I grew up watching my mother move her hands, fast but carefully over a sheet of paper. In her hand there would be a pencil or pen and from the instrument would appear the world. People, dogs, houses, plants, fights, lovers, everything. It was all there and to me it was magical. At the time my hands were slow and clumsy, I would be given the same materials – a sheet of paper, a tool and my ten digits. Out would come a flurry of nonsense; the eyes too high up, the mouth too low down and worst of all the feet and hands tiny blobs of incoherent mess.
I was proud of my efforts but even my squidgy young brain could tell that they were charming bits of nothing in comparison to my mother’s illustrations. It’s funny that fifteen years and an art degree later, I still feel the same way. It’s not as bad as it was; my capabilities are honed far past my original efforts, but my mother, that amazing woman, still has a good 30 years on me.
Another space in which I get the same feeling is when I watch professional dancers. We all start with more or less the same tools, two legs, two arms, one head a pair of hips and boom some of us move like pros and others of us flounder. The truth is that those of us who flounder don’t practice enough. Dancing is a skill like drawing. You start grooving and training when you are young and slowly you gain coordination, skill and grace.
All of this is technical excellence, your body working as a machine going through the precise motions. There is something else though thathappens beyond this skill, something beyond technicality. When I was small I’d also watch my mother paint. There were no people or houses or dogs, just shape and colour and form. My young mind loved the final product but didn’t understand the process. You see, the houses and dogs were illustrations – they told a story. The paintings were art – they were a story.
As I have grown I have come to appreciate my mother’s paintings more and more and her illustrations less and less. Both are technically excellent but as an educated adult I see in her paintings something that is far worthier of aspiring to. I’m not trying to make a point about art and craft, splitting hairs over such distinctions is a waste of time. I am pointing to the technical skill artists and dancers acquire over time, which are only truly interesting to me when they are used to another end.
Having grown up with and studying visual rather than performing arts I have often found myself charmed and drawn in by the technical athleticism and excellence of dancers – ignorance can often breed child-like admiration. However upon occasion I am struck by the manner in which bodies are used not only with technical purpose but with incredible artistry. It’s only then that I remember that technicality and artistry exist in all art forms; music, dance, sculpture, theatre, painting etc. and is recognisable. While technical skills are tools that can be enabling, they form only one part of what makes an incredible artwork.
Reluctantly written by Helen Harris who wants you to submit your articles so she doesn’t have to!