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Six Drawing Lessons by William Kentridge
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Loved. Now need to re-read it in a few months. ( )
  beckydj | Jan 31, 2015 |
I didn't know anything about artist William Kentridge when I bought this book because it was on the display table at my favorite bookstore and it looked so attractive, with illustrations and the use of different type faces. After I read the book, which consists of a series of six lectures Kentridge gave at Harvard as the 2012 Norton lecturer, I looked Kentridge up online and will give links to some interesting resources at the end of this review. He is a South African whose parents were both prominent anti-apartheid lawyers.

So I entered the world of Kentridge not knowing what to expect, and learned that he is a multifaceted artist, who started out drawing and making prints and has since developed techniques for videotaping and filming drawings to make animated projections, as well as getting involved in set design, opera production, and multimedia installations. But that emerges from the lectures themselves. The book includes many of the illustrations Kentridge used in the lectures, but I wish there had been an online site that included the films he showed to the audience.

So what does he talk about? As he says at the beginning of the first lecture, when he started thinking about the series, he made a note to himself: "Remember you are an artist, not a scholar. But avoid a six-hour parade of ignorance." (This part is set off in capitals and red type.) He then goes on to talk about how he collected and sorted ideas, which merges into a discussion of a film called "Shadow Procession," which is a film of silhouetted figures moving across a largely blank landscape (at least, that's what I assume from the illustrations). This merges into a discussion of Plato's cave, with a quote from The Republic and a discussion of how he used jointed paper puppets that he moved frame by frame to make the film. He explores the meaning of the cave and the "ethical imperative of the philosopher." He is making a point about the duty of the man who has seen the light "to return to the cave, to unshackle those in darkness, and to bring them up from the cave into the light. . . . The nexus of enlightenment, emancipation, and violence emerges. Our agenda has been set." The first lecture continues with a further discussion of shadows, making a horse from scraps of torn black paper, the concept of a blank sheet of paper and projecting images on it (including a group of Africans who, with a diviner, see images of the future on a blank cloth), projecting an image of himself and interacting with it, looking at the sun and eclipses, what it means to see, hierarchies, drawing a typewriter and exploding it and putting it back together -- and somehow this all hangs together.

I've gone into such detail about the first lecture to give a flavor of Kentridge's technique and style. Subsequent lectures, all of which also use his art to illustrate his points, discuss colonial revolts, Africa, history and The Magic Flute and other operas; the geological, early human, and colonial history of Johannesburg, including the creation of "mountains" from gold mine tailings, as well as the meaning of time; the development of moving picture technology, levels of tension, photographing himself, and using walking around his studio to become "unstuck" and creative ("making a safe space for stupidity"); how we interpret images, creating everyday objects and transforming them, the value of mistranslation, and translations of Rilke's "The Panther"; and constructing a narrative from fragments, the inevitability of fate, and interactions between his Harvard self and his Johannesburg self.

As much as I could understand what Kentridge was talking about, I feel he is interested in movement, in time, in history, in memory, in making connections among events, in shadows, in man's inhumanity to man, and above all in perception, in what it means to see -- and he uses all these ideas in his art. This video, made for public television and this New Yorker article explain his work better than I can. He is clearly a very creative, thoughtful, and persistent artist, and I look forward, now that I've learned about him, to seeing some of his work.
1 vote rebeccanyc | Nov 3, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674365801, Hardcover)

Over the last three decades, the visual artist William Kentridge has garnered international acclaim for his work across media including drawing, film, sculpture, printmaking, and theater. Rendered in stark contrasts of black and white, his images reflect his native South Africa and, like endlessly suggestive shadows, point to something more elemental as well. Based on the 2012 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, Six Drawing Lessons is the most comprehensive collection available of Kentridge’s thoughts on art, art-making, and the studio.

Art, Kentridge says, is its own form of knowledge. It does not simply supplement the real world, and it cannot be purely understood in the rational terms of traditional academic disciplines. The studio is the crucial location for the creation of meaning: the place where linear thinking is abandoned and the material processes of the eye, the hand, the charcoal and paper become themselves the guides of creativity. Drawing has the potential to educate us about the most complex issues of our time. This is the real meaning of “drawing lessons.”

Incorporating elements of graphic design and ranging freely from discussions of Plato’s cave to the Enlightenment’s role in colonial oppression to the depiction of animals in art, Six Drawing Lessons is an illustration in print of its own thesis of how art creates knowledge. Foregrounding the very processes by which we see, Kentridge makes us more aware of the mechanisms—and deceptions—through which we construct meaning in the world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:29 -0400)

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