More than drawing a straight line

by Vivian Lawson Hogue

I once studied an elderly man while he sat whittling a piece of wood with a lifelong favorite knife. My 10-year-old self noticed that his age-worn hands seemed comfortable in doing whatever he bade them to do. The knife worked in concert with those hands to create a fish-shape out of a wood scrap. However, it later occurred to me that his brain processes were actually transferring a familiar image to his hands, and his senses provided care and enjoyment as he performed his art work. 


As an artist and former art teacher, I found my greatest pleasure in watching high-schoolers discover abilities they didn’t realize they possessed. I knew they were enjoying projects when classes would enter the room, get their work out and begin to work quietly. For many, it became therapy for home or social issues. Granted, these were teenagers, which almost required a laugh or unrequested comment now and then. 

After many years, parents and students still tell me of their framed work, which still hangs in their homes. Some students even chose to attend and graduate from art or design schools. Some simply chose art as a pastime. Both are valid and valuable choices. 

I was often intrigued while watching my mother create her fabric arts. Like the whittling man, she could line up her thoughts with an idea and make something beautiful or useful. The movement of her hands and the clicking of needles or shuttles or the rhythmic cadence of her treadle sewing machine demanded my attention to watch how a wad of yarn, spool of thread or folded fabric underwent transformation.

My aggravation was that I could not do any of those things. However, I did put my allotted share of her artistic genes into drawing, painting, lettering and art history. I painted with crayons, instant and imitation coffee, fruit drink powder and egg whites. I formed pottery, welded, sculpted with clay, and in time I became interested in historic architecture. I’m sure my parents wondered how I would ever make a living out of that — imagine their surprise!

When very young, I also became aware that when I read stories or listened to serial radio programs, I easily imagined the scenes and people. I now realize that what I saw in my mind was “art,” but as mental creations to remain there and not be imported to a surface. 

Exactly what else is art? It is cursive writing; creative writing; cooking; music; drama; drafting; woodworking; dance; and sculptures of sand, ice, stone, metal or foliage. It is one’s specific gift of personal expression. Whatever form it takes, art happily defends itself against those who would say that man evolved from apes or amoebas. 

We know of cave men who painted on walls 42,000 years ago for various reasons, primarily to create pictures of animals and fish to either keep them away or invite them to stay. They made drawing tools out of chalk and burned wood. Brushes were fashioned of animal hair tied to sticks with leather strips. Patches of moss were dipped in natural paints made from berry juices, clay, eggs and blood to fill in areas of color or shading. Whenever possible, they placed the figures on an uneven wall surface to provide dimension for a flank, head or shoulder. 

Sometimes, other nomadic tribes entered those vacated caves and interpreted these welcomed murals as indicators of the presence of food. 

It was likely that tribes had artists designated to have this responsibility to aid in tribal survival. What satisfying work! I like to think that when the artist was finished with his work, he stood back and viewed it in the light of a flickering fire. With paint on his face and fingers, he surely looked with wonder at his transfer of living images to a cold rock. And smiled.