Why Draw?

Language is a prerequisite of civilization; literature is a consequence. Fine writing explores, models, and sometimes leads culture. At bottom, however, literature is talk—sounds spoken or written.

Talk has limitations. Vocabulary is ever shifting and is shared imperfectly. Talk is necessarily linear, one word at a time, excellent for lists, describing events in time, cause and effect, but it is clumsy at describing, say, the New York subway system or the liberation of first love.

I suppose I’m not the first writer to have begun painting in his or her dotage. Perhaps I’ve not much left to say. Perhaps I’m inhibited by the suspicion that our culture has talked too much.

Our schools teach students that the road to success is paved with correct answers, generally, correct words. The correct answer for a power hitting third baseman is a home run. The correct answer for a chef is a sauce that enhances without overwhelming. Correct words are distinctly secondary in most endeavors, it turns out. Schools should develop confident and cared for students who have experience using tools of many kinds. Learning should be through doing—group projects that benefit the community and naturally involve skills that can be built on throughout the students’ lives. Courses should be pass/fail and non-competitive. No one wins unless everyone wins.

The pedagogical underpinning for education should be: all bodies of knowledge and art are models. Models are not the reality that they represent. Teach useful models and the tools used to construct and maintain them. “Tools,” in this sense, include the meta-tools of language, number, musical notation, etc.

Why draw? A camera does a better job of preserving light reflected from the subject. Photography is the tool of choice for archiving. Drawing involves sustained attention: the more you look, the more you see. There is action and reaction as the drawing develops; a relationship forms between you and the subject. Feeling influences your hand. The drawing is modeling the subject and how you feel about it. Your light mingles with that of the subject. A drawing discovers and celebrates; it is both egotistical and profoundly humble.

Finally. Because a drawing stills time, it leads to the present moment, the ultimate reward.



in the time of plenty,
remember want

in the empty days,
recall a lei
placed around your neck
by a stranger,
brushed with perfume
on Kalakaua Avenue


Fish grow in length; lovers become more attractive or more vindictive; memories shift to suit our purposes—we are all liars. The most trustworthy want nothing from you; the most dangerous offer you everything. Love cannot be bought or earned.

I am trying to draw a crow. My pen skitters around, failing to catch the black flash, fan of feathers, its precise curving beak, its silence in a curtain of green. It waits for me to join it in the present.

crow waiting

crow waiting