On copying the Masters, Old(er) and Young(er)

July 18, 2010

Back in the day, I took a few studio art classes. In one of them, a drawing class, we were assigned to do a copy after an Old Master, meaning we were to reproduce a drawing by a canonical artist. I chose Dürer’s Mother, by Albrecht Dürer:

I couldn’t say what exactly struck me about it. Something about the mark making — how his lines are heavy in places and light in others — and the complexity of her face.

I don’t know if I saved my reproduction of Dürer’s drawing, but here’s something from the same era that should give you a sense of my style and skill level. It’s a copy from a Polaroid:

Objectivist man squints boldly into the future.

When he saw the above, Pops Minkel made some comment about Socialist realism, and he was right: I was way into being Howard Roark in those days.

Anyway, I didn’t consider my copy of Dürer to be very successful. It definitely looked like the original, but instead of making heavy, continuous marks where Dürer had, I marked in those regions the way you would mark in a tree branch in a coloring book. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. That was just my comfort level at the time.

I am reminded of all this because of my last two posts, in which I excerpted Jonah Lehrer and David Dobbs, respectively. Because Jonah’s story hasn’t come online yet, I copied it manually from the magazine. I chose to do the same thing with Dobbs’s piece. Both guys are more practiced, more successful writers than I am. As someone who hasn’t written many magazine features, it’s not clear to me how to sharpen my feature writing skills. I like the idea that by putting myself into their writing process, choosing words and constructing sentences and paragraphs the way they would, I am inculcating in myself the habits of stronger writers.

And no, I haven’t drawn in years.


One Response to “On copying the Masters, Old(er) and Young(er)”

  1. Roya Says:

    i love your self-portrait!

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