Pouring out dry biscuits for the cat I wonder: why are they fish-shaped? It can’t be for her sake. She’s not thinking, Hey, this reminds me of a fish! Cats don’t abstract. So though she is attached to me, and will follow when I move to another room waiting to climb back onto my lap, what she feels for me is not actually love. If I were tiny enough, she would eat me.
On the first day of life-drawing class the teacher said, the mistake you all keep making is, you are trying to draw the outline. ‘The outline is an abstraction,’ he pointed out: ‘it doesn’t exist.’ If you glance down at the page & look up again with your head on a different angle, the outline you have started to draw no longer makes sense. As the model tires and her hand begins to droop, everything looks different. Now the lines you have made are unhelpful; are, in fact, an obstacle. Abstraction becomes an obstruction.
One of the challenges in learning to draw for the first time, as an adult, is to see past your own expectation of what ‘a face’ looks like. Two eyes, and they lie parallel. What ‘a body’ looks like: breasts are round. Deftly the drawing teacher made sketches as the model stood patiently naked. ‘Abstraction,’ he said, ‘actually interrupts us from learning to really see what we are seeing – and draw from that.’
A 14-month-old child visited this week, the day he had just said his first word. ‘Dog,’ he said. Now the cat, crunching her fish-shaped biscuits, was ‘dog’, the birds in the flowering gum were ‘dog’ – he had learned that there exists a class of creatures who are warm and independently mobile, but are not humans. His first steps into the abstract: now he can invent and worship gods, make art, fall in love. There were three little stuffed toys in a row on the windowsill which we gave him to play with.
They are three pigs, collected from op shops, each one different entirely to the others. One is of pink plush and sits upright, with long puppet arms and a curling tail made of felt. Another is stout, almost legless, and looks more like a piggy-bank. As sketches they appear almost unrelated, yet the mysterious principle of pigliness unmistakably joins them. The cat will never be hungry for biscuits just because they resemble fish. But in a few more years little Harlo will look at this array of furry inanimates and say, ‘three pigs.’