Tale of the Tin Foil

Back in 2007 I was teaching a Beginning Drawing class at the University of Missouri – one of the first of my time here. I was challenging my students’ notions of process and rendering. So many young people come into art classes believing that mere transcription – literally photographic-type replication – is the standard of quality. Basic verisimilitude rules their ideas of what is good and they have little to no idea of material, process, or context.

Early on in the semester I told them that if they used the strategies I was trying to teach they’d be able to do more than merely replicate what they think they know: they’d be able to feel an experience of the space and air and object-ness of their subject matter; they’d be able to move beyond trying to recreate the surface details of a photograph and begin to sense the deep masses of shape and movements of light that under-gird formal composition and communicative meaning. I told them that – moving from these general underlying abstractions, through a process of accumulation, toward the specifics of forms in space and light – they’d be able to do far more than attain photo-realistic images; they’d be able to make evocative explorations into the nature of being.

I don’t think they really believed me.

They didn’t realize that the subject of our class was not the simple manufacture of pictures, not the creation of images that corresponded to their referents in a sterile, monocular, photographic representative mode. Instead, what we were aiming at was (and still is in my Beginning Drawing courses) an exploration of sight itself. The subject and aim of my classes is to help students become aware of their own conscious seeing, and to inform that sight with particular sorts of logical and intuitive approaches to what is before their eyes.

They’re always dubious, but I think most of my students go with me on that journey of discovery and awareness.

In any case, that first class in 2007 challenged me. They essentially said, “you can’t use these observational, sighting-and-measuring, general-to-specific, experience-not-execution techniques to make something better than a transcribed photograph.” They asked me to try my hand at tin foil – crinkled, wrinkled up, then spread back out again.

Above is the final drawing – click through for a detailed view. Below is an animation of the process – I took images to show the students how I moved through the construction of the drawing (click on it to see the procession of images):