Recently, I have started going to an art class group on Fridays, my regular day off.
I was looking for an art class that I could join, and to be honest this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. I had in mind a group where we might paint something 3-dimensional – a still life, or a life model – but at this group we are asked to work on a piece over 10 weeks (2 hrs/wk), in a venue used for other things in between, and so we must choose a photograph or drawing to reproduce. And, as this is my first term, I have been started out on pencils, rather than paint.
It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, and at first I was undecided whether or not I would continue beyond the first term. But I have come to enjoy this point in my week, and to value the class for several reasons, including (but not restricted to) the following:
The class creates a predictable pattern in my week. Predictable patterns matter, because they anchor our lives in such a way as to ensure that life is manageable in those times when life is at its most unpredictable: when circumstances hit us hard and without warning. Even spontaneity requires the structure having certain predictable patterns provides, because it is not possible to be spontaneous if one is battling with a chaotic lifestyle.
Drawing focuses my attention in time and space. Everything slows down until I am fully present. Of course, worry has always got in the way of people living in the present; but in the age of the smart phone, we can split ourselves into not really being present, not really alive, in multiple locations at once – like horcruxes, for those familiar with Harry Potter. Indeed, with a smart phone it is almost impossible not to live in this way, which has both gain and cost; and if the phone is to be a tool rather than a task-master, it will take intentional resistance.
Related to this, drawing also focuses my attention on detail, on looking at what is – and seeking to represent that accurately – rather than what I expect to see or think that I should be seeing. An intentional resistance to ‘lazy looking.’ Again, we are conditioned to look lazily, giving just enough of our attention to confirm our prejudices. Especially when it comes to other people. So the discipline of ‘close looking’ – like the discipline of presence and the discipline of predictable patterns – is a theological discipline.
I am not good at these disciplines. That is why I value, and indeed need, my Friday art class.