The other night, my husband and I met at a coffee shop. He rode his bike there after work to meet me. I was there doing work I didn’t get done during the day. He asked if I’d bring his sketchpad.
That sketchpad has been around and seen its fair share of coffee shops and park benches.
While I was thinking about a blog topic, he opened the sketch pad. I, without so much of a warning, blurted out, “Why do you like drawing?” He laughed – that was a big question. Slowly, the answer emerged and I took notes, because it has a great tie-in to the themes of this blog.
For many of us, education and cultural value gives priority to science and math. The sciences are seemingly more important, and if you are good at them, you often get pigeon-holed into that category. The artsy students hang out in the art studios, the rest of us are science, math and language whizzes. They were separate. There is no art in the sciences. There is no science in art. But they don’t have to be separate – imagine what innovation and creativity comes when they work together.
The reason my wonderfully talented, intelligent and compassionate husband likes art is more subtle and deep than just the joy of creating something beautiful. It’s more of a spiritual practice, although he wouldn’t necessarily call it that. He uses art, primarily drawing – and almost always black or gray – as a way to develop the skill of “seeing” things and getting past the conceptual brain. Rather than looking at a tree and saying, “Oh that’s an ash,” you can learn to see the shape and the lighting and the colors and the form and the patterns and how it fits into the larger context of life. For him, it’s being able to get closer to objective truth of seeing what is really there rather than just the label of what we think is there. An ash isn’t just an ash. An ash is a lively form that sways erratically, yet rhythmically in the wind, with various shades of green and patterns of light and dark. It has movement, it has a whole world going on under its bark and in its roots – all hidden from us and not usually considered. There are probably birds and insects and other varmints running around and we don’t often stop to think about or see them.
When drawing, you can’t really just draw the concept of a tree. Well, you can, but then it just looks like an elementary Christmas tree of trunk with a round top (this, for reference, is how I draw). But this doesn’t capture the essence of that tree. It’s a generic representation of something. Truly SEEING the tree opens up all sorts of new ideas and allows you to practice seeing other things in life. Nothing is what we think it is from a first glance. There is always so much more depth and context and interconnectedness to explore and discover. Learning to see something enough to draw it (he usually draws trees) helps you learn to apply this principle throughout life. Much like meditation allows us to practice discernment of thoughts and not getting caught up in them, drawing helps practice awareness and seeing.
The beauty of drawing is that it isn’t about the outcome. Few people see the drawings, and most of them sit silently in sketchbooks. It’s not about them. They are just tools. They help the drawer to get past the labels and to explore a different way of looking at the world. They provide the training to help uncover the subtle beauty of life. They help him express himself better. I think they, and he, are beautiful and capture the essence of each other.