The Refinement of Perception


Just last week a woman walked into the School of Light & Color. She was inquiring about class offerings. She wanted to learn to see light and color, She wanted to learn to paint in oils.

In the course of our conversation she admitted that her drawing skills were not great. But she was certain that her lack of drawing experience would not hold her back. After all, she wanted to paint light.

In many ways she might be right. In other ways she was mistaken. As an instructor, I have had students of all levels in my classes, beginners as well as professional artists. And no matter where they were in their exploration of art, the students who took the time to acquire the skill to render shapes, who became sensitive to the relationship between lines and form, and who learned linear perspective had a significant edge over those who hadn’t expended the effort.


It is not necessarily the act of drawing, but what the act of drawing leads one to: the ability to see as an artist. Robert Ruskin in his notable book continually published since 1904, The Elements of Drawing,  expresses this beautifully:

I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.

Funny thing is, one can learn to draw almost effortlessly. And in the process, we learn to really see. The most important activity I can encourage my students to do is contour drawing. This activity is the most forgiving and the most rewarding. After all, you don’t even look at the paper on which you are drawing.  You can do it anywhere if you have paper and pencil handy. At the start, the results can be awkward or they can be surprisingly quite good. But the pressure is off. It is what it is. But as one continues, surprising things happen. More often than not the ability to render what we see as we trace the contours of the edges becomes increasingly easier. We learn to see as our hand to eye coordination becomes fine-tuned. We begin to acquire the refinement of perception.


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