Good Painting

The temple is a latch on the skull where four bones fuse: the frontal, parietal, temporal, and sphenoid. In anatomy courses at art academies students study the latch and its quadruple planes with the help of diagrams and gypsum reproductions. Students draw and redraw these models, accustoming themselves to the relations of the shapes which make up the skull and the rest of the skeleton until at last they can consistently, almost perfunctorily, sketch the outline of a human form with precision. The pencil line will conjure the sweep of the collarbone into the shoulder blade, the spine’s curve, and the haunches above the hips as if the whole figure were fully formed in the artist’s mind and the hand holding the pencil was itself manipulated by the figure in the artist’s imagination — as if the pencil was automatically, without thought, acting on a directive issued by the artist’s subconscious. This automaticity is the point, the essence of the draftsman’s skill. Like a dancer whose knowledge of the choreography is not reflective but muscular, the artist will know the human body so well that even a sketch — say, a hastily rendered likeness copied surreptitiously into a Moleskine on a subway car before the unwitting model, a fellow passenger, has a chance to shift her weight, or to catch the snoop in action — will evince this understanding. The sketch is not just of a face, it is of a face which sheathes a skull, connected to a spinal cord and a ribcage, and even if the artist has not drawn these things she knows that they are all of a piece, smoothly fitted into one another, and the marks in the Moleskine are informed by this prior understanding.  If the flesh of a model is pulled tightly over

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