Figuring Art Out

Quality is a funny thing. Wrapped around a series of scaffolds which an increasing amount of commentators decree are subjective, it’s harder than ever in 2020 to point to a work of art that is objectively strong. On one hand the artist wants the viewer to be enthralled by her skills; on the other hand there’s the wholly modern danger of maintaining a set of criteria some think is bourgeois at best, colonial and patriarchal at worst.

Strangely it’s easier to discuss this dilemma with young artists. Esme Jacqueline Brereton Sharpe, 13, has attended New Visuality Art Camp school holiday sessions since she was knee high to a Minion. Her earliest sketches were indicative of a talented child: you know the type. At Christmas family gatherings you pause over your port and silently marvel at how one so young can manage to make that bird look more like a bird than a bird, or that cartoon figure so much more full of life than your stickman offerings.
It’s not until half a decade later that, when that child is now pulling relentlessly excellent illustrations out from the blank page, consistently controlled and alive with a unique style, that the emergence of the artist eclipses the merely creative child. Esme is at this stage. Her attendance at Art Camp in the February Half Term of 2020 saw her consolidate old skills and skewer new skills.
So to try and unpack what it is that differentiates the artist from the young creative, we asked her about those same skills that gave us the heebie jeebies at the start of this discussion: namely, objectively impressive skills.
We sat Esme down with a cup of tea and asked her all about her mission to attain artistic skills in a world which says just having a go is enough.
“As a young artist it is important to draw the figure because it greatly helps in mastering proportions and anatomy. The human body is hard to draw correctly – if you get the sense of proportion wrong it stands out a mile – so it pays to put in the practice. When you get the hang of it, it’s extremely useful, not just to draw people, but the world around you.”
Esme points to the future, not just for herself, but for creativity in general. “Drawing people is a massive skill. It’s important because the human figure is a massive part of art. Jobs like animators for movies and games will frequently have to involve humans or humanoid figures in their work.”
Warming to her theme, Esme points to her sketchbooks, bescribbled with the human figure filtered through a fusion of realism, traditional illustration, and Manga. “Look, see, I’ve exaggerated certain areas of these drawings. Learning how to draw the figure helps artists figure out how to use shapes in their drawings and how to exaggerate these shapes to give a personality to characters.”
Esme returns her headphones to their rightful place and dives back into her work. Her recent recognition as Young Artist of the Year at the Lord Mayor of York shine Awards and her continuing Arts Award journey are testament to a young artist who has already attained excellence.

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