Random Thoughts … About Art and Education
UH OH, I MADE A MISTAKE
by Jerome J. Hausman
Over the years, there have been so many times I’ve observed a student stop drawing after making only a single mark. Looking at a virtually blank space, he or she typically says, “Uh oh, I made a mistake.” The drawing is then discarded.
How could this be? I would wonder. Of course, the answer is quite simple: There was a fixed, completed image in the child’s mind and the single crayon or pencil mark did not offer the prospect of becoming that image. All too often, students begin with clear expectations of what the completed drawing needs to look like. The drawing is fixed in the mind’s eye.
Therein lies the problem. We are able to imagine what the final, finished drawing should be. Through memory of what things appear to be and through looking at photographs or other print images, we can visualize a completed drawing. These are “drawings” using the images of our own memory and imaginations.
The problem, of course, is that the single pencil or crayon line is different from what has been “pictured” in our imaginations. Depending on the specific medium—pencil, crayon, charcoal, etc.—the line has the character and quality of that medium. And so it is! Every medium has its own specific character and quality.
Of course, we can all begin with a general “picture” or “feeling” as to what we want the drawing to be. But, what is important to understand is that our drawing is the result of a process in which we invent, discover and explore the possibilities of what can be done with the medium—pencil, brush, charcoal, crayon, pen and ink—whatever we are using for the drawing.
Simply stated, drawing is a process in which the marks we make can be modified, changed, covered and reworked as the drawing becomes what we want it to be.
The first marks should be understood as “beginnings.” Students, as artists, are in charge as they move from more tentative beginnings to a more finished image. In this sense, doing a drawing is engaging in a process in which we discover and re-imagine the image as it is being created. In varying degrees, we make it up as we go along.
Students growing up in a digital age have many tools that involve on/off, yes/no–type decisions. Dealing with a computer keyboard calls for a kind of thinking that leaves little room for nuanced adjustments or modifications in the particular decision. So much of it is “on” or “off.” Of course, this kind of thinking can be very important for certain kinds of decisions. It forces a certain kind of thinking.
What is important, however, is that we not lose sight of the special processes of layering, adjusting and shaping images that are more nuanced. We need to be able to adjust, modify and refine our thinking.
In our drawing experiences, we are given possibilities for merging actions and thinking within a process that invites trial, experimentation and refinement. No! You can’t make a “mistake” with a single mark at the beginning of the process. The mistake is in “giving up” and not participating in an ongoing process where the solutions we find may not have been apparent in the beginning.
A&A Editorial Advisor, Dr. Jerome J. Hausman, is a lecturer, consultant, and a visiting professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.