Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Flipped my book today
I bought it in a little stationers' behind the Pantheon that specialises in leather bound books and hand made leather bags and satchels. You can buy really beautifully bound sketchbooks, diaries, blank books of all sorts, as well as printed stationary and all sorts of fanciful toy-stationary like letter seals and pewter framed magnifying lenses and dip pens. Girls, especially imaginative Goth girls, love this stuff, and I couldn't resist the siren call of the place. I bought my leather book last November just before they told us I would have to go forward and have the big surgery. I determined right away that I would use it to write down my explorations in art and perception, a project meant to distract from cancer fears and lift myself out of depression. It has worked, to a degree.
The book that comes in the leather cover can be replaced, so I thought I would keep going buying replacements as I fill up the books. I can foresee a line of these on the bookshelf, dated by hand. The stationer's has been in operation since 1910, so it seems likely that I'll be able to keep getting the refills indefinitely. Looking in it today, one can see as I've gone along that my courage has grown for drawing.
Of course, most of my life I've been comfortable with using words; my mother started teaching me to write, on an ancient manual typewriter, when I was six or seven. But I realised a few years ago after starting to take drawing lessons that I've overdeveloped my verbal skills and neglected my visual vocabulary. When I was a child I loved art, and knew quite a lot about the Italians and the Victorians as painters. I remember being tremendously excited at being taken to see an exhibition of drawings and sketches by Turner and Constable that came to the Victoria Art Gallery. I can still close my eyes and see the pieces, which were surprisingly small. One, a beautiful Turner watercolour of a fish, is especially lodged in the grey matter.
But, though I don't know why, I never took to drawing as a skill, even though Grandma tried many times to teach me. I guess words were just so much easier as a method of expression that drawing always seemed like too much trouble. As a result, I feel as if I'm mentally muscle-bound in one area and nearly atrophied in another.
During cancer, I found an odd thing happening with writing. I started to get sick of words and felt they were inadequate to describe what my brain was doing. I wanted to understand the world in a different way, a way that I had previously skipped over or considered too hard for me. I reasoned that there had to have been a time in my life when writing was difficult, when it was an effort to put words together to express ideas and that it had only got easier after doing it a lot for a long time, like any other skill. It's just that it was so long ago and so early in my life that I don't now remember it being difficult. This had to mean that if I only persevered I could in theory become as proficient with drawing as I had become with words after a lifetime of writing.
I'm still deeply frustrated with my inability to use drawing to describe my thoughts, but I have recently found it becoming ever so slightly easier, like feeling the first movement when you're trying to push a car out of the mud.
Anyway, I thought the process would be very long and would be interesting enough as an experience to write about and I didn't want to have the whole thing left to this ephemeral electronic medium. I wanted something solid and permanent. The leather books are ideal for this purpose.
I write and draw habitually only on the right side of the book, which seems a waste to me, so my friend Vicky suggested that when I got to the end of the book, I should just pull the insert out, turn it over and start again on the pages that had been on the left side for the first half of the book. Today I reached the end of the right side pages turned the book over, and it feels like I have accomplished something. I think flipping the book is going to be a sort of marker, a place to pause and look back at what and how I've been doing.
At some point, the idea is to go through the whole thing and put together a book worth publishing about what it is like to live in Italy studying art. But not only about that in an autobiographical way. I hope it will be about the process of learning, developing perceptual skills. And I want to examine what I've learned about how seeing is not the same thing as perceiving, but putting the two together and drawing the result creates a unique way of bringing information from out of yourself into the outside world and the life of others.
Everyone who comes here seems to write an Italian Book at some point, so this is the one I'm planning.