Sometimes you just need more art in your life.

About a year ago I started dedicating more time and energy to the visual arts. I'd always been involved in literature and music and drama, and I'd always appreciated the visual arts; I studied art and architecture in Rome, I frequent museums and galleries, and I am notorious for doodling and drawing in first classroom and now meeting notes. Last year though, I made a real effort to improve those skills.

This decision came after Christmas 2014 when McCrae and I visited the Palazzo Strozzi Museum in Florence, Italy. It was the only museum open on Christmas day, so we strolled through the "Picasso and Spanish Modernity" exhibit. It featured many drawings and preparatory sketches for Picasso's Guernica as well as works by artists such as Miró and Dalí. I just remember being struck by the mastery shown in some of Picasso's drawings. It's easy to dismiss some modern art because of the geometric shapes and intentional distortion, but when you see the exquisite realism and contour and cross-contour drawings that some of these artists did you can see how mastery and style married into new and powerful expression. "Blocks and squiggle lines and intentional blank space, and still you could draw like this?" That's when I decided to take drawing lessons.

It took a while to find an introductory class that was coming up, but eventually I enrolled at a class at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro - a non-profit community center for youth and adults in all aspects of the arts.

For me, much of drawing was play. It was low-pressure - even therapeutic - and I fully enjoyed the aspect of exploration and playful creation. It was a fantastic way to experiment in thought and physical execution of thought as I advanced through basic drawing I and II. I tried different styles in hand studies - LOTS of hand studies! - and I played with pencil and chalk and charcoal, sometimes coming home with charcoal smears on my face and arms - more than elbow-deep in art. As a result, drawing has helped me develop as a writer and photographer, just as it helped writers like Sylvia Plath and Flannery O'Connor and others. Plath at one point claimed her "deepest sort of inspiration" was art, and O'Connor, famous for her lectures, has been described by scholar Kelly Gerald in the book "Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons":

If you were an aspiring writer at one of these lectures, what kind of advice could you expect to get? If you want to write fiction, stop looking for the right technique and just start looking.

“For the writer of fiction,” she said, “everything has its testing point in the eye, and the eye is an organ that eventually involves the whole personality, and as much of the world as can be got into it.” This way of seeing she described as part of the “habit of art,” a concept borrowed from the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. She used the expression to explain the way of seeing that the artist must cultivate, one that does not separate meaning from experience. And like any other habit, it has to be developed over time and through practice.

The visual arts became one of her favorite touchstones for explaining this process. Many disciplines could help your writing, she said, but especially drawing: “Anything that helps you to see. Anything that makes you look.
— Kelly Gerald

A really poor phone picture of my drawing; come check it out in person :)

Drawing has certainly helped me look and has improved my writing and photography. And now you can have the opportunity to look: one of my drawings was just accepted by the ArtsCenter for inclusion in its annual student art exhibit. The exhibit is up now in the Nicholson Gallery of ArtsCenter and includes one graphite drawing of mine as well as a couple works from fellow students from my drawing classes and lots of great work by students in other classes, from encaustic to pottery to little kids' drawings to paintings of all sorts. There's an opening reception on Friday, March 11 from 6-8pm that is open to the public during the regular 2nd Friday ArtWalk in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Come, check out the arts scene, and take a little time to look, because you never know what you'll find.

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