This blog is the third about drawing the visual field, continues and wraps up the drawing part of it. There will be one more blog about what happens when we use our eyes in this way – the physical response – how it works and what we can learn.
Prepare your paper and write ONLY PERIPHERIES, and begin the exercise by slowly moving into receptive, attentive mode. Don’t hurry to be drawing; wait till you are there, eyes calmly at rest on the plant (or model) at the centre, with your attention (like a cursor) moving to somewhere on the periphery to begin. Then, without shifting your gaze from the centre, indicate what you see out there – right at the brink of sight. Give yourself permission to be scared and tentative, to be empty. Never moving your gaze, draw all around the peripheries.
Do not explain
Many people equate draw with explain. You might find yourself wanting to explain, make understandable, what you see. If you know there is a window out there, or a person, or a lamp, your natural inclination is to explain it – square for the window, cabbage head for the person, line and blob-top for the lamp. Can you draw without interpreting? What you saw was perhaps a vague, dark blur. If you really saw a head, you weren’t far enough out – ask yourself, what is it possible to be aware of even farther out than that, beyond that head, at the edge of the roof, the place at the very brink of seeing, where everything disappears?
Try using the word indicate rather than the word draw. This may free you from explaining, recreating images from your store of memory or knowledge.
Simone Weil spoke of ‘a special way of waiting upon truth, setting our hearts upon it, yet not allowing ourselves to go out in search of it.’ She said, ‘This way of looking is first of all attention. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself what it is looking at, just as it is, in all its truth.’
Look at the drawing
Only afterwards, look down at the paper. You are back in your ordinary, critical, choosy visual mode, and ought to be surprised at what you have made. The paper is nearly empty and at the edges, in a kind of circular arrangement, are these strange markings.
You may see a few wispy lines at the top of the page – a stray strand of hair was hanging down over your forehead. Someone with a very weak left eye records only what the right eye saw, including the “wall” of one side of her nose. The whole top of someone else’s page is black – he has deep-set eyes and heavy brows, and hasn’t realized till now that he lives his life looking out of a cave. If you wear glasses, something of the rims is visible at or near the peripheries, and recorded. The base of the page might be a mess of rough curves – your moving hand and arm.
These markings may be so light and sparse they can hardly be seen. They may be vigorous and black. Whatever they are – if you have been able to draw with your attention on the peripheries while gazing at the centre of the field – you are probably looking at the most realistic drawing you ever made in your life.
Later we will be looking at the brain’s way of interfering with what we see, pushing in with recognition, stored knowledge, prejudice. By drawing something you have never drawn before, you have been able to free yourself to some extent from the brain’s interference. That’s what I mean by making a realistic drawing.
Everyone’s drawings made this way are different. They are true to the vision of the artist who made them – representations of that artist’s visual field, no one else’s. They are also extraordinarily personal. How can something be realistic and personal at the same time? It can. Your vision is personal, as is your use of your tool – a special handwriting. These drawings are witnesses to the fact that the personal in art takes very good care of itself, and can be left to get on with it.
Poet Christopher Dewdney calls this mode of attention intelligence: ‘It is as if intelligence were independent of what we normally consider as intelligence, because it operates by stepping out of the way and letting that data arrange itself by its own apparent structure. The height of intelligence is the ability to disappear, to get out of the way.’
Darks and lights, directions, movement
Make another drawing. Think of ways to indicate what you see at the edge of sight – to record what lies outside the range of what you think of as clarity. There is still a kind of clarity, a luminance, but what remains clear out there may be only a slight movement or bit of brightness or tone which, though it can be indicated, need not be made sense of.
If you are drawing with chalk or conté, use a short piece and lay it on its side, to indicateng areas of darks and lights. Line can indicate direction (the bar of overhead light) and movement (your hand as you draw).
You are making a representation of the edge of nothing. The visual field is an area beyond which, in every direction, there is nothing. Why not just make all the edges black? But no one ever does this, because the nothing out there is not darkness. It is a background of shimmering light, the suprathreshold luminance. It is the property of vision, yet it seems to give the idea of immense space, what astronomers with the most powerful telescopes have detected out at the far reaches of the universe, a steady echo from the beginnings of time, beyond the most distant galaxies.
Make at least two more peripheral drawings.
Here are examples of what other students have drawn. I would be delighted to see, and post, your peripheral drawings. I hope to find out how to do this.