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Educating Arte - Introduction

The morning is wonderfully bright and sunny. A young girl walks briskly down a winding path between meadows. The path is earthen and yellow-ochre under the high sun. The girlís feet throw up clouds of dust as she drags on, and sometimes stumbles on the stray stones. She wears a small painterís easel and a wood-and-cloth pliable seat. She holds these awkwardly under her arm, as well as a paper folder and a large box of crayons. Those utensils are cumbersome and make her rapid walk heavy. A white Labrador runs joyfully in front of her. The dog runs in all directions, but once every while he checks back to make sure the girl is still around. Girl and dog are happy to be out of the house that can still be seen behind them, covered with wild vines, at the end of the path. Inside the house it has remained dark, whereas spring reigns outside in the full glory of young, new green grass and flowers of various colours. The house looks huge because the path descends towards a small river, and the path is lower than the meadows, so that the girl can only just see over the grass on right and left of her. She soon reaches the banks of the river, which are all lined with trees, and somewhat farther the girl sees now small woods behind the vast meadows. Cows are in the pastures, white and black and brown ones, and the dog occasionally turns around one, vainly trying to excite it t oa play of pursuit and run. The girl then shouts an impatient command, and the dog returns, disappointed at the dormant cows, eager to start anew a little later.

It is already hot in the day, and the girl is clad lightly. She wears a flimsy, white open shirt and a short pink robe. The robe is well worn, all crinkled, but spotless. The girl is well built, sixteen years old, tall and slim. Her face is tanned but she has kept a rosy freshness on her cheeks. Her legs are long, well shaped and whiter than her face. The girl is used to be outdoors. Her hair is red and curled, untamed and luxurious. She has a short, sharp nose, full lips and her face has otherwise soft features. Her eyebrows are thin, long black eyelashes shade above green eyes. The girl suffers from the temperature and all the things she brought with her do not let her walk easily. She seeks the lower temperature of the river. She picks a spot in the green under the poplar trees, where she has an open view over the side of the river, and she looks along the calm water. She sees other meadows and woods. The dog also seeks out the water, ready to jump in but for a new angry and pressing command of the girl. She sets up her easel and small chair, takes out a crayon and sighs. She sighs and waits. Her crayon remains in her hand, just above the white paper on her easel, but the crayon does not move. The girl hesitates, and still the crayon does not lower. Then the hand quivers and the crayon draws away from the paper. The girl bows her head and keeps it more and more oblique. She drowses, lost in thoughts. She is dreamy and looks at the passing water and at the chirping birds that fly above the banks of the river.

Suddenly, a slight wind stirs the grass and the bushes around the girl. To her surprise a figure seems to appear gradually, just in front of her. The figure is hazy at first, then comes into focus, and its lines become clearer. It is a figure of a white-bearded man, clad in a white tunic that appears silvery upon the grass. The man wears only sandals on bare feet, but he seems to float upon the ground instead of to walk on the soft earth of the path. The man comes nearer and looks around, equally surprised, in the sudden silence of birds and water. Even the Labrador looks in fright and astonishment, but ready to attack. The girl has to bend her head from behind her easel now to well look at the man. She hides most of her face and has put her head closer to the paper, so that the man sees only one green eye and a red patch of hair from behind the folder. The girl is ready to flee from the extraordinary sight. She wonders whether this is a ghost that happened to come on her rather than a real man. How did he appear so suddenly, as if projected on a screen above the grass, so near to her? The man looks as if he was almost transparent, but he shines like the image of Jesus that the girl has on a picture in her bedroom. The girl decides that this must be an extraordinary phenomenon, so she grasps her easel with both hands, stands up to run away, up the path again. But the dog sits down and looks in expectation. Then the man moves a hand in soothing, and he salutes the girl.

The man: Hi! Donít run away! Donít be afraid! You called me, so here I am. Pretty hot today, isnít it? Wow, I had quite a ride to get here.

The man strides closer towards the girl, so that she reclines in fear. She is now really ready to run.

The girl: Who are you? What are you? Donít come nearer or Iíll shout and call my dog. My dog is dangerous; he bites men.

The man, laughing: Your dog seems nice enough. Looks, he likes me, and he likes to be patted. Your dog purrs like a kitten. Donít be afraid, I wonít hurt you. You called me. My name is Zeuxis.

The girl, somewhat more confidently: Zeuxis. Thatís a strange name. What do you mean I called you? I saw no one and I called no one. Please leave me alone, I want to work. I donít need strange men around me.

Zeuxis: I am no strange man. I do am a foreigner to these lands, but I do am Zeuxis. I told you: I am here because you called me. So I cannot go away now. I will not hurt you. You called me because you want to draw and to paint, and you wondered who could teach you. I can. I am a painter and a teacher. I studied with Demophilus of Himera and with Neseus of Thaxos, and Apelles was my pupil. I lived in the fifth century before your era in Heraclea of Greece. I am not really a man now; I am a spirit, a spirit you entreated to come. I studied painting for centuries. I came from ancient Greece at your command. But if you just think of me as one who will soon go away, then I will leave and you will not see me anymore. So, make up your mind, girl Ö what will it be? Do you want me to teach you how to paint or shall I leave?

The girl: Eh, I donít know. I do want to learn how to paint and I am desperate in that. I donít want to go to schools, and I cannot go to schools. But I do want to learn how to paint. Will you be nice, will you really teach me?

Zeuxis: Yes, I can teach you. What is your name?

The girl: My name is Artemisia.

Zeuxis: Well, Artemisia. That is a pretty name. There was an Artemisia in my own time. She was a very remarkable woman, daughter of Lygdamis, a Halicarnassian and on her motherís side she was Cretan. She was the tyrant of Halicarnassus, so this Artemisia was not really a very nice girl! When the Persian King Xerxes attacked Greece, she provided five of the finest ships to Xerxesí fleet, and she sailed in command of the men of Halicarnassus, Cos, Nisyra and Clydna. She advised Xerxes not to give battle at Salamis, but she was the only one to propose to spare the ships. Artemisia fought with her ships at Salamis, where she got chased by a trireme of Athens. She escaped by ramming a friendly ship, a Calyndian one, with Damasithymus, the Calindian king, on board. In doing so she deceived the Athenian captain, for he thought now that she commanded a Greek ship, and she also fooled Xerxes in making him believe she had rammed a Greek ship! She was lucky there were no survivors on the Calyndian vessel! After the defeat of the Persians at Salamis, she advised Xerxes to return to his country and Xerxes this time listened to her. He complimented Artemisia and sent her to Ephesus with his sons, so great was his confidence in her.

Arte: I have not heard of that Artemisia, but I am a nice girl. I would not have sunk my friends.

Zeuxis: I also taught another girl by that name, a long time ago. This one was a nice and happy girl, but she suffered a tragic life. I hope you will fare better than she, though you seem to be as impatient and passionate as she was. Artemisia is a nice named indeed. How did you come to get by it?

Artemisia: My father was Italian. He is dead now. He died when I was ten. He was a painter. He told me he had read a story of an unlucky girl, who painted also, and had lived many years ago; but he also said I was born under a happier star. He proposed the name. My mother liked it. But nobody calls me Artemisia now. It is too long a name. They call me Arte.

Zeuxis: All right then, Arte. I am sorry about your mother. I do hope your star was a luckier one indeed. I might as well sit down.

Suddenly, a large, wooden chair appears and Zeuxis sits on it.

Zeuxis: If you want to learn to paint we will have to be together a lot. Painting is a difficult art. There is much to learn. Where shall I start?

Arte: Can you teach me about colours? Look, I have many crayons and all are of a different colour. Which should I use?

Zeuxis, sighing and angrily: Oh girl, I was so sure you would ask me that! You young females always do. The emotions of colours enchant you and stimulate you. But you will go to perdition, girl, if you start with colours. Oh, the inconstant colour! The colour of any thing changes every moment with the changing light or with the place of your eyes. Look, come here out of the shadows of that poplar; come into the light of the sun. See? The colour of the water changed! And that lasted only a second. You would want me to teach you the most dreadful, elusive of all elements of painting from the beginning? You must have patience, girl! Restrain your impetuous nature. Colour is too difficult. There are so many other simple subjects to start with but colour. Letís start with simple lines, not with the many-headed, ever-changing monster of colour. You would lose your wits faster than my former friend Vincent! Letís start with lines. Colour is like the moon. Do not swear by the inconstant moon! Lines are eternal.

Arte: I donít believe you. Colours are nice. I want to learn about colours. And I know of no Vincent. Oh Zeuxis, teach me colours!

Arte seems to want to start crying, so Zeuxis grumbles a bit, draws at his nose and changes his tone.

Zeuxis: Well, all right, Iíll teach you about colour, but in due time, in due time. Do me a favour. Be a good girl. Just try. Draw a straight line with that crayon of yours. Let the line go from one end of your paper to the other.

Arte: A straight line? What do you want me to draw a straight line for? That is utterly stupid and simple. I know that already. But, well, all right. Iíll draw a straight line if that makes you feel better.

Arte draws a long straight line rapidly. She frowns, looks at what she has done. She frowns again. Then she looks at Zeuxis from under her eyelashes.

Zeuxis: All finished already? Is your line straight? What have you felt?

Arte: Well, eh, yes. The line is straight. Well, maybe not entirely straight. You made me nervous. But itís all right. Isnít it?

Zeuxis, looking at the paper: Yes, it is not bad. It is a little curved though. And you quivered, you were nervous, so it seems indeed. But what have you felt in your hand, in your arm? Nothing special?

Arte: Well, now that you mention it. Yes, there was something odd.

Zeuxis: What was odd?

Arte: Well, I drew a line but to get it straight I had to correct my hand. It was easy enough to draw the line, but to get it straight I had to keep attention. I had to strain my hand a bit. It felt as if I was not drawing a straight line at all but a curved line, at first anyway. What magic did you work me?

Zeuxis: The magic is not mine, dear. The magic was in your hand. Your elbow is like a fixed point. It worked liked a compass point. Your arm is fixed to your elbow and naturally draws around the point of your elbow, in a circle. A very wide circle, but a circle nonetheless. You had to correct for that effect. You see, there are things to learn from drawing simple lines. Besides, you drew a horizontal line in the middle of your paper. Why not a vertical one?

Arte: I donít know. I just drew a line. Why does it matter?

Zeuxis: It really doesnít matter, girl. But you drew a horizontal line and you drew from left to right, I saw you. Why not a vertical line? Why did you draw from left to right? Why not from right to left?

Arte: Well, I guess a vertical line was less obvious to start with. I didnít really think while I drew. A vertical line is more difficult. And everybody draws from left to right! You ask really silly questions. What is there to marvel about a stupid line? Are we going to go on like that?

Zeuxis: Silly questions make smart students, Arte. To marvel is the beginning of knowledge. Or as my friends would say, where we cease to marvel we may be in danger of ceasing to know. You are right. Vertical lines are more difficult to draw because by the same effect I just explained, you would have to correct far more than for that horizontal line! You would not have been able to make use of your natural compass. At least you could use it easily in horizontal lines, even if you had to correct a bit. Here, try it out, See?

Arte tries it out. She draws a vertical line and she has to stick out a tip of her tongue to get it right. But it works and she looks triumphantly at Zeuxis.

Zeuxis: Fine! You learn quickly. We will get along fine. I have another silly question. You started at the top and then drew downwards. Why not the reverse? No, donít answer. Iíll tell you. These were seemingly simple exercises. But you already learned a lot. You learned that it is not that easy to draw straight lines. You learned why our hands draw in curved lines naturally. You learned that you seem to prefer horizontal lines better than vertical ones.

Arte starts to say something then closes her mouth.

Zeuxis, continuing: And you learned that you like more to draw from the left to the right and from the top to the bottom. The right side of a piece of paper feels more natural than the left side. The right side seems more important, so you started on the left to end on that right side that makes you feel comfortable. On the right side you were at home. The right side is the royal side of paintings; that is were we like to look to in the end. You drew from top to bottom for the same reason. You stand on the ground, so you drew from top to bottom because you like to end up at the ground. At the top you would not feel safe. Moreover, you drew down. If you had started below and drawn to the upper end you would have needed to push your pencil up. Pushing a crayon up is somehow harder than to draw it down. Drawing is easier than pushing, always. And you drew your line smack in the middle. So you cut your paper in two halves. That is called symmetry. The upper half is almost of the same area as the lower half. That is called balance; one area balances the other. Had you remarked that before? You learned a lot about yourself. You learned about which lines you prefer and about which directions you prefer. Now, that is quite natural. We all usually prefer so, because our ancestors were educated this way since many centuries. But we do not seem to know that, and act conscientiously. A painter has to know however, because the eye of a viewer also moves from left to right and from top to bottom. And an eye likes symmetry and balance. These are things to remind when you paint.

Arte keeps silent.

Zeuxis: You learned about lines and directions. You learned that painting has to do with our minds and what we have in our minds. Men call that psychology now. I would like to teach you more about vertical and horizontal lines first, then about oblique ones. Then we can talk a little about shapes and forms, about repetition, about symmetry and about balance. I can teach you about greater illusions than myself. You will be able to fool all who look at your drawings when Iíll be finished. Yes, in time you will fool all people in thinking that they are seeing a forest whereas you will have only painted a few lines on a piece of paper and maybe a few patches of colour.

Arte: So you will teach me about colours?

Zeuxis: Oh, of all the Gods of Parnassus. Of course, I will! But patience should be with you. Learn to know lines and shapes and structure first. Then you can throw away everything I taught you about lines and become like my friend Jackson Ö

Arte: Jackson? I donít want to be like Michael Jackson! He canít paint. He sings and dances.

Zeuxis: Ö Pollock! Jackson Pollock! Be patient, girl. In order to be able to destroy you must build first.

Arte: Parnassus? Is that where you come from?

Zeuxis: Yes, I did. The gods took me up with them. Some of them seemed delighted. But Zeus doesnít really like me. The guy is a brute. So the other gods let me escape from time to time; they allow me to go when desperate and pretty girls like you call me.

Arte, flattered: Pretty? Do you find me pretty?

Zeuxis, coming closer: Yes, I do. You know you are pretty. I like your pretty nose. It has a nice straight line.

Arte: Well, thanks. Youíre just an old flatterer. And one obsessed by lines! But I have to go now. I will come back this afternoon and then you can start to teach me. That is Ö will you be back?

Zeuxis: Yes, Arte, Iíll be back. Iíll be delighted. And it will be with lines, not yet with colour.

Arte: Oh, you Ö

She throws a crayon but Zeuxis disappears, with chair and all, in a nick of time.

Copyright: Renť Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: May 2010
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