Sunday, September 15, 2013

Verbal Sketching

Getty Center, photo by me
I find comfort in museums. Many people find comfort in nature, a return to their primal instincts. Me, I'm at peace in a room filled with paintings and statues from the past. Museums hold the best of humanity. Whenever I'm disappointed in the human species, I go to a museum and I'm wonderfully reminded of the greatness and beauty that human's can accomplish. 

Currently at the Getty Center (Los Angeles) is a great show about the negative space in drawings. The Poetry in Paper runs until October 20, 2013. The curator, Stephanie Schrader, did something very unique with this exhibition. Instead of detailed labels for each drawing, she wrote a Haiku poem describing the piece. The union of past greatness with modern elegance made me laugh, gasp, smile and term the phrase verbal sketching.

Here are some examples:

I've sat in the Capitoline Gallery in Rome several times. I've sketched, I've written, I've hidden from the rain amongst the halls of broken statues. The words "Antiquity looms," captures the mood perfectly.

I love this haiku because it teases the drawing with regards to the negative space. "No chair but not a drop spills," made me giggle like a child who wants to point at the drawing and enter a discussion regarding elementary physics. 

This haiku really captured the idea of verbal sketching for me. Walking along the foggy moors of Scotland, where the air is so thick a castle may lay hidden, undiscovered, only a short distance away, remains a strong memory with me. Yet I've never written a description of those moments. But here, the "Blank expanses" are the endless moors, that at first appear blank. The "Fog dense as citadel walls," is absolutely true, except it is a wall one can wonder through blindly, then a creature jostles near and quickens your heartbeat until you learn it is only a sheep with a blue splotch of paint upon it's white wool. Then the sheep vanishes as suddenly as it appeared. As you get closer to the discovery of a castle, you find yourself surrounded by the structures of a medieval city on the banks of a Loch - an "Old city shrouded" - with battlements poking their heads above the fog as it sinks lower, pouring over your feet and pulling you toward the water's edge. 17 Syllables captures my entire paragraph. That's why haiku is AWESOME. (5, 7, 5, that's all you need.)

This sketch could have been so many haikus because the expression on the old woman's face is in my opinion, rather flexible. Who doesn't love the phrase "Wrinkles of red chalk?" That's just fabulous. That's why haiku is fun. It forces you to bring together multiple concepts in a few words. 

This haiku captures not only the description of the environment, but the attitude and character of the subject which I wouldn't have thought about without the haiku. At first glance, I thought, "That's a nice figure drawing." End of story. I walked away. Then I went back and read the haiku and suddenly an entire person burst forth in my head. This is wealthy young man, accustomed to his spoils and leisures, but soon, his elegant supports will fall out from under him (notice the negative space below him) and he will be forced to discover what skills he can master for his own survival. 

So when wondering a museum, or sitting at a cafe, if you don't have a sketchbook or notebook handy, doodle a haiku on a napkin. It will force your mind to capture a moment, a memory, in a verbal sketch.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Julia. Do you ever write Haikus? I've started to use Haiku as an editing tool for verbose sections of my writing. :)