It has been a little more than a year and half, and the finish line for DFA #1 is finally in sight. It’s hard for me to believe that so much time has past.
Image 1: The journey begins, July 2017
The hardest parts of the drawing have been completed, and the final portion is moving along fairly quickly. Within a few weeks I’ll be into the final touches, which involve finishing shadows and highlights, and accentuating or fading prominent wrinkles and other features.
I have said it before, but this project has been a test of will and patience for me. I’ve had to step away constantly to travel for work, and diving back into the project has been difficult at times. It hasn’t been easy to sit and draw tens of thousands of tiny points, lines, and polygons on a sheet of paper, while beautiful days ripe for adventure pass by hardly noticed, but work we must, and ideally in pursuits of passion.
Image 2: Nearing Completion, February 2019
As the drawing phase comes to a close, I’ll be moving into a multimedia design phase (I’ll elaborate in a future post), scanning/printing, framing, art promotion, and lastly (fingers crossed) artwork sale, and charitable donations.
I have no idea how this artwork will be embraced by the art world. The value of art is so subjective. A red dot on a canvas can sell for millions and grace the walls of the world’s finest art institutions, while works of great toil and complexity can pass through the art world entirely unnoticed. It reminds me of the Stephen Jay Gould quote, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” Too many fine artists have passed on from this world unnoticed, but if their life’s toils were meaningful to them, so be it.
The Inherent Value of Art
Many people believe that art offers no necessary function, and therefore cannot be definitely valued. For some works, I believe this is true. However, there are many works of art that I believe do provide a necessary function, and there value is inherent. The art world is filled with theories for why an artwork should be valued. Many of these theories are obscur, or open to interpretation, which is why there is so much debate. I believe an artwork is of great value if it can stimulate the emotions of the audience. This is the practical value of artwork, and I think this is less debatable.
All forms of art have the power to educate, to enlighten, and to empower. Humans are certainly not emotionless robots acting only in practical manners. Humans are emotional creatures, and our emotions drive our actions. An artwork holds inherent worth if it speaks to the emotions of an audience. If a work can inspire people to act good, to be kind, to care for the world around them, then it is of great value. The words of a book, can reach the eyes and minds of millions of people through mass publication and distribution. If held in a public place, a drawing or painting can do the same, as millions of museum visitors stand before the piece and feel its message.
Today, we see a natural world in peril. The condition of our planet is suffering. Overpopulation, pollution, climate change, and mass extinction events threaten the integrity of our fragile planet. Never has there been a more critical time to inspire people to act for the common good. This is the hour in which art can provide its most valuable service.
What value does my own artwork have?
In responding to this question, I’ll start with a passage from the film Good Will Hunting.
“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell.”
Vicarious, Sensory Stimulation
How do you tell a story, or draw a picture that conveys the magnificence of real life? How do you capture the essence of nature’s perfection in an artwork? What is it in wild places or in wild creations that enrapture us, that fill us with a sense of awe, and awaken our deepest and truest capacity for appreciation? Beauty is not defined, it is beheld. But the nature of our world is such that the vast majority of its beauty will never be beheld by the vast majority of its human inhabitants. So it is, that the critical connection between humans and nature, required to inspire people to act to protect nature, will be upheld through a medium such as film, books, pictures, paintings, drawings, and other works of art.
Drawings for Africa #1 is my attempt to harness, not the image of an animal, but the essence of his being. I don’t want the audience to see simply a picture of an elephant. Rather, I want them to feel the grandeur of his existence. I want them to see what words cannot describe. I want a child who has never seen an elephant to stand before this work and feel the explosion of wonder that befalls anyone who stands before these sensational creatures. I want all people to know what we stand to lose if we do not stand to protect and preserve.
Experiencing Through the Artist
Oscar Wilde wrote, “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”
If this drawing is in any way a depiction of me, I hope the audience sees within it what I see in the magnificence of nature. I hope they see a toil of passion and a product of a heart willing to sacrifice time for a cause of deep meaning to the mind. I believe few people will ever take the time to draw an animal at this size and detail. In this respect it is a rarity, and I’ll selfishly admit that I derive some pleasure from that. The drawing is both realistic and abstract, the later perhaps to a debatable degree. Zoomed in, the artwork is seemingly chaotic, somewhat like a Jackson Pollock piece, with tens of thousands of tiny points, lines, and polygons clustered together in no discernable pattern. As we zoom slowly out, the chaos transforms into order; patterns emerge, shapes form, and a creature begins to appear. Zoom out more and an elephant, radiating in all his splendid physical intricacies, is clearly depicted.
I think much of life is like this. One flower on a hill often goes by unnoticed, while a billion flowers together create a blanket of color that excites the eye. One star in the midnight sky is not much to behold, but a trillion stars shining brightly together create the beauty of the universe. And the seconds we are living now will pass by hardly noticed, but all the seconds of our days amount to the years of our lives, and the splendor of our memories. And each action we take, no matter how small or great, amount to the quality of our character.
Today, we see our nation divided by selfish desires, thoughtless words, hateful rhetoric, and blind allegiance. We see how ugly a world of division can be. To quote Oscar Wilde again, “To define is to limit.” If we are to create a sustainable human existence, and if it is peace we seek, we must see that definitions can create divisive and hideous boundaries. Group affiliations can foster group thought, which often impedes rationalization, and shackles the heart and mind, preventing them from realizing their potential for love and knowledge. When we remove definitions, when we cast away labels, unity can prevail. We can love without constraints. We stop judging, we lay down our prejudices, and we begin to approach others with understanding and tolerance. What more do any of us want than the freedom to flourish and shine, the freedom to love, the freedom to be, the freedom to pass from life in peace. There is no true (unbiased) reason why we cannot do this together peacefully.
DFA #1 is not only a depiction of the essence of an elephant, it is a depiction of the beauty that arises in unity. It is a depiction of what can be when all the pieces of the puzzle of life work together in harmony. I believe this is a critical time to remind the world of this beauty.
If you have made it this far, thanks for reading! I wish everyone all the best!