I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them. – Pablo Picasso
In my last post I decided to explore the work of people who use drawing as a part of their process.
I recently read Deep Work by Cal Newport and 21 lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari and they both suggest that you stop looking on the web for information. That’s slightly ironic, as you’re reading this online, but their basic argument is that searching for information will present you with that which is popular. That, fortunately, is not a condition this blog suffers from. They suggest that instead of googling we should go and read peer-reviewed papers.
And that’s what I intend to do for these posts.
A good place to start, as good as any other anyway, is with the work of Pablo Picasso. Picasso said that it took him “four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” He was trained in a formal academic style by his father but went on to create a number of new styles.
What is the essence of a thing – what can you reduce it to as you look at it and try to make sense of it? Picasso had a history with poultry – one story says that his father retired from drawing when he saw how well the young Picasso drew a pigeon’s feet. Spiller (2012) writes that “He didn’t just recreate, he stripped, lacerated, and re-presented.”
Take the images above, for example. These are birds drawn with a single line, reduced to their essentials. They are still recognizably birds, arguably even chickens – but it’s this idea that what you see comes down to a few lines, as few as you can, perhaps even just one line – which captures the essence of what’s in front of you.
Picasso’s work is supported by work in brain science – the line – the contour – is the at the heart of vision. We can recognize expressions with very few lines – just the elements that move on the face. It takes just a few lines to transform a scribble into a recognizable form. Sometimes there is so much out there that we need to start by reducing what we see to the essentials – to a single line that has all that is important in that situation.
So, the first lesson from Picasso is to ask yourself whether you can set down what you see in a single line, without lifting your pen from the paper.
Spiller, H (2012), “Cock-A-Doodle”, Gastronomica, Vol 12, No 1, pp 9-11.