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February 10, 2008

The Stroke

The five classes that I'm taking this semester are quite different from last semester's five. Instead of books piled high with critical thinking, philosophy and religions, I'm taking two art classes, two design courses, and first-level Chinese.

I braced for the worst with Chinese, known as (arguably) the most difficult language to learn. To my surprise, the courses that have brought me the most stress sofar have been the art classes. I knew I wasn't an artist, but these classes have been pounding me into a different frame of mind.

My illustration instructor has waxed poetically on the virtues of the stroke, the basis of all art and illustration. For me, it was like not seeing the forest for all the trees. Which was, in fact, the point that he was trying to get across: Ceci n'est pas une pipe, or, for the younger set, There is no spoon. All that art is, indeed, is just a bunch of marks. Good art, therefore, requires great marks (or gestures).

This goes back to an assertion I posted about earlier: Artistry is not innate; it is not a natural thing that you are either born with or with out. It is the culmination of tireless training, practice and perfection of form.
I've been wrestling with this concept rather than just let it pass. How many manifestations of this theory can we see in the world? Today as I was resting my hand from the arduous stroke-making, I imagined guys in training somewhere, uniformly spaced out and practicing some martial routine over and over and over again. They do it until they know it, and then until it is unconscious, and then, still, until it exists in everything. That is when they are masters.

I've been watching an animation called History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi, the story of an ordinary wimpy guy who undergoes training under five masters of varying arts. About halfway through the series he starts applying himself at a higher level, announcing that he would "practice until the [training room] floor breaks." Later he takes it another step, asserting that practice must be continued until the will of the disciple is broken. From a western standpoint, this may sound like taking a perfectly unique individual and turning them into a machine; a machine, however, has an superhuman level of accuracy and precision that man aspires to.

Perhaps I, too, need to intensify my training. Perhaps I will be broken by the smallest of gestures, the stroke, and from that become the work of art I aspire to be.

This is why I love school.

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