I looked up tonight from an essay I was reading on drawing, and I saw Bethany at the table beside me, quietly molding clay into a four-inch doll.
I put the book down and watched.
The clay came in the mail this week in two small bricks. She has drawn models for her dolls based on instructions she had found on the Web for a doll three times the size of the one she’s making.
She has drawn the dollhouse, too. She plans to make it in her sculpture studio, which serves as our garage when she’s away at school. She cut a deal with a retired gentleman who lives across the alley to use his substantial collection of power tools in exchange for some sensible safety precautions.
In the essay, John Berger found that drawing someone, either from sight or memory, transformed the subject “so that, for a moment, he was not longer a man posing but an inhabitant of my half-created world, a unique expression of my experience . . .” (“Drawing,” from Permanent Red (Toward Reality in U.S.)).
Bethany lives through these characters. She always has. When she was three or four, she and I would play for hours with people we had made or found. As certifiable introverts, both of us found that we could express another side of ourselves through our outgoing characters.
Victoria is the family’s only extrovert. With her in Tennessee for two weeks, the three remaining family members retreat into our projects as much as possible. I love writing, reading, and gadgets; Warren loves computers and modding video game characters; and Bethany loves sculpture and reading. At his school, each of us gets to work with some of what he loves. But part of each of us lives for the summer, a few weeks’ space to express himself free of any teacher’s or administration’s prescriptions. Nothing comes out of the summer good enough to show; that’s not the point.
Bethany set her doll’s body parts aside, hoping that this unfamiliar brand of clay would harden some. It’s hard to get those small parts to connect adequately before firing the piece, otherwise, she explained.
I resumed reading. Berger made a distinction between a finished statue or painting and the working drawings that leads up to them:
A drawing is essentially a private work, related only to the artist’s own needs; a ‘finished’ statue or canvas is essentially a public, presented work – related far more directly to the demands of communication.
It follows from this that there is an equal distinction from the point of view of the spectator. In front of a painting or statue he tends to identify himself with the subject, to interpret the images for their own sake; in front of a drawing he identifies himself with the artist, using the images to gain the conscious experience of seeing as though through the artist’s own eyes.
I looked up again: so that’s what I was doing.