While reading for my Art Appreciation class, I ran across something that had never previously dawned on me before, though I don’t know why it hadn’t. We were contemplating an image of “Guernica” by Picasso and beginning our segment on drawing as an art form. The definition of “cartoon” came up, but not the idea of a cartoon in the common usage. In the context of the art world, a cartoon is also a full sized drawing made as a guide for a large work in another medium, and often made as an overlay for tracing. In our textbook, there were images of Picasso’s rough sketches and his cartoon for the creation of the full sized mural. For some reason, the idea that Picasso had created a “practice” version of “Guernica” floored me. I’ve always known that craft masters practice; writers, artists, athletes and the like. I’ve seen daVinci’s sketches, but assumed they were more restless playing than actual practice for creating masterworks like the Sistine Chapel. Practice is not an alien concept to me; my favorite idea about practice is “don’t practice until you get it right, but practice until you can’t possibly get it wrong,”* though my sense of rebellion and procrastination often get in the way of actually implementing it.
I don’t know what it was, but suddenly, there was a click. An understanding. A shift in perspective or understanding. Masters practice. “Guernica,”, the Sistine Chapel, and other major masterpieces don’t just happen because they’re brilliant. It’s not an accident of fate and circumstance. The doodling, the restless sketching of what seems insignificant isn’t boredom or wasted time. These moments lead up to the creation of something larger than the sum of its parts; they are the gestation of art. These moments are an investment of time in planning, in the development of the idea, the implementation of making it just right without which, they would not exist. Suddenly, I don’t feel so silly creating background vignettes for the piece I’m working on, things that will likely never make it into the final draft, or even the first draft, but things I need to develop and know, a history I have to build so the present can thrive. It feels right to play with ancillary characters who may never become more than that to understand their motivations for treating my main characters in a particular way, to know the story behind the company that overshadows the piece. It makes sense; it’s practice. It’s my cartoon of what will be. I don’t feel like I’m wasting time, now, or that I’m avoiding the “real writing.” It’s all real. It’s all practice. I am creating the stage upon which the characters will walk, weaving the tapestry that will be drawn back when the house lights go down. That’s when all of this play matters. When all of it comes to life.
I think I’ve finally accepted that this one is going to be a novel.
* This quote is attributed to so many people and is so all over the place, it’s hard to say where it came from. I”ll leave it unsigned, and if someone knows the real original source, let me know and I’ll be glad to give credit.