Painting and feelings – my journey with art

Art is in doing. Take the first step and be yourself. Brutally honest will do fine.

Luisa, one of our resident Friday morning Drawing and Painting students, has generously shared her reflection on her time at MAC, and how art has impacted her life.

I have been attending at Melbourne Art Class for a year. And in that year, I have not only discovered more about art, but also about myself. Art, and specifically painting, unlocks stuff. Opens doors you did not know existed. It can best be described by quoting Joan Mitchell, who in 1986 said:

Feeling, existing, living, I think it’s all the same except for quality. Existing is survival; it does not mean necessarily feeling. Feeling is something more: it’s feeling your existence. It’s not just survival. Painting is a means of feeling “living” … Painting is the only art form except still photography which is without time. Music takes time to listen to and ends; movies, ideas, and even sculpture take time. Painting does not. It never ends, it is the only thing that is both continuous and still.

Yves, 1991. Oil on canvas, 110 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches (280 x 200 cm). Private collection. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Mitchell was one of the few female abstract expressionist painters who gained critical and public acclaim in the 20th century. I read her quote often and only slightly disagree with her views on music. (Yes, music depends on time, but where does a note start and where does it end?) Abstraction in art, is by its very nature, abandons objectivity and moves into ethereal exploration.

One of the leading avant-garde jazz pianists, Craig Taborn, produced a recent album Daylight Ghosts. Taborn modified the sustain pedal of his piano in order to imagine a note when it is no longer audible. He then plays different notes and chords to talk to that note wherever it exists. He often visits art museums in New York to collect ideas for his music.

Once upon a time, I was a lawyer. And every day felt like groundhog day. Only voices, places and faces changed. The constant was a treadmill, self-doubt and a vulnerable ego. A mistake, a lost case and everything imploded. Happiness was as elusive as a good night’s sleep. The lawyer was moderately successful, but that only meant groundhog day was longer and more intense. People said the lawyer was eccentric, thought outside the square, had a creative streak. All I wanted was to feel the wind on my cheek and have the fragrances of plants and flowers linger forever. I wanted to step into every soft pastel orange sunset.

One day I did a Google search for art classes in Melbourne. The first one I stumbled upon was www.melbourneartclass.com. I enrolled in the only class available at the time, Portraiture with Marco Corsini. It was a fortuitous decision. In the beginning, I believed I was hopelessly out of my depth, wasting everybody’s time. At the time I did not realise the reach of Marco’s empathy and patience. Four weeks later I could produce a fairly accurate self-portrait and a week later I began painting with oils. It speaks volumes about the quality of the classes; the extent of their reach. I now paint things as I imagine and feel about them. I am no Joan Mitchell or Craig Taborn, but I think I know what they were aspiring to. There is more to life than survival or winning or being better; best; most.

I believe everybody is blessed with creativity. Granted some are more aware or talented than others. This “more talented” thing is an aberration, not an excuse. We meet more talented people every day in every aspect of life and we try to manage it without thinking or resentment. I also believe that we should not to confuse skill with creativity. Anybody who is reading this has a wealth of experience that feeds intuition which, in turn, is the basis of creativity. Do not compare or be judgemental. Artists, like Cezanne, Jackson Pollock and Rauschenberg were not great technical painters. They were magnificent artists and their influence will continue to resonate and open doors in our minds.

Art is in doing. Take the first step and be yourself. Brutally honest will do fine. Feel the wind on your cheek, smell the flowers and paint it. Integrity cannot be faked and it is often what makes art great. Everything else, like a prize or a sale, are simply bonuses. The reward is in expressing yourself on a canvas without rules, comparisons or judgement.

I am not a good technical painter. I am rather rough. Everything I do, is intuitive. Despite that, I have against all expectations, sold three paintings. It was not supposed to happen. The bigger reward is that I am content with my lot in life and happy that I no longer live groundhog day. The black shutter in my mind has lifted.

For me the key to painting is fluidity. The movement away from temporal to “a temporal”. Observing to feeling. For me it is spiritual; in a material world, everything has time limits. The idea I am exploring is to transcend this, to emphasise the nature of metaphysics as something that is forever. A place where time does not exist.

I recently looked at some eucalypt leaves in various states of decay that a friend of mine painted. I told her that she painted delicate evanescence and that it was beautiful. I could see a forever. Evanescence suggests the leaves will fade away. It does not mean they are gone. To make my point graphically, I enlarged her paintings with the edges of the leaves cropped off. Separated content from form or borders, her work entered a new dimension. Something that I saw and felt. It is beautiful and stirs curiosity.

Another way to phrase it is to “stop and smell the roses”. They linger in memory or on a canvas.

I love walking in the bush after the rain. Thousands of fragrances hanging in the air and my nose weaves through them. I pause when I enjoy something more.

‘Struggling artist’ sounds good. Should have tried it decades ago.

Written by Luisa Blignaut

 

The problem with high standards and the benefits of micro goals

“High Standards” (Credit: PxHere)

In a YouTube video from 2015, British author Howard Jacobson (born 1942), who won the 2010 Man Booker prize for The Finkler Question, is seen making an impassioned admission related to the creative life that will resonate with many serious writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, singers, actors and dancers. He says that he always wanted to be a novelist but could only finish his first novel after the age of 40 (and out of sheer desperation!) because something had slowed him down over the years—the experience of his Literature BA at the University of Cambridge.

This might sound confusing. Isn’t a good education, formal or informal, supposed to activate us? When you read the biographies of acclaimed artists, whatever their medium, you are bound to find descriptions of powerful, almost epiphanic, encounters with great works of art already produced. And it is precisely such encounters that turn them into conduits for more (great) art. Take the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray—he launched his career soon after discovering Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (1948) along with 99 other movies of his time. Picasso developed his style after being exposed to figures like El Greco and Edvard Munch. J. K. Rowling has a solid canon of mythology and fantasy that includes everybody from Aeschylus to Kenneth Grahame behind her Harry Potter series. The truth is straightforward—a proper act of creativity demands a deep immersion in prior examples of creativity. The more aware you are of what has been tried and accomplished before, the greater the chance that you will produce something reasonable and respectable yourself.

But there is another side to the story, and Jacobson understands and articulates it accurately. Too much knowledge of the arts can also become a veritable impediment to the artistic task. What made the author postpone his childhood dream? The very high standards of writing that he had encountered at 20 in the classroom. Jacobson read, and therefore, wanted to write books like The Golden Bowl by Henry James and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky but the problem was they had all been written. “I wanted to write at that level and it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t writing novels and submitting them and failing,” he adds. “I just wasn’t getting beyond the page, and then I became an academic, and the years go by and the book’s not appearing.”

This problem is all too common. Very often, well-informed and highly-talented people in the arts can find it hard to execute their ideas, while totally mediocre ones can go on finishing project after project with utmost confidence. Why does this happen? It turns out that many who have had a taste of the heights of human creativity (read the best books, watched the best films, seen the best paintings, listened to the best music) experience a paralysing horror before the blank page or canvas. So conscious are they of all that is possible by members of their own species that whatever they may attempt can seem lazy, incompetent or plain foolish. They want to pursue perfection and so they keep deferring real work and sink quickly into a pit of doubt and despair.

“Many who have had a taste of the heights of human creativity experience a paralysing horror before the blank page or canvas. So conscious are they of all that is possible by members of their own species that whatever they may attempt can seem lazy, incompetent or plain foolish”. Top L to R: Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio (public domain), a portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Barbara Krafft (public domain), a still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (fair use), a portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov (public domain). Bottom L to R: A still from The 400 Blows by François Truffaut (fair use), Ophelia (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) by John Everett Millais (public domain), the Beatles celebrating a Grammy win in 1965 (public domain), The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí (fair use).

 

Is there a practical way to get past the resistance? One effective tool is provided by the American entrepreneur Tim Ferriss (born 1977), angel investor in tech brands and the author of bestselling books on personal development and entrepreneurship like Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors. His proposal is that creative people who procrastinate in the face of big ambitions break their plans into extremely tiny tasks. His own mantra has been to somehow end up with “two crappy pages a day”, not ten spectacular ones or even five average ones. Stephen King prefers to pump out 2000 words per day but that can be too unrealistic a target for most people. “Two crappy pages”, on the other hand, will compel you to show up before your notebook or screen without pressure or fear, do something—anything—and move forward to the next dawn. Your seemingly insignificant achievements will, over time, add up to a big and important outcome.

Ferriss’ suggestion could be applied to media other than writing. If you are an emerging painter with the lofty visuals of Caravaggio and Dalí in your head and a blank canvas on your easel, try micro goals like the following:

  • Spend just 10 minutes daydreaming daily. Let your mind wander wherever it wants to. Record three things that you see. Perhaps you will find a pattern a month later and that will lead to inspiration.

    ”Spend just ten minutes daydreaming daily.” (Credit: Pixabay)
  • Choose a subject–psychology, technology, botany, politics–Google it and read a few sentences on it. Make a note of any one new piece of information that you discover. Create an image out of it in your mind.
  • Select two colours and meditate on what they mean to you for fifteen minutes. Experiment with them on paper over the next half an hour and notice the relationships that emerge.
  • Take out a minute to think of a shape and go where it leads you. Say, if you settle upon a triangle, it might change into a pyramid, which might make you think about hierarchies, which might cause you to consider the difference between the rich and the poor, which might then open a whole host of ideas.
  • Open a dictionary and pick up a single word. Keep sleeping on it for six months. At the end of the period, draw something related to it.

You will not be able to make easy excuses before starting points that are so simple and standards that are so low.

Written by Tulika Bahadur

The artist as thief or as innovator? Damien Hirst’s Hymn

Guest blogger: Amy Davis

In 2000, Damien Hirst was ordered to pay an undisclosed settlement to the makers of a toy which he had copied, resulting in a massive sculpture with very little change from the original’s appearance. Hirst’s strategy is called appropriation, but what does this mean, and is it stealing or is it innovation?

Appropriation in art is the incorporation of pre-existing images, ideas, or artworks with minor transformations or little adjustments to create a new work. Although appropriation has been used in various ways throughout history, it has now become a common practice for artists to remix and resample images.

Damien Hirst’s Hymn (1999), is an exact replica of Humbrol Limited’s Young Scientist Anatomy Set. The toy sold for only £14.99 while Hirst’s sculpture sold for one million pounds. Hirst has magnified the scale of the toy to a sculpture of about six metres tall and changed the materials from plastic to bronze, gold and silver. Hirst has also altered the art piece’s context from a medical toy to its placement in the contemporary art gallery. His minimal change of the original toy design resulted in a court case accusing him of plagiarising. Hirst was found guilty and was ordered to pay a settlement for his appropriation.

Source: Damien Hirst, 1999-2005, Hymm, bronze, gold and silver sculpture
Source: ZapWow, 2015, Young Scientist Anatomy Set Bluebird Toys 1996 Hirst Sculpture

Whilst Hirst’s sculpture appears to merely be a copy, it also operates at a deeper level; referencing religion and art history. The title, Hymn, is a pun on the masculine pronoun and reflects a religious song or poem of praise to God or a god. This sculpture is obviously not a poem or a song, but perhaps could be identified as an image that reflects a representation of an object used in worship. The sculpture’s materials include bronze, silver and gold components just as in idol worship around the world, where it is common practice for statues to be made using the finest and most expensive materials, detail and precision.

Hymn also conveys a modern representation of ancient Greek sculptures. During the Classical Period, Greek sculptures rapidly changed from using various clays to metal elements in order to keep the shape of the figure, regardless of how intricate they were. Bronze became a popular medium to use as it could be steadied inside the hollow of the feet by using lead weights. Typically, Ancient Greek sculptures are nude, have their arms hanging close to the body, and were created in appreciation of the human anatomy, sometimes representing a god. Making the naked form the subject of many art forms showed the great skill and technique of the artist. Not only were these art pieces created using metal elements, but scientists have also discovered artists would sometimes also paint them, like Hymn’s bronze statue that has been painted.

Source: Unknown, 2018, Male Torso (Mercury?), Museum of Fine Arts Boston

From an aesthetic point of view, the experience of the now-massive toy design, significantly extends our understanding and perception of the original object. It does this by creating an entirely new context of size and location with which to appreciate the original design. The title of the work indicates that there is a conceptual consideration being encouraged in the viewer. Whilst Hirst’s Hymn looks like theft, and in some ways possibly is, it is also the innovative use of appropriation to create a new art piece that has its own scale, context and intelligently references religion and art history.

Guest blogger: Amy Davis

 

 

Capsicums are not just for cooking

Our teens’ Studio Art class produced some incredible drawings and paintings in the – of the humble capsicum.

Zoe, acrylic on canvas, 2018

Michelle Zuccolo presents the class with different materials each week, including still life and examples of famous artwork and gives students the opportunity to try drawing and painting in the same style. The last few week’s classes featured capsicums and the students used charcoal and pencils, creating beautiful tonal drawings. Once exploring the structure of the capsicums, students recreated them with acrylic on canvas. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

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Exhibiting students in Melbourne

We are extremely proud to announce that two of our students are exhibiting this month! Be sure to visit and experience their work and support them on their artistic journeys!

Arjun in front of his work, Budgie, acrylic on canvas, 2018

Arjun attends our Children’s Art Class with artist Marco Corsini every Monday. His wonderful work, Budgie, will be on display as part of Brunswick Street Gallery’s “Small Works” exhibition. The exhibition is open to the public from 21 July to 16 August. Congratulations Arjun – we are so proud!

Exhibition dates: 21 July – 16 August.
Opening event: Friday 27 July, 6–9pm
Location: 322 Brunswick St, Fitzroy (Wurundjeri Biik)
More infohttp://brunswickstreetgallery.squarespace.com/current-exhibitions/

Isabel Koslowsky acrylic and soft pastel, 2018

Isabel has been attending Marco’s Friday morning Drawing and Painting Class. You can view her recent work at a joint exhibition with Erica Bettles at red gallery. The exhibition explores landscapes and subjectivity – peoples’ associations, their memories, sense of purpose, belonging and emotions.

Her landscapes are an abstract body of work which are dreamscapes. They capture emotions based on experiences in nature. She thanks everyone so much for their support. “And a special mention to Marco – for his encouragement and support in class motivated me to work on paintings, on my skills and to commit to my work.” A huge congratulations, Isabel!

Exhibition dates: 25 July – 12 August.
Location: 157 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North, Victoria, 3068
More info: http://redgallery.com.au/25-july-12-august-erica-bettles-isabel-koslowsky-dreamscapes/

New perspectives on learning

If I was to name the one thing that has had the most effect on how I understand learning and creativity, it would be the shift in how we understand the brain.

The persistent myth that pervaded my school years was that students were naturally inclined towards a given ability. For example, I was good at art, and so I drew and was encouraged to draw. It did not take many affirmations about my ability for me to persist at practicing those skills, enjoying more affirmation as I went. Likewise, by the time I was in secondary school, maths seemed to become more difficult, and as I enjoyed it less, I did less and became relatively worse at it. Despite my best efforts in year 12, I failed maths by 1%.

I have always wondered how much more effort it would have taken to increase my math result by a few percent to have passed. The answer does not lie in the efforts of that last year, rather in how I perceived myself and maths throughout my secondary school years. For, early in my life, I had come to believe that I was not good at maths, but I was good at art, and I behaved accordingly. That behaviour had a direct impact on the amount of time and focus I dedicated each skill. The pervading myth that one’s abilities are set in concrete from the beginning of our lives, dominated my self-image and therefore my learning. In many ways it dominated my education, which isn’t to say that there were not many hard-working teachers in my life, rather that the idea of being able to transform one’s abilities, one’s brain, was not available to us, nor had it been discovered yet.

Brain research of recent years has demonstrated that the brain is malleable and adaptable. I may have been inherently good at art, but I was not inherently bad at maths. I perhaps had not had the right exposure to maths early on, but I then came to believe I was bad at maths. This then influenced my behaviour which restricted the amount of focus and concentration that could have impacted the rewiring of my brain to be better at maths. I do remember trying, but I don’t remember often crossing the border between tedium and the exhilaration of learning maths. Interestingly, many years later, I found myself enjoying teaching maths in secondary schools, especially breaking it down for those that struggled with it. You may think it strange that I have also recently found enjoyment in doing some of my own accounting, when as an art student I used to make accountants the butt of my jokes.

Brain circuitry is made of connections between neurons called synapses. Having experiences, learning a new task or skill, all create new connections between neurons. Specific neuronal activity patterns will drive long-lasting increases or decreases in the strength of these connections. That means that it is exposure to a skill or task that cements one’s ability to do it and become good at it. So, the brain has a plasticity which it retains through our entire lives. The good news is, we can learn a new skill at any point in our lives! It is literally possible to rewire your brain. Which means that provided with the right amount of focus on the right task, you can learn anything.

In light brown, in the center of the image, a new adult-born neuron. The neurons in blue are synaptic partner neurons, which connect to the new neurons. The neurons in dark brown are pre-existing neurons. Credit: © Institut Pasteur/PM Lledo. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-07-relentless-dynamism-adult-brain.html

I’m currently putting this principle of brain malleability to the test in my learning Karate. I have limitations in flexibility and balance, which I have found discouraging. I had started to believe the lie that I had started Karate too late in life and perhaps I would never make it to blackbelt. Being busy and distracted by other responsibilities for a number of years, I would turn up to a class or two a week and would have forgotten a lot of my syllabus. Upon forgetting, I would then mentally shut down during training, which meant I then literally came to a complete stop as my mind would go into a mild state of panic. It seemed I was going to take a very long time to learn these skills and overcome my inclination to suddenly freeze. With the knowledge that the brain is malleable and that therefore it must be possible for me to improve in Karate I recently I decided to focus, and I have now dedicated about 10 to 15 minutes a day to practicing my syllabus. Although I can currently still only attend one training session a week, the result of this new focus is that in three weeks I have begun to retain and recall almost all of my syllabus and I am now ready to move on to new material. I am quite literally rewiring my brain and rebuilding my body which has also improved its stretch and balance in just three weeks. Whereas, I once thought black belt was unattainable for me, I now maintain a clear image and gaol of my attaining it.

Having watched many people start or return to creative practice, I know that the idea that you either can draw or you can’t is just a myth. Yes, occasionally I meet someone who seems to have a surplus of natural ability, but for the other 99% of us, it really is a matter of focus and working away at it. I should add that good training can reduce the take-up time of these new skills, but we can talk about that at the studio sometime.

Written by Marco Corsini

Guest blog – What is Art?

We are fortunate to have Luisa Blignaut, one of our dedicated and talented students, guest blog for us this month.

Luisa Blignaut, Jaime, acrylic on canvas, 2018

What constitutes art? It is a question that I have been asking for most of my life. It defies simple metaphors or descriptions. It is utterly subjective.

In the beginning, it was simple. I grew up in country South Africa. School and church said apartheid had God’s blessing. Everything was divided into boxes. Black or white. Christian or communist. English or Afrikaans. By the age of six I could milk a cow and draw a picture. The pictures I drew told stories. I believed all art was visual. After all, at school we had an hour a day to draw or to colour in books with crayons. It was art class. Crayons became coloured pencils. We learnt about tracing paper. The teacher decided what was art. Art had to be realistic.

At home my father collected paintings. Landscapes mostly. Ornate and ostentatious frames dominated the paintings. My father said the paintings were decorative investments. During my second year at school I developed rheumatic fever. In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise. I missed seven months of school. In turn, my mother, who was English speaking, subscribed to a weekly educational magazine for me called Look and Learn. The first issue that I saw had an article about Vincent van Gogh. My understanding of art burst the dam walls built by Afrikaner Christian Nationalism and its concomitant school curricula and censorship. I remember returning to school and talking about Van Gogh who painted the night as blue waves on which a yellow moon and stars floated. The teacher deflated my enthusiasm by saying he was a mad man who cut off his ear for a woman. I became the laughing stock of the class and the teacher proclaimed that Rembrandt was the greatest artist ever. Afrikaans as a language was a derivative of Dutch. She did not mention Rembrandt’s shadows where wonder resides. The next day she showed a picture of Rembrandt’s Night Watch to the class. White men stepping into the light. She compared it to white people bringing light to darkest Africa. Art was political.

I continued to draw andpaintwater colours. My family had a cottage in the Drakensberg Mountains, splendid in its isolation. It had secrets in its many gullies, densely wooded by indigenous flora including huge yellowwood trees and large ferns. A vagabond called Willy Chalmers, who used to live in the cottage, was a sculptor. In the rocks next to singing streams, he created rock carvings of women and faces. Hid them. Not too far away, were San rock paintings; the reason why Chalmers found his way to the Drakensberg Mountains.

My understanding of art was evolving. The San people or Bushmen,hunter gatherers, were South Africa’s original inhabitants that were squeezed out by negroid people from the north and whites from the south. Bushmen lived in rhythm with nature. They did not recognise “property”. Cattle, like wild animals, were gifts from the spirits. Cattle owners did not take kindly to people who killed their property and ate it. Bushmen became thieves, pests that were hunted. They moved to the deserts of Southern Africa but left their rock art behind. Drawings, paintings of people, animals and hybrid animals and people, in rock shelters and caves. I could look at these paintings all day and marvel at people who acknowledged all life; drew people with hooves running with antelope. I realised that art was cultural, a spiritual chronicle, a history book. Art transcended politics and racism.

I recall a day that I went with my mother to the English Anglican church in town. I had an argument with my father about religion and questioned why black people were not welcome in the white Afrikaner Church. The Anglican church was a small building with stained glass windows. Black and white people worshipped together. This was a new experience for me. During the service sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, accentuating andblurringcolour, touching my face, my mind. It was a magical, fleeting moment. I returned the next few Sundays, but the light was gone. Art is ephemeral.

The next huge step in understanding art was at university. I lived in a residence hall at Stellenbosch University. The residence was built around a quad where residents gathered for tea and coffee. I thinkIlearnt more from debates around the coffee and tea cans than what I learnt in classes. I discovered that Monet and Manet were not spelling mistakes but two different artists. I fell in love with Seurat, Cezanne, Kandinsky and Georgia O’ Keefe. I Also learnt a new word. Kitsch.

I started work in Cape Town in the same year that Hundertwasser had an exhibition in the city. Glorious shapesandcolours, political and environmental themes all over the place. I attended the exhibition four times and purchased at least twenty postcard-reproductions of his work. I pasted them on a plywood board that I hung from the wall. Rows of colour. Hundertwasser lead to Klimt. I returned to Stellenbosch to do a post graduate law degree. To finance my studies, I free lanced for a leading Cape Town daily newspaper. I called in stories from a public pay telephone and dictated them to a man called Abe. Every Friday afternoon I returned to Cape Town to meet up with friends, discussions with the News editor and coffee with Abe. Next to the Cape Times was an old neglected building that housed an art gallery. I visited every Friday. The paintings were stacked against the wall and I leafed through them as if I was paging a book. The proprietor became familiar with what I liked and one day told me to take a painting home. I told her I was a student and could not afford it. “Nonsense” she said, “How about $10 a month” That was 1979 and I continued to buy art from her until I left South Africa in 1999.

In 1991 I visited New York. I went to the Museum of Modern Art and turned a corner. Rothko literally arrested me. A huge canvass that jailed me. I became lost in variationsofcolour that left the huge canvas and continued all the way past Samuel Beckett.

So, what is art? I have no idea. It depends on what you see and feel.

It is everywhere.

Written by Luisa Blignaut – artist and MAC student

Learning to Fly – Marco Corsini’s upcoming exhibition

Exhibition dates: 4 – 17 April

Opening: 6 April 6pm – 9pm

Location: Brunswick Street Gallery

I began to reflect on the King River as a source. Its river stone beds and shallow streams, sometimes bubbling around arrangements of boulders, sometimes disappearing into deep, dark, still waters, which had never been beautiful to me when growing up and I had never thought of its significance in our lives beyond its supply of water. The river as a source which had branded a primordial sense of dependency and intimacy within me over my half lifetime. The river that constantly flowed, had always flowed, will always flow. The river that bound us around itself and preserved us. I slowly connected to the idea of source and slowly felt that my own dependency on this source was being revealed. That I had felt a need for years now, to constantly return to this source. I began to connect with the notion of origin and that just as I sat on the banks of this river or swam or drank from it, all I could ever do was draw close to it, to be within in, return to it. I had to return to this river. I have always returned to the King River.

From, Returning to the river, Marco Corsini, 2016

Marco Corsini’s paintings feature the landscape and his immediate environment. Using shifts in viewpoint and perspective and often painted over extended periods of time, the works explore perception and the nature of painting as a recorder of experience rather than as a representative tool. Alongside a phenomenological interest in consciousness and experience, Corsini’s work also incorporates personal motifs such as the horse, indicating the artist’s own presence. The paintings explore perception and subjectivity, asking us to go beyond everyday discourse into deeper engagement with the nature of our existence.

Originally published on Thursday, 29 March, 2018 by Marco Corsini

Seeing but seeing.

André who has been attending my Studio Art class this term spent an entire session drawing a Protea. A charming older man who is always brimming with encouraging and engaging energy; he turned to me and exclaimed in his beautiful French accent, ‘I see, but I don’t see.’ For he had been drawing the complex flower for about two hours, only to come to the realisation that after drawing what he thought he had seen, he found himself coming back to see that what he had drawn didn’t really correspond with a deeper understanding he was gaining of the flower.

I had understood what he meant. After all, my own journey as an artist and in many respects as a person has been one of seeing, only to realise what I thought I saw was not the actual reality, but an approximate reality. I’m sure we can all relate to this.

After having thought about the comment he had made, I raised the topic at our next class. André responded by describing his own journey of realising how preconceived notions can get in the way of real perception. He said he had realized this when undertaking studies in philosophy. He spoke of his realisation that to understand what one is looking at, one has to become, in his words, ‘nothing’. I took this to mean that one has to suspend all judgement. It almost seems a little absurd that one would have to suspend judgment when encountering something as simple as a flower. But even in encountering a Protea, to have to quieten ourselves and observe, then observe again, we realize that we really don’t have the capacity to comprehend what is ultimately infinite in its nature. With the perceiving of all things, especially other people, we comprehend but we cannot ever fully grasp.

André, pencil on paper, 2017

Above: André’s drawing of the Protea on the left which he theatrically signed off at the bottom announcing, ‘Remember that name’.

The conversation with André reminded me of some comments a friend who works as a counsellor made to me recently. He said that the most powerful thing anyone can do for somebody who is seeking counsel is to listen without judgement. According to my friend, this is very difficult for most of us to do. I have since been trying to suspend judgement and am resisting the habit I have of giving advice when in conversations. I’ve resisted the urge to judge what was being said, included asking leading questions based on my own assumptions and internal reactions. I would have to say that to be listened to seems to be helpful for other people, so I have tried it again and again. Perhaps making art stems from the desire to be heard with the process of manipulating materials giving artists, for a period, the ability to speak without being interrupted. What does all this say about us, this hunger to be heard, to be understood?

The courses and workshops we teach focus on the fundamentals of art practice. Interestingly in an age where there is a multiplicity of art practices, most people that come to MAC want to draw and paint. Most people have tried and are seeking to deepen their understanding of these art disciplines. We live with abundant possibilities available to us, including almost infinite access to images, yet for many of us there stirs within us a desire to do something as simple as draw. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise; drawing is one of the few key ways in which we encounter the world and translate it. Drawing, mathematics, language, and music are some key ways in which we encounter, understand and manipulate the world. Drawing is the most direct way of perceiving the world in a spatial way, so we shouldn’t be surprised at its popularity. Perhaps, we should be asking instead why we dismiss drawing so soon after early childhood, when it is so fundamental to perception. By focusing on the foundational aspects of drawing and painting, I’ve been able to appreciate that skills we once presumed were gifts are actually very similar to mathematics, or music, or language, in that they can be learnt through good training.

André’s declaration of seeing but not seeing indicates that at the heart of good training in drawing and painting is the setting aside of all assumptions. To start with, setting aside self-judgement about our ability to draw or paint. Then setting aside of other assumptions about the subject we are encountering. Often, we have spent a lifetime representing our subject using a formula which has more to do with the iconographic type of language than real perception. Think here of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. So much of how we teach centres upon introducing tools and techniques that enable people to see rather than reverting to a set visual language.

We see this setting aside of assumptions in great achievements such as in the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. I recently had the opportunity to return to see the Sagrada Famiglia Basilica in Barcelona. Designed by Gaudi, it has been under construction since 1882. He oversaw its construction from 1883 until his death in 1926. It quite literally is the fruit of a lifetime of dedication and study, encapsulating a vision which is unlike any other. Nothing can describe this Basilica adequately; the scale and intensity of a lifetime’s work condensed into one massive sacred building. I have never come close to tears in front of a building but this one caught me unawares. Gaudi not only redefined the aesthetics of architecture by studying nature and carrying across many organic aspects, he redefined the very mechanical nature of construction with that same study. The brilliance of the Sagrada Famiglia is that it not only looks organic, it is in many ways structurally organic, its engineering being based upon the structures Gaudi saw in nature.

Columns from the Sagrada Famiglia which contain within them several different mechanical elements which are copied directly from nature.

An experience of great art is an experience of seeing, of seeing reality, often all at once, as an intense surge of truth. And it is, exhilarating. Whilst we perceive the inherent fidelity almost instantaneously, it has been for the artist, a lifetime’s journey in learning to see and subsequently translate. We as the viewer are struck by the distilled truthfulness which has been translated from long experience and work. I think this is what drives me as an artist. It is the quest for the unreachable infinite which received one grain at a time through labour, then imbues all things with meaning. If a Protea can be infinite, complex and beautiful, then how much more then, our lives.

Written by Marco Corsini

Have you asked Google “how to draw”?

Google recently revealed the top ten “how to” searches of all time, and “how to draw” made it in at number 5.

When you ask Google “how to draw”, the search results show an overwhelming number of step-by-step websites and videos on how to draw anything from a fox to the 3D alphabet. Whilst these instructional blogs and videos seem to satisfy the searcher’s needs, we know that it is with continued drawing practice that drawing skills improve. In fact, we have noticed that some students come to our classes after reaching the limit of what they can do through online training videos.

This is one reason why we do what we do. We design classes that help everyone and all skill levels – including those who are googling “how to draw”.  Our teachers are all practising artists themselves, and aim to help you with whatever you are searching to do creatively.

Why do we draw?

We begin expressing ourselves unselfconsciously through drawing before we can say our own name as it is an instinct we are born with. But by the time we finish school, most of us don’t pick up a pencil again for a very long time. As drawing does not seem to be of tangible use for everyday life, it is easy to place less importance on it, and ultimately forget about it.

We draw for self-expression; to process thoughts and feelings; for pleasure; to record moments in time; to read and interpret the world. Drawing is valuable in our lives because it is a form of visual thinking and challenges us in different ways, from hand-eye co-ordination, to how we really understand and “see” an object in front of us.

People often seek drawing classes in adulthood because few things in life can generate the same feeling that creativity can. Drawing can be calming, it can challenge us and change our brain patterns. Drawing classes are also a “mature” way to continue what we loved doing as children; we may attend classes for the familiar feeling that drawing creates within us, or because we want to become a master of the craft.

Jesse Dayan, Two Empty Chairs and a Top Hat Signifying a Brief Absence, Charcoal on Paper, 2012

We have also noticed that many people at Melbourne Art Class, once they have retired, seek drawing classes with us, because they now have the time to pursue something they have always wanted to do. We feel privileged that we can help these people reconnect with their creativity and the lost art of drawing.

The reasons why we draw are subjective and widely varied, however, we want to emphasise that it is never too late to pick up the pencil again.

We can teach you “how to draw”

Our classes provide an environment that cannot be replicated in an online tutorial. When you are around creative people, you feel yourself become more inspired and more likely to be motivated to return week after week. Practice, ultimately, will improve your drawing. And we believe everyone can draw.

We have a few drawing classes scheduled for the remainder of 2017 and we would love to help you improve, or refresh your drawing skills:

Drawing Bootcamp with Marco Corsini – Nov 4  

An intense crash-course introducing you to the fundamentals of drawing

Drawing in Nature – en plein air with Marco Corsini – 5 week course from Nov 12

A unique opportunity to draw alongside, and receive tuition from artist Marco Corsini in his natural element – the outdoors

General Drawing – Cylinders, Flowers, Folds and Fish with Marco Corsini – 6-week course from Nov 11

Be introduced to various classical strategies and techniques for drawing from Still Life

Introduction to Drawing – The Four Elements of Sketching with Hilmi Baskurt – 5-week course from Nov 21 

Explore the four basic elements of sketching and drawing, including understanding the subject’s structure, proportions, and the placement of its compositional elements.

And here is the rest of the list of “how to” questions we have been asking Google. How many have you asked?

  1. How to tie a tie
  2. How to kiss
  3. How to get pregnant
  4. How to lose weight
  5. How to draw
  6. How to make money
  7. How to make pancakes
  8. How to write a cover letter
  9. How to make French toast
  10. How to lose belly fat

Written by Lauren Ottaway