Monday, December 1, 2008

Generosity in art

Oof. It's been several days since I have written anything here. First there were Thanksgiving preparations (a belated happy Thanksgiving to all American and American expatriot readers). Then we had another computer malfunction. Actually it was not the whole computer that went berserk; only my portion. I seem to have lost all my non-web-based e-mail. But fortunately my pictures are intact.

We have many children's books here at home. One of them, The Quiltmaker's Gift, has become a favorite of all of us. It is a story of generosity, and looking at it the other day I was struck by the generosity of its images. The artist, Gail de Marcken, has researched many quilt forms and fabric designs as part of the illustrations--I mean many many--far more than necessary just to carry the narrative. She has also included many more images than necessary; one page has 35 pictorial vignettes. But in this story, it is not simply the narrative that is important; the abundance of images of beautiful things represents the generosity of nature, the generosity of the heroine of the story, the generosity that brings joy.
Art is hard. Drawing may be a pleasure, but not always, and deadlines can make it a headache. There is always the temptation to take shortcuts, to say, "Well, this is good enough." The great ones never settle for Good Enough.
Reading this book to my grandson, Seth's son Tofu, I thought, "Seth was also a generous artist."
He never took shortcuts; he drew generously, spending hours and hours to add the details that would make the picture right to him. Though, his work is often compared with that of extreme detail-monger Geoff Darrow, Seth himself said, "Just for the record I want to state unequivocally that Geof Darrow draws about five times as much in his panels as I do, and I have no desire to compete with that. I draw the world the way I see it, and it seems really detailed to me." So his details were never just for their own sake, but always to make the picture right to him, and that was joy.

Seth also drew a generous number of pictures, not rough sketches, but finished work. He had something going all the time. Today I was going through his early work--that is, before he got published--and again I marveled at the volume of work that he produced. He was always improving, always trying to make his best work better.

Posted above is an image from his early work, likely done just after college, when he had learned to draw architecture and was practicing, in his own way. He didn't practice plain buildings, mind you, he did rococco buildings, fantastically decorated and rife with architectural flourishes.

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