Chapter, the first
A short note about philosophy
Throughout these reviews, I will refer to a concept that, as far as I know, has no equivalent outside of Objectivism. That concept is called “a sense of life”. The words ‘sense of life’ stand for a suite of ideas representing a person’s outlook on existence and the forces which move the world. It is more than a point of view though, in that a sense of life unconsciously underscores and shapes the volitional essence of every choice and action one takes or witnesses. Here is a quote from the author of the concept, Ayn Rand, in her book on art theory entitled The Romantic Manifesto:
A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. It sets the nature of a man’s emotional responses and the essence of his character.
“Philosophy and Sense of Life,”
The Romantic Manifesto, 25
As the quote outlines, a sense of life defines not only a person’s belief system, but also his character. Furthermore, the quotation states that such a system uses emotion as its currency. This means that the series of conclusions and evasions which a person adopts in life become an automatized and implicit feeling -a sense- whether they are valid or not. Hence, the response becomes a compelling base-line feeling, which underlies all of a person’s other emotions and experiences. People commonly express that they feel a thing to be true. This may be so, but such a statement is not a valid argument. A more compelling revelation would be why they feel it to be so. Understanding a person’s sense of life can illuminate this.
The reason I have started with a definition of the Objectivist concept sense of life, is that although Andrew Loomis was not to my knowledge an objectivist, he was certainly philosophical. He, like Rand, recognized that ideas matter and that knowledge matters. He believed in truth, and the power of man’s mind to discover that truth. Through his constant observation of reality, and because of his desire to define a method of representing that reality, Andrew Loomis naturally developed a set of philosophical guidelines which are in harmony with the basic tenets of Objectivism. This is reasonable in that they are the conclusions of one who earnestly tries to examine the facts of the world.
In the following sections, you will find my notes and elaborations which were composed after I had generally read Successful Drawing, and had gone back to begin actively studying the book as an instructional manual. The dates for these notes are January 5th and 6th of 2016.
The Fundamentals of Successful Drawing
The first pages of every Andrew Loomis book begin by outlining his Sense of Life, and the basic principles which he keeps regarding art and drawing in particular. Loomis’ sense of life is positive; that the world is beautiful and that humans are good. In this, he is taking part in the conception of art from the Classical period, where the enshrinement of an artistic idea was for the celebration of man. Compare this to the medieval outlook of man as seen in Dark-Age art. Medieval art tends to be anti-human, and such work seeks to express the Christian ideology of original sin, and the foul nature of man’s body.
Successful Drawing especially emphasizes Loomis’ conception of a ‘benevolent universe’, i.e. that there is no pernicious force at work which seeks to keep man down. The ‘benevolent universe’ position is that suffering and struggle are not the essence of life and human experience. Loomis believes that answers to problems do exist, and that they are ready to be found. Furthermore, he maintains that their discovery is a matter of careful study and a result of one’s adherence to reality.
The first paragraphs outline how successful drawing is a result of true analysis of the world, that is, what is real. One achieves this through perception. To elaborate, the concept which he is establishing shows that an artist can not represent reality if they do not know it, or do not seek to observe it. This stance puts Andrew Loomis firmly in the category of a representational artist, and eschews any discussion of non-representation in art.
He takes for granted that what an artist is doing is trying to represent what is real. Art must be recognizable so that another viewer can observe and read the work. He also believes that an artist’s job is not to merely record or report on reality, as per a journalist or a scientist. He sees the choice of what is represented as indivisible with the nature of the artwork, as well as with the nature of the artist.
It is important to recognize that Loomis, like Rand, implicitly believes that representational art is not to be interpreted as reality. Instead, representational art is a declaration of choice; the choosing to show a representation of one momenatry aspect of reality. It is a representation of the world as through the lens of the artist’s eyes, so that the viewer may see in proxy. Viewers of art are able to glimpse through their contemplation of a work the artist’s sense of life . Observation and recording of reality is essential, but artistic vision is what makes the product of one’s work into art, rather than journalism. That Loomis chooses to represent idealized and beautiful humans is an expression of his sense of positivity and of humanism.
Thus, his formula is that true observation coupled with an positive artistic sense of life is what constitutes worthwhile art.