Hard to believe, but it's been 49 years since I attended my first art class at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I was an incoming freshman from a small town—Kingman—and me and my classmates were the first wave of Baby Boomers to blitz the campus scene, and, by sheer numbers, we blew out the allotted classrooms in the fine arts building (which was pretty new at the time) and the university had to rent studio space in an ex-shoe store on Speedway Blvd. Our drawing professor, Mr. Scott (complete with a French beret and a cigarette holder) was very brusque and loud (more than one female student fled from the class weeping from his loud critiques: "You call those hands!? Those are Platypus craws!"). Mr. Scott's first order of instruction was to beat out of us all our bad habits and preconceived ideas about drawing good pictures.
Much to our horror and humiliation, Mr. Scott made us draw contour drawings by not looking at our paper (also called blind contour drawings). He made us draw with our opposite hand. He even made us take off our shoes and socks and draw with a charcoal stick stuck between our toes.
In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine there was an evocative piece about "Blind Contour Drawing" and how it liberated the author—Sam Anderson—and allowed him to do drawings with "little slivers of excellence." Anderson pointed out how the problem is control and how control, or, the attempt to control sabotages perfection. He adds, "you can't control your way out of control." The fine piece of writing reminded me of something I have known but sometimes forget.