In her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards writes,
“For centuries, copying masterworks was recommended as an aid to learning to draw.
“Copying forces one to slow down and really see what the artist saw. I can practically guarantee that carefully copying any masterwork of drawing will forever imprint the image in your memory.”
In fairness, Betty Edwards was not referring to Andy Warhol’s paintings and silk screens when she referenced “masterworks.” She meant the works of people like Rembrandt, Rubens, or John Singer Sargent. But in the last couple of months, while visiting SFMOMA in San Francisco, and MOMA in NYC, I was encouraged to draw what I saw.
MOMA offers note cards and pencils for visitors to sketch and to participate in a program called, “I went to MOMA and…” Originally, the program was an experiment to see what people would do if they were given an opportunity to visually share their experiences while visiting MOMA. The result was beyond MOMA’s expectations, as thousands of people shared creative sketches, as well as thoughtful and humorous responses.
Although MOMA claims “I went to MOMA and…” started as an experiment, by providing paper and pencils, I think MOMA knew that their visitors would have a deeper connection with the works that they saw. As Betty Edwards suggests, the simple act of writing or sketching forces you to focus, and to develop a deeper understanding of the artist.
For example, while sketching and painting one of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, I thought about the patience it must have taken to paint all 32 cans, and the conviction Warhol must have had to know that painting a bunch of soup cans was worthwhile. It also occurred to me that Robert Arneson simply must have had a lot of fun sculpting California Artist.
Copying the works of Rembrandt and Michelangelo will undoubtedly improve your drawing skills. But as MOMA knows, and as Betty Edwards wrote, we should copy our favorite artists, “not to copy their styles, but to read their minds. Let them teach you how to see in new ways, to see the beauty in real things, to explore new forms and open new vistas.”