A few years ago, while hiking with a group along the cliffs of Cornwall, England, one woman in our party sat down at the end of every day with her sketchpad to draw the scene before her, a slight smile on her lips. I envied her. I never mastered anything beyond a simple flower, a sun, a little house. I admired her but didn’t take the time to observe her process.
Our local art museum offers drawing classes, and at the beginning of this year, I decided to sign up. The pandemic ended that before it began but I found an online class at another museum. Every week, I follow a different lesson – landscape, perspective, portrait, still life. Guess what else I learned? I can draw! I suspect anyone can learn to draw, just like anyone can learn to write. Sure, the talented ones will do it best, but we can all learn to do something better than we did before.
This week, my country is on fire with anger, sorrow, and despair. Because of the murder of yet another black American by police, systemic racism is once again forcing us to look, to see.
When I started my drawing lessons, I was surprised at how much it was like learning to write. And now, how much it is like confronting racism. They all have these things in common:
You have to look. Really look.
When I write, I look for the details that will paint a picture in my readers’ minds. When I draw, I look at how a pine tree is different from an oak. This week, I don’t have to look far to see the pain black Americans are going through.
It takes time.
When I sat down to draw, I used my eraser a lot. Writers call that revision. We need to erase systemic racism from our society, and revise our perspective on our own place in it.
It takes practice.
We will make mistakes. Sometimes I throw away an essay or a drawing and start over. Can white Americans like me own our mistakes and start over?
It takes humility.
I cringed when I found something I wrote twenty years ago. I thought it was good enough to submit for publication. It wasn’t. My first attempts at drawing are not for public view, but they got me started. This week I joined a group to read and discuss the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.
Writing, drawing, looking – and maybe, finally, seeing. May it be so.
How do you see the turmoil in our country these days? I’d love to hear, so leave your comments and I’ll put your name in the drawing for Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye.
The winner of last month’s drawing for Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani is Karen Edwards. Congratulations, Karen, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.