I stared at Jalene all day long. For two days in a row from 10 am to 4 pm with only a short break for lunch, I stood at times three feet from her face. I stood as close as I possibly could and stared for hours at the shape of Jalene's mouth, the depth of her eyes, the contour of her cheeks. And as I worked on her mouth, and looked at it, and looked from my clay figure back to her flesh and blood mouth, and back to my clay figure once again, I was sure I must be getting it right.
But I wasn't.
At least, not as naturally as I thought.
I measured the distance between her eyes with calipers, from forehead to nose, from one ear to the other, then from nose to chin. Something was off. For one thing I had made the mouth too tight and grim. Also, the head was narrow, and the hair not full enough. Why, I asked our teacher Flick. "What have I done wrong?"
He stood in front of my stand to study my sculpture for a moment or two. "One thing I see right off is that the forehead needs more contouring. Also you will notice that the upper lip puffs out a bit here and interferes with the laugh lines here... and her bottom lip in the corner goes in a little bit. It tucks underneath. Often," he said, "the way the mouth is held makes a big difference to capturing a likeness."
Flick then said he often finds that he can see what's wrong with his pieces when he looks at them in the mirror. "You go along," he said, "and you know it isn't right but after a while your mind gets used to it."
So our minds get used to looking at what we've created and then they cozy up to the image just as far as we've got it. It's rather like listening - up unto a point. We listen to what people tell us and then, when we think we've got the idea, we stop listening, because we are trying to say our own thing about it. We want to put our own stamp on what our interlocutor has said, and so we find we've had enough. Now we also want to be heard. We want to be taken on board.
For this same reason people often make their sculptures look like themselves. The face we are most used to looking at is our own. Our own face seems the most normal of all faces on the earth, so subconsciously we try to resolve other, different faces into our own. Some people even go so far as to fall in love with people who look like them. You've seen people do this, haven't you? Couples who look like each other? Aha, they've said to themselves. Here's a face I can trust.
Thinking about this depresses me no end. I just want to see people freshly! But whether I want to see them or not, all the time I am importing my preconceived ideas, blending them with my old ideas until nothing is really new to me at all. It's all just a hodgepodge of what I know and what I think I want to know.
There were six of us in the workshop this weekend. Looking around at our work at the end of the day I was interested to see who had captured what. Some of us captured things in Jalene that others hadn't thought to capture. Nobody got it right. But also nobody got it entirely wrong.