who have “graduated” from the DotRSotB exercises: “What now?”
DotRSotB teaches you how to draw what your eyes see. I like to call this approach Optical drawing, because it’s oriented around trusting your eyes and getting out of the way of your literal visual perception. Unfortunately, Optical drawing doesn’t do much to teach you how to draw things that aren’t in front of your eyes, i.e., things you want to invent from your imagination. Some people only care about being able to draw from life, and DotRSotB provides a very good set of skills to develop life drawing ability. But those of us who also want to be able to draw from imagination will need more instruction and a separate, parallel set of drawing skills—Constructive drawing.
“Realism” is hard to learn. It takes a great deal of effort, concentration, and persistence to acquire. There are art schools and curricula dedicated to “realism”, and they reliably produce skilled painters and draftsmen. However, there is also a low-key ideological cult of “realism” as the only true, objective measure of art and artists.
Why do I put “realism” in quotes? Well, what do we mean by “real”? The term itself is a classic example of begging the question. “Realism” as an artistic concept is infused with a lot of value judgement. Depending on your personal philosophy, it can be easy to conflate “realistic art” with some kind of higher intellectual truth. But if one technical approach is called “realism,” does that make other approaches “unreal”? Invoking “realism” as a category or priority is usually a chauvinistic loyalty to a certain type of artistic interpretation, not an appeal to truth in itself.