My son, aged sixteen, made me very proud this week. Please indulge me while I retell his story. He studies art at school and has an art teacher that has not been particularly encouraging and seems very set in her ideas about the style of art that he must produce. As a beginning artist, my son draws in a style that is not yet particularly photo-realistic, but it is representational and he works hard at capturing mood and nuance.
To build his confidence, he recently attended a life drawing class, conducted by a working artist with more than four decades of professional experience, outside of school hours. The teacher of the class, who has a wealth of techniques to teach, worked patiently with him to help him learn the rudiments of measurement and placement, perspective, tonality, shading and how to get the drawing to capture more of the likeness of the subject. One of the important take away lessons was that it was far easier to sketch on an easel, than to attempt to do so on a flat table. Also, using a large graphite stick, which produces painterly strokes, suits his stage of draughtsmanship much more than an ordinary pencil.
Last week, my son had his art examination. It’s a five hour invigilated affair, held in total silence, with restrictions placed on what you can and cannot take into the exam room. On his own initiative, my son took his sketching easel into the examination room and proceeded to set it up. Nobody else had brought an easel (into an art exam! I ask you!). His class teacher began moving toward him to ask him to put it away or to confiscate it, but he stood his ground and the other art teacher decreed that it was quite acceptable to bring a sketching easel into an art exam where he would be expected to sketch to the best of his ability. So the easel stayed.
My son also learned, during his many hours of practicing his drawing, that if he overworked his drawing, it got worse. There was a point at which he was done. Two hours into his five hour exam, he was finished. He knew that filling the time with decoration or fussing would produce a worse result, in his view. So he put his pencils down and waited.
Now some people may view his actions as provocative, unfair and that he should have used his time to the full, but I disagree. He made a decision about what worked best for him, what helped him produce the result he was most satisfied with and he held his ground. He had the courage of his convictions. He was not cowed into drawing on a desk, like everybody else, he was not embarrassed about being the only person with an easel and he knew to stop when he considered his drawing was done. Irrespective of how he is ultimately graded in his exam, I am proud to say he did some very right things in this exam, which will stand him in good stead in his real life.
How many of us, at age sixteen, would have had such clarity, confidence and self assurance about their artistic decisions?