“We all draw when we’re children,” says Seattle-based painter Juliette Aristides. So why do we stop? The problem seems to be education.
Without the right education, we stop responding in an appropriate way to the beauty in the world. But with the right education, we can both be formed by beauty, and also make our own contribution to the beauty around us.
Juliette founded her Aristides Atelier in Seattle at the Gage Academy of Fine Art. “Atelier” is a French word that simply means “studio.”
The “atelier” idea is that students should study in a studio with a master artist, whom they keep on imitating, until they acquire the skills they need. By training as an apprentice to a master, skills will eventually grow to match one’s desire to create beautiful works of art.
Beauty in art is out of fashion
Beauty in art is out of fashion, both in education and in the marketplace. Perhaps the strongest case against the ugliness of the contemporary art world is made by Sir Roger Scruton, in his BBC documentary “Why Beauty Matters,” as well as in his many books on aesthetics.
Scruton gave a stirring keynote address at the Catholic Art Guild’s first annual conference in Chicago last year. This year, Aristides will be among the speakers at the Guild’s second annual conference Nov. 4, again in Chicago. The conference begins with a choral High Mass at St. John Cantius Church, before moving to the Drake Hotel for four speakers and a gala dinner discussion on the theme “Formed in Beauty.”
To my mind, the cultivation of drawing and painting is crucial for rebuilding traditional arts education. Because Aristides is keenly dedicated to this goal, I look forward to her talk with anticipation.
How important is it to take time to stop and look at the world? I would argue the need for such a meditative contemplation of beauty has never been more urgent.
The assault on our environment by digital images comes daily
The assault on our environment by digital images comes daily, in a never-ending tidal wave. We are constantly connected to the Internet via our smartphones, those incredibly powerful devices that are rewiring our brains.
Because we are being conditioned by this technology to think in a less mindful way, we need a “life hack” to help us unplug and reconnect to a frame of mind where we are not being technologically manipulated by others.
If we can return to our familiar childhood impulse to draw, we have a chance to rise above the digital flood polluting our mind and environment. We can live in the world in a calm and healthy way.
Drawing begins its contribution to the sum total of beauty in the world first and foremost by allowing us to recollect ourselves. From that inward calm, which allows us to truly gaze out peacefully on the world, we can use eye and pencil to notice what we might otherwise have missed.
Passion and inspiration do not automatically burst forth from our souls. But with the right training, anyone can acquire a set of skills that create all the right conditions for such an outburst.
That doesn’t mean everyone can become a master artist. But it does mean everyone, especially through drawing, can learn and acquire the habit of contemplating and appreciating beauty.
We can reside within the joy which beauty offers
If we allow ourselves to be formed by beauty, we create the conditions for an outbreak of happiness in our lives. We can reside within the joy which beauty offers to everyone.
Learning to play the piano is an opportunity many feel they have missed. It is easier to acquire that skill when younger, but practice and dedication can still lead to musical abilities later in life.
Yet even if you never learned to play the piano, you must admit you did indeed draw as a child. So why not return to that practice? It may feel like returning to a beloved bicycle from childhood.
Take comfort in the fact you once learned to write out letters by hand. The history of the alphabet tells us each letter of the alphabet was born in an act of drawing.
In the beginning, each letter was a picture that stood for something. The letter “A” started out as a drawing of an ox head, whereas the letter “L” was an ox-goad. The letter “K” began as a drawing of a palm, whereas the letter “I” represented an arm. Water was represented by “M,” a snake by “N,” and an eye by “O.”
There is a world of beauty and wonder hiding right in front of you. Its door is opened, not with a phone, but a pencil.