6 minute read.
In this article, I discuss how drawing helped me gain a more authentic and better understanding of what beauty is and what it means to me.
I created this drawing inspired by a photoshoot I conducted with my model Anoush. I intended to make beautiful photographic images, and I felt we accomplished that. But I wasn’t sure what the pictures meant to me. It wasn’t until I reflected on drawing this image that I could objectify and express recognition of what was not immediately prevalent in the photos.
Part 1 – Relationships and Intimacy
You share intimacy with a model when you’re working closely with them. It’s primarily one of understanding and trust. There are conditions and boundaries. If you treat models with dignity, respect, and build trust, you can create marvellous things together as a collaboration.
Every model is unique and plays a significant role in conveying meaning. Anoush is exceptional by using her facial expressions and body to express more than I can conceive using my imagination. Ideas I start with, she can capture and expand upon. But, of course, not every model can achieve that, nor do you resonate on that level with every model.
You share intimacy with the artwork too, or moreover, the intimacy shared with the model is transferred to the artwork you’re creating. The intimacy with the artwork is born from the time you spend working on it and looking at your reference, whether it’s a live model or reference photo. Successful relationships need consistent attention and the intention to create balance and harmony. You’re analysing the forms and relationships of what you see and transcribing them into the artwork. The drawing, thus, becomes an expression of the model posing or photo.
Part 2 – The Drawing
The priority of this exercise was to understand the image by transcribing it as a drawing. I wanted to find out if I could learn something about the image’s meaning and beauty by drawing it. I’ve heard people denigrate photorealist art as a laborious art school exercise, as though a waste of time. But that viewpoint is naïve, particularly when the person saying it hasn’t done it themselves or devoted any time to do it. You learn so much by doing, by acting. And to the inactive, that knowledge is lost. And rarely have I used a reference source without omitting or adding information. Working with purpose and intention builds skill and knowledge, even if it’s only technical. So, by drawing the image, I was forced to think about the formal elements of the image in an artistic context, i.e., line, forms, and values. Photography might capture those things, but it’s left to you to see and make those judgments when you’re drawing or painting it.
There is also the knowledge of anatomy and how light interacts with the body. Not only are you learning something, but you’re also marveling at how fantastic the anatomy is. For example, skin, bones, and flesh all exhibit unique translucencies and appearances under the effects of light. So when you’re capturing this with an objectifying eye, you appreciate how fragile and incredible the body is.
Part 3 – Meaning is relative
Finished artworks often provide a sense of accomplishment, but know your journey is the destination. You may not know when your journey’s going to end, nor how you’ll get there. Almost everything you will learn about your art is a consequence of creating it.
Meaning, for me, is a difficult thing to discuss. It’s like taking my clothes off in a room full of people. It’s both personal and public. Emotionally, I hoped the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts. How I choose to draw the image expresses how I feel about what I’m seeing and what I want to communicate about that. I considered this work in the values of mystery, sensuality, and light. I appraised the energy of this work by the intensity of the light and the tones that resulted in the model’s skin tones.
It’s helpful to understand how your work generates meaning and why audiences may receive it differently. Be aware of your audience. Meaning is relative. What something means to you or me may be very different because of our race, gender, age, culture, belief system, personal circumstances; the list goes on. Meaning, however, has lost some of its nuances. While the internet unites people of similar interests, it has also homogenised what was once unique. History also has a say. For instance, the white calla lily pictured in the drawing is in Greek mythology and Christianity.
“The calla lily was named after the Greek word for beautiful — Calla. It is associated with the Greek goddess Hera. According to the legend, Zeus brought Hercules, his son from another woman, to Hera, his wife, while she was asleep to drink her milk. When she woke up, she pushed him away, and drops of milk flew across the sky to create the milky way. The ones that fell on the ground grew into beautiful lilies.
When Venus, goddess of love, beauty, and desire, saw the lilies, she was jealous of their beauty. She cursed their beauty by placing a large yellow pistil in the middle of the flowers. Because of this story, some associate the calla lily with Venus and thus with lust and sexuality.
However, one of the most popular calla lily symbolisms is its unmistakable pairing with the Virgin Mary. This common spiritual meaning of calla lilies symbolizes purity, holiness, and faithfulness. This calla lily symbolism is especially an extension of the expectation of fertility – in hopes of having offspring.
Another spiritual meaning of calla lilies is related to Jesus. The calla lily represents rebirth and resurrection as its trumpets-like shapes symbolize the triumph of the awaited returning of Jesus.”
The History of Calla Lily and Its Meanings. (2021). Retrieved from https://morflora.com/calla-lily-meanings/
So, a flower I love for its elegance can mean many other things.
Although meanings are nice to know, it’s crucial not to let yourself be paralysed by analysis. Instead, I avoid analysis paralysis by planning my creative journey guided by my inspirations and aspirations. If you overthink the meaning of your art in advance, you can end up simply illustrating an idea, or worse, suffering from analysis paralysis. The true majesty of art lies beyond appearances. It has the power to transport one’s imagination and faculties to different states of awareness. And if you want your viewers to take that journey, you need to believe in it yourself. So don’t pre-conceive too much; remain present and aware. Go with the flow of creativity by living in the moment.
Part 4 – Conclusion
You may have wondered, why does it matter? Affirming beauty in your life matters because it acknowledges your perspective in the world and gives your life meaning. Journeys of discovery, like drawing, provide us insights about ourselves and underpins our perspective with experience and knowledge.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this work’s genesis was about beauty. So, what did I learn about beauty? We may see a thing and ascribe beauty to it on the surface. I’ve learned that beauty can be much more than appearances alone. Beauty, for me, means taking the journey of discovery and making analogies between making art and life lessons. Those analogies are universal, and I hope my audience feels those values through the work. These include discovering the perspectives of others and building harmonious relationships. Beauty on its own provides plenty of meaning. It’s all around us, and we can even define our own concept of beauty. It will grow if you create the right conditions and nourish it. By engaging with my subject via the drawing process, I recognised beauty could be a journey of insights and discovery. Sometimes it’s not until we realise what we sense by expressing it that we can understand how amazing and beautiful it truly is.