Tag Archives: Google

Look, draw, be moved

Victoria Ward

“Now if you can draw a stone, everything within reach of art is also within yours.” John Ruskin, 1819 – 1900

Ruskin was explaining observation and how the act of looking is really all one needs to understand how to draw. Drawing, that much maligned skill which the contemporary art world gatekeepers feel is sad, tired, colonial and probably at this point racist and sexist is an activity that has been with us for tens of thousands of years. I think the earliest known drawings are 40,000 years old, but the medium could be much, much older. I am not very skilled at drawing and have avoided it for many years. Instead I’ve tuned my pickier brain skills onto technology, learning code, SEO and other endless machinations of Google and social media; at times it all seems for naught, as once you think you’ve mastered an idea, a module, plug in or program some software comes along and erases your skills set altogether.

And so, when I get particularly mired in how small I’ve made my universe – 19 inches to be exact, the size of my laptop screen, I tend to walk over to my studio and try to draw something. As kids my brother and I drew monsters and stories for each other. His were great, all fire, fangs and teeth – mine, well I constantly made mine cute, friendly and fun looking. I’ve always tried to find the best in things. His critique at age six was that I drew curvy lines – straight jagged lines were scarier. Why he is not the artist in my family is beyond me – he continues to be my best and most brilliant critic.
Drawing is a fantastic discipline. It makes you slow down, even if you draw quickly. You must observe, think, put line to paper, control your hands and, mix your intentions with actions in a way that gets somewhere – so that when you look back at your drawing you see something. A face. A house. A tree. A rock. It doesn’t matter really; all subject matter can make incredible drawings. It’s a fierce, personal and exciting act. I believe it also to be something we are inclined to do, not just as artists but just as humans. We are inclined to draw the world around us.

Wild rose running in a cleft of Derbyshire limestone by John Ruskin. From the site Ashmolean, the Elements of Drawing, Oxford U.

I’ve found that drawing is something a lot of us share. I can’t count the times I’ve entered someone’s home and found that they too have done masterful little ink/water colour drawings that are secretly but in full view on their walls. “You did this?” I ask like some idiot pretending not to be one. “Yes” is usually the answer along with a brief explanation said to the floor and not me about how they were just having fun. Almost all these people are better than me at drawing. It’s humbling to say the least. And it gives credence to that axiom about how talent isn’t all you need to persevere as an artist. Most of the time you just need perseverance.

Ruskin was himself an amateur at drawing, but his work is truly lovely and revelatory. For his observance of things like lichen, rock faces, tree bark are all so astoundingly detailed without the intense scrutiny of scientific examination; they are intense from his passion for them. Pouring passion into drawing is something I’ve come to realize can be a salve. Especially today in a world wired for fake – drawing is real.

For fun go outside and get a plant, flower or rock from your backyard. Put it on the table. Get a sharpened pencil, an eraser and some nice white paper. Draw the thing. Keep drawing until you get what you want. Draw slowly or quickly, draw in big sloppy loops or tight little lines, draw toward the thing that you see, those ineffable borders of life that shape us, keep us in some kind of assembly and see what you have when you stop. Every drawing is a bit of information that keeps us who we are – lost mammals scratching on cave walls.

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Believing in a tipping point

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

a tipping point

Is technology an extension of our consciousness? It is certainly where we are choosing to experiment with our beliefs and behaviours.  One phrase I now hear continually in these experimentations is tipping point. There is that book by Malcolm Gladwell which I never read and perhaps I would have a better understanding of the theory of the tipping point if I had. From what I gather the tipping point is an actual data mining idea that references the moment when a momentum changes. Since we now measure everything by algorithms the tipping point holds curious interest to those who need to follow trends in economic, political and social forces.

When did something change, what made it change and what is the impact of change? I’ve written here many times that Occupy Wall Street was a tipping point for the neo liberal narrative I have lived under my entire adult life.  Occupy made it fine to question capitalism and its various philosophies.  But as with everything in this ‘too much information’ age we live in, the media devalued the movement because of its lack of “conventional structure and ambitions”.  When conventionality is threatened this is usually the case. The future will be kinder to Occupy and all its adherents.

I often think about tipping points in painting. You can work for a very long time on something and never see it finished because you didn’t hit that vortex, that threshold when suddenly all your work falls into place and a painting exists when it didn’t only moments before. Up until that point you are just moving stuff all over a canvas searching for a path, an entry to something. It can be endlessly frustrating but exhilarating at the same time. Many times the tipping point is an accident; you make a rash decision and it’s horrible for the first little while. You’ve ruined the last six hours of your life and then, boom – it works and works better than if you planned it. How does this happen? I don’t ever want to know or have it analysed or anything. Please don’t ever tell me.

The tipping point theory as infographic. Idea completely taken from Google images, drawing all mine.
The tipping point theory as infographic. Idea completely taken from Google images, drawing all mine.

I am unsure however that this tipping point theory plays out in life as it is described by the various theorists I researched. It seems to me that in fact tipping points happen and then forces in life curtail their impact. For instance the internet is supposedly this awesome universe of creativity that has infinite capabilities for anyone who has an idea. However, conglomerates like Google and Yahoo are continually on the hunt for successful monetizing schemes. These companies are one step ahead looking for ways to make your idea part of their inventory: any newsletter that you now send out will get bundled into a different tab on gmail user’s accounts automatically. Your hard work is thrown into a promotional tab and no longer in the user’s primary tab giving it a lesser status and creating situations where people just don’t open it any more. Yahoo won’t even let you send them. In order to keep this from happening you will likely have to spend hundreds of dollars a month to have your newsletter reach your client’s primary emails. And so who wins at this game? Credit card companies and banks just like in the non-virtual world.

It’s discouraging because for awhile there the online thing seemed to be made for people like me; creative types with low incomes who need to find audiences. My community actually thought a tipping point was happening in our favour, alas this is no longer the case. The window of free and freedom has closed and if I want to be effective with things like this blog I will definitely have to put money into it even though I only ever saw this as an extension of my studio practice and I put ALL my money into that. Great shoes and fine jewellery are things I will never own.  But as I get discouraged I also get resourceful and I am not a pessimist; I think that things go up and down and life finds a great even-ing.

But the tipping point is interesting because what I see on social media is how much people seem to need this idea to be true. We all love to believe that something magical, mysterious changes our world, sets us off in new and great directions. This tipping point belief is kind of beautiful. I see this need as a reflection of how chaos still rules our universe no matter how many inventions and theories we have created. As an artist I am well equipped to handle chaos; it’s where I begin to make things and sometimes, if things just don’t go well where I end up.