14 December 2012

On the art of drawing with eraser

My friend Munza Mushtaq posted a beautiful John W. Gardner quote recently on Facebook: ‘Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.’  It’s a perfection-line which prompted me to reflect on its underside.  And so I thought of Thomas Alva Edison who had some pithy observations on failure. 

He once said, ‘I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.’  Speaking of those who did not succeed, Edison observed, ‘Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.’  As for the kind of perfectionist genius capable of a Gardner-drawing, Edison said, ‘Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.’
Gardner’s line cannot be about doing things exactly right, without any error whatsoever.  Only an arahat would be endowed with a kind of awareness and wisdom to chart an error-free path.   It is probably about moving on’, not having regrets even if decisions and execution were error-driven and erroneous.   It’s like treating as an article of faith the dictum ‘failures are the pillars of success’.  So that which came before and all the pathways chosen, with full knowledge or ignorance, can be looked upon as contributors to a state of happy ‘life-drawing’.

In a practical sense, regret doesn’t make sense.  We can’t turn back the clock.  Crying over spilt milk won’t return it to the glass in a drinkable state.  Best to be mindful of moment and look ahead than indulge in waiting for clock-hand to stop and go the other way.  Best to mop the floor so you won’t slip and break your neck.
The line made me think about drawing and erasers.  My initial response was ‘Bliss is the art of drawing with eraser’.  Sounds silly, I know.  Drawing adds, erasure subtracts, after all.  But then again, just as white is color, and just as ‘linelessness’ and colorlessness can enhance depth, breathing space, meaning and eye-relief, the eraser can also be an active, positive and productive instrument. 

We do it all the time.  We use the delete button often.  ‘Backspace’ too.  We constantly edit, refine and tighten the text.  We pick and choose words all the time. We choose to be silent.  We try to make our drawings say more by saying less.  We use volume control.  That too is an erasing device; there are times when the soft word is louder than the loud. 
Last weekend I was in Polonnaruwa.  I was visiting the Gal Viharaya after more than thirty years.  More ‘peopled’ this time, but still, the wordless language of craftsmanship where what’s taken away is as important as what is allowed to remain spoke of history, heritage and more than all that invited a perusal of eternal verities that was as emphatic as any treatise on the Dhamma, any koan inviting reflection.  There must have been an eraser at work there, in sketch and etch, which marked a journey from rock to sculpture, brief to delivery, resulting in a work of art which rebels against the Gardner quote. 

But there are other eraser-drawings that go beyond sculpture and eye-please, paintings that neither use the hard-eraser of emphasis nor the soft one of rejection but instead draw light on all things encountered, a grazing if you will, a middle-path touch that is simultaneously non-touch.  There is eraser-work that is about un-layering frill, skinning illusion, removing the opaque film that distorts vision.  ‘Bliss’ is a value-laden term.  But that other way of eraser-life…who can tell if it’s less worthy of a shot than the un-erased ways Gardner recommends? 
I didn’t have the eyes.  Had I the eyes I would have, I believe, seen the reclining stature of the Enlightened One, and seen rock too.  I would have seen craftsmanship and craftsman.  I would have, if my vision was even better, ceased to see rock and also seen the entire universe. 

Instead, in the poverty of my kleshas, I was able to conclude simply, in my simpleton way, that ink can be white and eraser is as potent a life-drawing instrument as is pen. 



sajic said...

Very neat-very nice.