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Why form is dangerous

By: Raymund Fernandez October 21,2015 - 01:08 AM

In teaching young students how to draw, start by asking them to draw something, anything, without giving them any prior instructions whatsoever. Tell them to hold on to this first drawing. Teaching young people to draw changes them fundamentally. This first drawing, which in UP Cebu Fine Arts is called “diagnostic” drawing, is very important as a basis for the student to assess learning.

At a certain point in the four-year drawing and painting course the teacher will have to relieve or free the student from the training program itself so they can search for their own personal directions in style. The diagnostic drawing reminds them where they had been. It must help point them into their future.

But if in the old days the object of the drawing course was to “teach” students how to draw, the more contemporary view is to tell students that drawing cannot be taught. The student will have to learn this all by himself or herself.

What the teacher does is simply to provide the student exercises that open their eyes to experiences in concepts of form. It is an old lesson Kinutil first learned from his late teacher Martino A. Abellana: “Learn how to look!”

And what he likes students to look at, and see, and draw on paper is form.

Form, as has been said, is a collective noun meaning the elements of form, or design, or style: line, value, color, texture, shape, space, balance, etc. The thing with form is that people tend to think that people see it automatically.

In recalling his growth as an artist Kinutil remembers how his eyes opened little by little into each one of these. If he is a good artist now, it is merely a consequence of his eyes and mind learning how to see form, in a manner that is better than how other people, especially non-artists, see. Other people feel and see only the resultant magic of form – art. The good artist who is aware of form sees exactly how the magic was done or performed. Teaching drawing is decoding for the art-student the complex phenomenon which is visual perception.

Form can be a dangerous thing as history time and time again demonstrates. Visual graphics have always contributed to political campaigns. In times of war, we see flags flying everywhere. Symbols are ever the drivers for human responses such as patriotism, nationalism, the heroic willingness to kill and die for a cause; which causes are often driven by highly symbolic text and graphics that most people respond to, often without any understanding at all where their decisions are coming from.

Take the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro Man was born out of a campaign in 1955, the same year the kinutil man was born. The Marlboro Man was the creation of the genius of David Ogilvy, nowadays credited for being the father of modern advertising, precursor to the contemporary concept called “the brand” or  branding. The Marlboro was a virile, masculine brand, ideal of the man who lived dangerously. Despite all concerted efforts to discourage smoking, Marlboro is still a successful brand. Certain women smoke Marlboros. Do they really want to smoke? Or are they really only reacting to the brand?

The graphic of its brand identity is simple: the symmetrical crook of a simple line, like a symmetrical mountain or bulge. It is the symbol of man, which inevitably reflects an inverted woman symbol. Both taken together can mean only one thing, somewhat subliminally.

Form is always invisible unless one learns how to see it. This is a fact borne out of current literature having to do with beauty and aesthetics. Plato called beauty “the object of love.” Immanuel Kant pointed to aesthetics as the “beauty experience,” which is always “unmediated.” Unmediated means the beauty experience is immediate and therefore not preceded by reason or the rational process, even if reason and the rational process can be applied to it. This application of reason, if it is done at all, always follows after the experience.

Note how “truth” has nothing to do with these discourses. This means you can coat the biggest lies under a cloak or dress of good effective form, and the lie will sell. Commerce and politics have been doing it since time immemorial.

The aesthetic and beauty experience have by itself absolutely no conscience. The painter or designer may devote a whole lifetime in the making of things with the single purpose of just selling them. Chances are they will succeed, become successful, become famous, and so on.

But the good artist can also use form to “sell” or tell good things, the things to make us all more human, the things that would sustain for us a good life. But he or she would still have to understand form and how it works, and how to use it effectively.

Form is everywhere. But it exists in a field of conflict and competition. Learning how to draw can make the difference between being a conscious participant or being a victim; in a way, being morally raped by form without even knowing it.

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TAGS: art, drawing, form

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