ANDREW RUSH

December 25, 2010

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The Conversation We Call Art

As a young artist studying in Florence, Italy in 1958, I happened one day into a gallery that was showing some small modest paintings of bottles and other little table objects by an artist from Bologna.  As I contemplated each work, something seemed clearer in my personal search for my own art path.  Not long after, I found a newspaper photo of the artist that I pinned to my studio wall, where it lived for years as a kind of private talisman that reoriented me whenever I lost heart or direction.

More than fifty years later, I happened to read about the first American retrospective exhibition of Giorgio Morandi (1889-1964), loaned for a brief showing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Without another thought, I cleared a long weekend in my busy life and flew to New York, where I spent hours contemplating the journey of Morandi’s life’s work, full of appreciation for the clarity he slowly earned for himself.  As I flew back to Arizona, I realized for the first time that while I’d long known of Morandi’s influence on my own art life, I hadn’t realized how his work had contributed to bringing The Drawing Studio into being.

What exactly did Morandi’s images inspire in me?  Simply put, he showed me that the quiet practice of looking into the humblest corners of one’s daily life was totally sufficient as a pathway to manifest one’s inner vision.  In a way, my entire certainty about the central importance of the skills of observation began on that day in Italy when I first saw Morandi’s small, intelligent, and elegant paintings and etchings.

The Drawing Studio is simply an extension of his influence as relevant not only to the special field of art, but to all of us living in this era of relentless mass visual media that is the central transformation of our century.  For the first time, a rigorous practical education in how we see is clearly necessary for every one of us who intends to participate in the conversations of our time, whether we are artists or not.  This visual education is as practical to modern life as reading and writing.

Drawing as it is practiced at TDS goes far beyond the conventional stereotype of something one does with a pencil.  The deceptively simple first assignments address how we see only what we are prepared to see.  These assignments often rattle one’s comfort zone in the early stages, but also expose the much richer adventure that lies waiting.

For example, we discover that the marks we make to record what we see do not work like a camera.  Drawing is very physical and carries our physical DNA into the process.  Even from the time we were happily scribbling as a child, the feeling of doing it is primitive and deep in an inside-nourishing way.  We are not just looking when we draw, we are in a sense creating what we are looking at.  This can be an unsettling sensation at first because it challenges the notion of drawing as representation as opposed to a process of personal engagement with our subject that is much more intimate than representation, involving our feelings and our inner eye.

As with learning anything new, it is natural to start with small steps, using simple objects, often painted white to help isolate their form and shape.  Later, as students acquire wider familiarity with tool and measurement skills, we expand into working in different ways, inspired by a variety of different kinds of “things”, both natural and man-made.  Along the way we are also broadening our vocabulary of mark-making and experimenting with different tools with which to look.

Then one day, the ante goes up.  Instead of more “things” to draw, students arrive at a session where a small square mirror is propped up at each work station.  The assignment: to make a self-portrait working for accuracy in two hours.  After an initial stunned silence, there often comes a kind of helpless panic in the form of joking (“You’re not serious, are you?”) or tears (“God, those wrinkles!”).  But with some encouragement, the student quiets down to confront the task to see if he can indeed address the reality of that face in the mirror with the same skills with which he’s been exploring small objects.

Still, something is different.  When we draw from our own face, we recognize we are stepping over a threshold into a new level of how seeing works, because for the first time we are presentingourselves to ourselves as subject.  Even through the filter of a self-conscious ego, we are able to make a courageous attempt to penetrate a new level of perception.  The conversation we now can call “art” starts here, where the inner eye and outer eye begin to meet each other.

The good news is that we are now armed with some new skills that help us look with a new objectivity.  We are also joined in a shared community of learners, all developing an expanded ability to observe the world, even willing to challenge that “self’ in the mirror in service of a broader understanding of life itself.

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Andrew Rush is an Arizona artist since 1959, a member of the artists community of Rancho Linda Vista, and founder of The Drawing Studio, Inc. an artists cooperative in Tucson. He is a printmaker/sculptor with a long distinguished and active exhibition history. Rush was a former associate professor of art at The University of Arizona and a Fulbright Scholar. He was the recipient of the Tucson-Pima County Arts Council Lifetime Achievement Award (2006) and in 2009 received the Buffalo Exchange Outstanding Artist Award of $10,000. He was also nominated in 2004 tor the Arizona Governor’s Artist and Art Educator Awards. In 2010 The Drawing Studio was awarded the year’s Community Service Arts Award by the State of Arizona.

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