Watch Closely,

*Note: The sketch above is my own, just for fun*

Or in other words, watch actively. Don’t skim over the details; inhale them all like you do the molecules necessary for your breath. Look between the lines, or at them, whether on the micro or macro. Let the work seep into the pores of your mind, smooth as chamomile tea—warm, thick—redolent of honey, milk, and calm. It swishes in your brain, a ready jug, til it’s replete and dripping like a sponge. Soaked in idea, you can properly now give opinions on art.

Last year I took an art class and learned something I never want to forget. All my life I’ve been a writer from a family of painters and sketch artists. My most impressive drawings were some stick figure fights I did as a kid. Thus, throughout my semester, my art was outmatched by my peers who had years more experience than me. I could barely draw a still life of a chair and a cardboard box. Meanwhile, the blonde beside me who claimed her work had room for improvement had practically sculpted a rocking horse, its legs polygonal boulders, its jaw obround, its mane flowing in the wind.

Of course, though they were all talented, there was a skill hierarchy among my classmates. A brunette from across the room was excellent at point perspective, but when we got to drawing people, her human faces looked like horses. I felt that pity you feel when you realize someone’s just as bad as you are. And yet, her confidence remained unassailable. Brighter even. Matt, our professor, led us all around to examine each other’s works. When we reached the horse-human drawing, my classmate was flooded by a shower of compliments—genuine compliments. My head jerked back in surprise as she received “Nice shading!” “You did a great job on the nose,” “The angles are short, crisp, tidy.” The portrait was blatantly terrible, yet the genuine strengths mentioned were simply glossed over by my mind. Initially, I only gave her piece a glance, but my classmates had stared at it for minutes.

A different class session, I was making a drawing using charcoal, which is much more finicky than pencil. I had no shame in complaining to Matt, recounting how bad at drawing I was or how much I didn’t know. After all, I was a beginner in a class full of the advanced. In response he asked me, smug, attempting to coax an epiphany, “But just what is a bad drawing anyway?” which is the most cliché line I’ve heard uttered by a human being, but it made me realize something. Even those things which seem to lack detail, seem amateurish even, have strengths not immediately discernible. Whether drawing or writing, whether beginner or advanced, you’ll catch something you didn’t notice before if you watch closely.

One thought on “Watch Closely,

  1. This was an interesting read! I reminded me of my art classes at school: we, too, had to walk around the room and examine each other’s work. Everyone would ooh and aah at the popular kids’ drawings each time (and I wasn’t one of the popular ones.) But the teacher would quite often pick my work for display. I never knew if he felt sorry for me or genuinely thought mine were interesting, but it gave me self confidence that I needed! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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