Ars longa, vita brevis- the importance of art in my life

Ars longa, vita brevis– this Latin phrase comes from a Greek aphorism and means art is long, life is short. Leonardo Da Vinci said that painting was “poetry that is seen rather than felt”, while Picasso said that art “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.

For me, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting down with a sketchpad and starting to draw. After a long day at work or college when my back is in knots or I’m bleary-eyed and seeing stars, sometimes getting out my pencils and paper is the only remedy for me. Sketching is probably my favourite art form- it’s the one I’m more comfortable with in any case. It’s versatile, you can do it anywhere; whether you’re sitting at home, travelling on a train or (ideally!) sitting in a café watching the world go by at an Italian piazza. All you need is a good sketch book, a few pencils and an eraser. Nothing else required, no fancy equipment needed. The list of things you can draw is endless- people, animals, a landscape scene, boats, a seascape- whatever takes your fancy.

From the moment I was able to grasp a pencil in my hand and make a scribble, I’ve always loved to draw. There was never enough paper in my house to cater for my arty antics. I drew on walls, furniture, books belonging to my parents, bills, envelopes, newspapers- I’m sure my mother was very impressed by my creativity. Most of the children’s books we had when we were younger which are now gathering dust in the attic will more than likely feature artwork by yours truly. Some may perceive them as childish scribbles but I like to think of them as an artistic interpretation of the books I was reading as a three year old… Yes Laura, I’m sure the scrawled picture of that fuzzy dog in the Barney the Dinosaur book points to deeper psychological meanings of the text.
(Just kidding)

As the years went by and I developed from the boisterous toddler I was then into the twenty year old I am today, I’ve gone through many inevitable changes but I’ve never stopped drawing- it’s always been my constant. At primary school I used to seize any free opportunity I could to start drawing; I would doodle in the margins of my maths copy when I got fed up with subtraction or secretly draw my own characters when I was supposed to be doing an activity in a workbook. Some of my friends still joke about when I gave art classes to them in first class during the frail window of time we had in the morning before our teacher would stride in and start with lessons for the day.
When I was about six, I started going to art classes every Saturday morning. They were lead by a really hip young artist and took place in an old castle that she happened to be renting at the time. I think that experience really sparked my love of art because I got to work with loads of different mediums that I hadn’t tried out before, such as clay modelling and paper mache. We used to go outside and find flowers and plants that we liked, then we would just sit in a field under the sun and start drawing. It was bliss.

During my childhood and teenage years, my artwork underwent many phases. I’ve gone through stages of drawing birds, copying stylish clothing that I’d seen in magazines, painting birds and wildlife, trying to replicate almost every character in The Simpsons, drawing poets, movie stars and gangsters- you name it, I’ve tried it. The one thing I’ve always loved to draw though is people. The human species is so interesting and  mysterious by nature and the amount of details you can reveal about somebody’s personality through the medium of drawing is immense. I think that you can learn a lot about a person by drawing them as you are forced to examine every feature of their face in such great detail. There’s a story lingering behind every wrinkle, crease and scar you see. There is that old Greek saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul and all that, and I think it’s true. Drawing has definitely brought me closer to other people that I’ve drawn, particularly to my family and friends.

Another great thing about creating art is the sense of accomplishment that it brings. The first time that I did a drawing of somebody which actually bore a considerable resemblance to the person I was trying to draw was when I was sixteen. I had drawn a portrait of the rapper Macklemore who I was mildly obsessed with at the time. (I went to two of his concerts in the space of six months that year and listened to his music constantly.) I was so chuffed with myself that I made about 5 photocopies of the portrait and stuck them up on the walls of my bedroom. I cringe when I look back on that time now because I feel that my ability to draw has improved so much since then and because that particular drawing doesn’t compare to anything that I’ve drawn lately. But it was a turning point for my attitude to my artwork as it gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride. Being able to actually draw a portrait of somebody was something I’d been dreaming about being able to do since childhood, and it was even more meaningful given that I was always the bookish type of kid who’d much prefer to have spent her lunch breaks inside engrossed in a good book rather than mucking out and playing camogie on the hurling pitch!

The process of drawing itself is so relaxing despite the fact that sometimes you need to have a certain level of patience to be able to draw something. If you practise enough, the results will show, just like so many other things. It’s all about the 10,000 hour rule as Malcolm Gladwell would say. The more you work at it and hone in on your talents, the easier it gets. No surprises there. Before your artistic talents even come into play however, your brain needs to translate the photograph or the object that you see in real life into the image you want to create on paper- this process can take a lot of getting used to as it requires a cohesion between your brain and hand muscles. Once you master this, sketching becomes a lot easier.

Sometimes when I notice things in nature or everyday life, I ask myself how exactly I would render this kind of object on paper. Some questions that cross my mind deal with the shape of the object, it’s texture, colour and how I would capture it’s shadows and the way the light falls upon it.  Even the most banal, everyday objects can rouse my attention, from the coffee machine I use every morning to the leaves I see twirling in the wind, an interesting looking woman on the tram with bright emerald earrings dangling from her ears or the muscles that bulge in my hand as I write this sentence. When you realise that anything you see could potentially become art if you wanted to, everything suddenly has a lot more inherent meaning and you become more mindful and appreciative of your surroundings.
At least that’s what I’ve found, anyway. Maybe I’ve just spent too many Sundays in idyllic, rose coloured museums and I need to spend more time in the real world. To be fair, I do live in the real world a lot of the time though and I am quite practical most of the time. In my view, being able to turn to art is like flicking a little switch that closes the curtains to the rest of the world and allows you to escape into your own paradise where you can be at one with yourself, relax and create your own version of beauty. It’s simultaneously liberating and soothing, satisfying and enjoyable. It can enhance your perception of life so much and naturally heightens your appreciation of art. The people you sometimes see welling up in art galleries aren’t being melodramatic- they’re invariably the ones who spend a lot of their time creating artwork themselves and realize all too well the amount of painstaking hard work and assiduous attention to detail that have gone into the art they’re viewing.

Life imitates art, so they say. Does your life imitate art enough though? It’s never too late to pick up that sketchbook.



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