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The Permanence of the Erased

by Langdon on January 31, 2011

So I was drawing a closeup of a dangling hand the other day.  I was really pleased with it.  It didn’t come out fully-formed and appropriate, of course; I had to wrestle with it for fifteen minutes, but once it came out  it looked really natural, in a way that I feel most of my hands don’t quite.  I had that rare, eerie feeling of… satisfaction.

However, observing that the hand was so prominently placed in the panel, I felt it should be contributing to the action of the hand’s character of telling a driver to turn a van full of culinary henchmen into a sketchy part of town, and not just hanging there, looking well-drawn.  Great. Decision made. I’ll redraw it with a raised finger.  The problem was that that I didn’t want to erase it.

This happens so much in my art… I fall into the tidepool of a detail on a page, swim among these spinning diatoms of details, and the polyps of intuitive proportions, and surface only to realize that what I’ve drawn too big, too close to the vending machine, has way too many glowing buttons for 3th century Greece, or is directly behind the main character whom I totally forgot to draw.  Considering erasing it must be like what Abraham felt while figuring out the itinerary for taking his son on a really gloomy field trip.

But today it hit me- Once I’ve drawn the picture, it can never be undrawn…  Sure, it can be erased, but the act, once complete, is irreversible. No amount of erasing will erase that it had been drawn.  Indeed, its creation is burned into my body along with ten thousand hours of other draw-ings.

The act of drawing is a act of memory.  We imagine a subject we want to draw, so we send the instructions to our hand.  Our hand puts something down, and it’s probably a skewed, mocking vapor of what we intended.  But this isn’t our hand’s problem, nor its connection with our mind; It’s because our mind doesn’t really yet understand what it’s asking the hand to draw.  But the eyes and freshly seared muscle memory have recorded the image just drawn and convects it back into the brain, to  contribute to the concrescence of  the subject with another pass of refinement.  The paper is essentially external memory augmenting the brain in an effort to truly apperceive the subject of the drawing.

I think that’s the entire exercise of art.  Just like a Socratic lecturer isn’t trying to teach his subjects, rather he needs an audience before whom to explain his ideas to himself, so is the drawing merely a method for creating an object as saturatingly and penetratingly as possible.  This object exists in the memory of the mind and body; The drawing is merely its scaffolding, merely its consequence.

So, I feel better about erasing that hand.

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