Skip to content

Anamosa Archive 4: drawings

2013 June 4

You remember in Lord of the Rings, where the Fellowship is in Moria and arrives at the three different passages and Gandalf kind of pauses, peers around, and declares “I have no memory of this place” with a hint of dismay? That’s kind of how I felt when I unearthed this last month:

Semi-urban landscape with black and white pencil, on gray

By me, c. 1995

Except, in this case, it was certainly not that I had no memory of the place depicted in the drawing; I had to confirm it but I was pretty sure this was a place I knew quite well. I’ve not seen it, at any rate not from this perspective, for about 14 years. And it looks different now anyway, I think. But from as far back as I can remember up until my 21st year, this was more or less what I saw across the street every time I stepped out of our house. Or at any rate, a drawing thereof, and furthermore obviously a drawing by me; aside from its presence in a portfolio of my work and my signature, I recognize my drawing style… I just did not and don’t have any memory of creating this piece.

Which is really rather an odd feeling. I recognize the scene so well, I recognize that it is my work, I know approximately when I must have drawn it. I just cannot connect with any memory of having done so.

Making for an interesting comparison with two other drawings I brought back. First, this sketch that I don’t particularly remember either:

sketch of student working at a desk

Pencil sketch c. 1995

This, too, I’m pretty sure I recognize as a scene; I’m pretty sure that table and chair are (or at any rate were) from the Anamosa High School art room. I don’t know who is in the drawing; I kept this one in part because I feel some sense of identification with this figure, though logically it looks like this was drawn from life and so probably depicts some other student. Entirely plausible. At any rate, I feel a connection to it and just like its simplicity; I think this is a rather good sketch. Don’t really remember doing it, either, but it’s only a sketch… Whereas the first image, above, would seem to have been a much more considerable investment of time and effort, rather as is the case with this one:

Lower hallway, Anamosa High School

Pencil drawing, c. 1995

Oh, I remember this drawing. I remember it quite well. I remember sitting at the opposite end of the hallway pictured, probably during class also but certainly after school for hours, day after day, week after week. I probably once attempted to estimate how many hours went into this drawing, but if I came up with anything I don’t recall that; I just recall that I spent a ludicrous amount of time on it.

Which may not seem immediately evident; it’s arguably the least interesting of all three of these drawings and at any rate relatively dull, certainly. I think there’s too little tonal range in most of the drawing, but… if you actually take a moment and look at this closely… you may note that there is nonetheless a considerable amount of subtle detail. In particular, look at that floor. I recall that floor most of all. The reflections on that polished floor aren’t just approximations; they were painstakingly careful rendering of precisely what I actually saw from my carefully mapped out position. The same basically goes for all of the other uninteresting smudges and other variations in tone, here. Every one of them was the intentional result of careful observation.

Despite which, yes, it’s still just a fairly dull pencil drawing—so what was the point? Sadomasochism? Quite possibly. I suppose it was, certainly, a fine exercise in patience, diligence and attention to detail, all of which can be useful in the arts even if they are far from the entirety thereof.

I do recall that in addition to any other motivations this, possibly the first drawing above and various other works (a number of which I have on slides, which I also found) were prepared as part of Advanced Placement coursework. For whatever it’s worth, in thinking back on my AP coursework I am tempted to conclude that the whole thing is largely if not entirely a huge scam; I don’t think that’s quite right but I do think that whatever value results from doing AP courses has very limited overlap with how they are (or were, 18 years ago) promoted.

As I recall, I did AP coursework in Art and English, my senior year of high school. For AP Art, I did a bunch of drawings and then, I guess, sent in slides of them to some person or persons who evaluated them… for English, I think I just took a class. The details are a bit vague, though I recall somewhat better the results in terms of college credit, which I recall being (at least in my mind) the most significant purpose of the exercise… I may be confusing a few of the precise details, but I do know that once at dear auld ISU, my AP coursework was fed into a disinterested system that basically responded with “yeah okay, whatever.” I mean, I got credit for them, of a kind, after not inconsiderable effort, but it was little more than token credit, amounting to “okay, if you’ll shut up and go away we’ll recognize a few credits in these two subjects but they won’t count as any actual class in our course catalog or let you skip any requirements for your degree program.” Basically, I got a few credits that only counted toward the broadest total-overall-credits requirement… then, for what it’s worth, as an Honors student was ultimately permitted to design my own degree program, after which their value even as fluff filler was essentially wiped away.

Granted, this was one student’s experience in the previous century; other schools, courses of study, etc., may involve significantly or entirely different experiences. Still, based on my experience, the whole “get a head start on your college coursework” concept is baloney. It isn’t like I came close to making even a dent in my course requirements; even if I had done twice as much AP work, I wouldn’t have. And while, again, this was just my experience with a couple of departments at one university, I can’t help suspecting that many colleges probably take much the same view and that AP at any rate might at some level be a bit of a phony promise sold year after year to eager students and their parents who want to believe.

For all that, I think there was probably value in my doing this work, that simply had nothing to do with the idea of getting a head start in scoring “points” in one’s prospective college’s system… which whole concept I have, after many many years, come to realize is largely stupid, anyway. For practical purposes, yes, there are still some reasons to give consideration to credentials, but for the most part one should take coursework to learn and grow. I’m not sure my AP coursework had any direct benefit to me, formal or otherwise, in the long run… but I think it probably served to provide me with opportunity to challenge myself and further an education that, in sum, has certainly benefited me in so many ways.

But, like this guy recently pointed out, “hey, you can learn things that will stimulate your mind, expand your horizons and may even in some indirect sense advance you toward a better, richer life in one or more of various definitions thereof, eventually” isn’t exactly the kind of slick marketing pitch our culture has elected to prefer.

Comments are closed.