My life in sketching

I like to draw with pencil and paper.  It is an inner need that has a long history.

I remember drawing as a child during WWII.  At one time, I drew war cartoons showing Japanese and German planes being shot down by U.S. pilots.  I folded up the cartoons like newspapers and sent them sailing into people’s yards from a tricycle.  I can’t remember if anyone liked them.  But I didn’t get any complaints for the litter.

As a college sophomore, I took an art class. I recall standing before an easel with a charcoal pencil in my right hand.  The instructor watched me for a few moments, then readjusted the way I was holding the pencil.  Since I knew more than the instructor and possibly even more than Da Vinci himself, I thought he was crazy.  I soon dropped out.

If you would look now in my chest of drawers, you would find old sketchbooks buried beneath the underwear and t-shirts.  Some of the sketches go back to 1980 (see photo).  All are crude and unimpressive.  I was in my 40s then, but I give myself credit.  I wanted to learn.

Now,here I am years later — having led a life that clearly shows I was nowhere as smart as I thought — wanting to learn to sketch.

By departing with about $50, I ordered a video lecture series from The Great Courses. The course is called “How to Draw.”  I hope to write how things progress.  Or don’t. Given my poor record with authority figures, I may drop out of this one too.

So far, things are going nicely.  But it is early. The instructor, Professor David Brody, has yet to tell me how to hold my pencil.


The goring of horses

Only 10 pages in to “Death in the Afternoon,” I am in disagreement with Hemingway’s view of the most despicable act in bullfighting.  The goring of innocent horses.

Picadors riding on horses place lances in the bull’s neck during the Second Act of this “sport” the Spaniards call Tragedy.  They do this to weaken the neck muscles and force the bull to charge the matador, in the final Third Act, with head and lethal horns lowered.   A matador could not fight a bull otherwise without injury or death.

As the picadors place the lances, the bull gores the horses, disemboweling them.  The Spaniards have tried to prettify this by putting a quilt over the abdomen of the horse, so you often do not see the blood and guts pour out.  Not only that, but the horses that come into the arena for the other fights smell the blood and gore and are terrified.

“I believe,” writes Hemingway, “that the tragedy of the bullfight is so well ordered and so strongly disciplined by ritual that a person feeling the whole tragedy cannot separate the minor-comic tragedy of the horse so as to feel it emotionally.”

In other words, the end justifies the means.  In that case, you can justify all sorts of atrocities.

If in politics, say, you want a better America and the only means of achieving it is to torture and eliminate people who do not agree with the end result, then what do you have?  This moral issue is a difference of opinion I did not consider when reading “Death” as a young man,  So, in the first chapter, I’m already against bullfighting as a sport or a tragedy.

To read further, I must do my own pirouette.  I must say does reading the book as travelogue, the ends, justify putting myself through all the issues that lay ahead?  I am pushing ahead for now.


“Death,” The Second Time Around

This morning I began rereading “Death in the Afternoon,” Hemingway’s studied look at all aspects of the bloody sport of bullfighting.  This time I am reading it as a travelogue.  The book is set in Spain, a country we plan to visit in the fall.

Travelogue, yes.  But there will be no escaping the deaths of matadors, fighting bulls and innocent horses. I will get through it somehow, putting aside my evolved sensitivity to the art of killing innocent animals for human pleasure.

I was in my 20s the first time I read “Death,” inspired by news the charismatic actor James Dean, with his alleged fascination of death, literally devoured the book.

Not only did Dean read the book, he marked passages in colored ink:  Red for death, yellow for degradation, blue for disfigurement and green for disability.  So the story went.

Like star, like star-struck, I purchased “Death” through the mail,  an unused hardback, the one with the exotic dust jacket of a matador passing a bull under his cape.  And, though never fascinated with death, I marked it just as Dean supposedly had.  And I managed to learn much about bullfighting, though to this day I have never witnessed one in person.

To read “Death” is not simply to read of the bull fight.  In passing Hemingway offers advice to writers and expresses his philosophy of how things work in this world.  So, in addition to my reading, I will post my own thoughts.

I hope to rediscover how reading a book when you’re young is never quite like reading it when you’re older.