What are YOU staring AT!

Sometimes in the morning I stop off at the grocery store to pick up a salad for my lunch. I'm still waking up and not particularly interested in the perky good mornings of the workers but appreciate their acts of kindness and return their salutations! One day, as I was leaving, I heard a odd voice talking on the phone and lifted my gaze to see where it came from. When I looked up, I saw this most fabulously dressed older woman talking on her phone. She had the voice of a woman who had lived a long, full, wonderful life and the fashion sense to match. Colors and patterns and all sorts of sparkly things to admire. I loved it! And, as you can imagine from the title of this blog post, I allowed my gaze to stay a bit too long. I was like a 5-year-old who didn't know yet the proper etiquettes of not staring. I was staring. And she noticed. "What are YOU staring AT!" was what removed her from her phone conversation. I quickly turned my gaze, I must have apologized under my breath, briskly headed to my car and felt as if I had just been scolded by mother. 

I have discovered that if it is of some use when you lie in bed at night and gaze in the darkness to repeat in your mind the things you have been studying. Not only does it help the understanding, but also the memory.
— Leonardo da Vinci

After reading from Darren Rousar's book, Memory Drawing, I have allowed myself to linger on the look of things a bit longer than normal. If I am not somewhere that is practical to start drawing I imagine in my mind what it would be like to draw what I'm looking at. Rouser speaks about "stored observations". We all store symbols for objects and when it comes time for drawing we repeat that stored symbol happily. Many of us have that one thing we can draw really well. When I was little it was Garfield. One of the administrators at my school happily drew a cat for a little girl. I wonder if we keep these stored symbols ready for when called upon to draw something, so the shame of not knowing how to draw isn't obvious? 

Memory drawing for art students reached its peak during the late nineteenth to early twentieth century according to Rouser. Kenyon Cox (1856 - 1919), an influential arts commentator and American art student of Carolus-Duran and Gerome had this to say about memory drawing:

I should feel that half the value of a sound training in drawing was lost if it were not made to include a training of the memory as well as of the eye and hand.
— Kenyon Cox

The availability of photography and the rise of non-representational art may have nullified the usefulness of training one's visual memory. Snapping a picture is as easy as breathing to many. To rely on memory is unnecessary as the image can be pulled up in seconds. I would argue, however, that a trained visual memory brings the viewer into a relationship of deeper understanding and knowing about the world we live in and the relationships that are made.

Memory Drawing offers many exercises and practices in the art of training ones memory. I have tried many of them with my high school students who at first seemed skeptical but as we worked through the steps it was great fun watching even the most uninterested students checking their work to see how closely they came to the original drawing. 

So, let me not be the only adult staring at people in grocery stores. Let your gaze linger at what interests you! But, be prepared to get scolded. Want to try a workout inspired by this blog post? Click here for Workout #3!