January 29, 2020

"To walk down the street with him is just a reminder that, no matter how boring you think the day is, there are always interesting things around you."

"If you think of just a walk to the corner as an opportunity to see something different, most of us don’t do that normally. He is just this super-voracious observer of everything."

Said Jen Bekman, an online art curator, quoted in "Jason Polan, an artist who set out to draw every person in New York, has died at 37" (WaPo)(Polan died of cancer).
Bekman said the idea for drawing every person in New York grew from the MoMa project [in which he drew every piece of art in the Museum of Modern Art]. The drawings were done in haste on small pads of paper with a Uni-Ball Vision Elite pen, capturing New Yorkers in only a few minutes or seconds as they completed some quotidian activity: commuting, reading, sitting. He gave himself one rule: “I only draw the person while I can see them,” as he explained in his book introduction.

The result meant that some people didn’t have hands or legs. Some had blank faces floating on white paper — like “Edward Norton at Lafayette” — as they whizzed past Polan mid-drawing or disappeared through the subway doors.
I bought the book "Every Person in New York." I love stuff like this, and have engaged in this kind of drawing project myself. My favorite example of this genre, and my favorite art book of all time is "Get Me a Table Without Flies, Harry."

ADDED: I love that we're told the pen — Uni-Ball Vision Elite pen. You can get 12 of those things for $26. We're not told the brand of sketchbook. Maybe something like this. You could carry a 6"x4" pad in your pocket and a Uni-Ball pen and always be looking for things to draw. Think about why you would do that instead of just taking photos of anything that interests you. It makes a big difference! It makes you something more like a "super-voracious observer of everything."

ALSO: Polan put his drawings on a Blogspot blog, here, from 2008 until the end of last year. From his description in the sidebar: "I am trying to draw every person in New York. I will be drawing people everyday and posting as frequently as I can.... If I do draw you, you will see yourself (or rather, a drawing that hopefully somewhat resembles you) on this blog that evening. When the project is completed we will all have a get together." That last sentence takes on new meaning.

42 comments:

Bill Peschel said...

Agree with you about Griffey's book. Far more interesting than most of his work, I'm afraid (although he did a book about his father that was really interesting).

Shouting Thomas said...

This "curator" bullshit is hilarious. Reminds me of the 90s when every programmer got promoted to "software engineer" in lieu of a pay raise.

This has become so prevalent that "software engineers" are showing up in every science documentary as "experts."

I listen to the Symphony channel on Sirius constantly. Every program now is lorded over by a curator, instead of a lowly DJ.

Another symptom of why people vote for Trump.

Wince said...

You could carry a 6"x4" pad in your pocket and a Uni-Ball pen and always be looking for things to draw.

Sometime I will invite Althouse "up" to see my stick figures.

Always curious about that usage of the word "up", which insinuates a hip and predatory apartment-dwelling urban lifestyle.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

(Polan died of cancer)

Cancer sucks.

Kevin said...

I love stuff like this, and have engaged in this kind of drawing project myself.

Every Rat in Madison.

Coming soon to an Althouse Amazon portal near you.

Fernandinande said...

Whappo: Said Jen Bekman, an online art curator,

I thought: "online art curator" = somebody with a website, but should have remembered that the Whappo never seems to get anything right.

"The gallery is open by appointment only.
195 Chrystie Street 502c NY NY 10002"

Lurker21 said...

sonder
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.


I learned this word an hour ago. Impressive until you realize somebody just invented the word a few years ago.

Fernandinande said...

sonder - the realization that each random passerby ...

That's just an urban dictionary definition; the real definition is

"Redefining the hotel experience through inspiring design and modern service."

madAsHell said...

He died awfully young, but maybe he successfully drew everyone in New York. A kind of nine-billion-names-of-God success, but succesful.

Robert Williams said...

the Uni-Ball Deluxe Fine .07mm (the Gold one) is my years long favorite. not for drawings but for words and free-flowing diagrams and such. and on 11 x 17 paper. it's best to stack 3 or 4 sheets of paper for using this pen to make the surface kinda cushiony. and the ink is really black - which i re-discovered after i got my cataracts out.

MadisonMan said...

Yes -- there are interesting things to see. And also to hear, which will not happen if you have earbuds in. Every day.

And I agree: Cancer sucks.

Tina Trent said...

Disappearing New York eccentricity. I Like Killing Flies.

Iman said...

I had no idea I was an artist until I read this post. My minimalist sketch work is genius in comparison.

PM said...

Kind of on par with Pati Hill who, back in the day, wanted to xerox Versailles.

Art in LA said...

I enjoy photography because I am horrible at drawing! With a camera, even the most complicated scene can be captured in a fraction of a second.

I recently purchased "How to Draw What You See" by Rudy de Rena ... maybe I'll figure out drawing one of these days.

RE: pens ... my everyday carry is the Pilot Precise Extra Fine.

Richard said...

He wasn't as successful as Bowerick Wowbagger.

"Bowerick Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged was a being who became immortal after an accident with a few rubber bands, a liquid lunch, and a particle accelerator. After a period of total boredom, especially on Sunday afternoons, he decided to insult everyone in the entire universe in alphabetical order."

Bob Boyd said...

set out to draw every person in New York

That's nothing. Zukabug set out to have a secret file on every person in the world.
And he's almost done.

stlcdr said...

Pens and pads - personally, I don't use a particular pen because someone else uses one (indeed, I think the ones this person used are rubbish, but it's all personal preference and what it's used for). I am also partial to Moleskin notebooks. I use Zebra F301, but not a drawer - technical writing and sketches.

More people need to draw, sketch, paint - not on a computer, but real drawing implements and a canvas of some sort.

Big Mike said...

You can get 12 of those things for $26.

But do they have Nancy Pelosi’s signature embossed in gold?

Ann Althouse said...

I really don't think you need to worry about whether your drawings are good. I would view it as a private practice of paying attention and seeing. Like taking notes or keeping a diary. And then there's the part where you look rather cool doing this. You could be sitting alone somewhere (or standing) and instead of looking at your phone, you are looking at things and then jotting them down. Really, it barely needs to be a drawing at all. It could be the written word or some combination of words and diagrams. Think of it as in the moment and don't judge whether the drawings are good. In Polan's case, the idea of becoming engaged in drawing everything is the art quite aside from the quality of the individual drawings. It reminds me of the idea of praying constantly. It has a religion-like aspect. It reminds me of that line I like so much in my favorite movie: "Tell me: why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality? I mean...I mean: is Mount Everest more "real" than New York? I mean, isn't New York "real"? I mean, you see, I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! I mean... I mean, isn't there just as much "reality" to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest?"

Bob Boyd said...

And then there's the part where you look rather cool doing this.

Do you have to wear a beret? Asking for a friend.

Lovernios said...

I think most people miss out on the beauty that surrounds us in daily life particularly little things. They're focused on bigger things, work, career, success, spirituality, meaning of life and the like. I like to photograph weeds. Especially tiny ones. No one cares about them. If they notice them at all, it is to destroy them. Many have beautiful flowers, or at least interesting ones. Maybe I should try drawing them.

My wife's ex is a sad example. He was searching for some kind of spiritual meaning, spending time in ashrams, churches, and such. He was looking at a far mountain and missed the world right under his nose, a beautiful wife and son. Although college educated he worked menial jobs to give him time and mind-room for his spiritual quest.

He lost his most precious gifts and died recently alone in a hospice in TX from Alzheimer's. Never to see his son and grandson.

Yancey Ward said...

I spent some time years ago trying to identify the best ink pen for crossword puzzles- the Uniball Elite is one of the best, but I eventually settled on the PilotG2 gel tips.

rkeva said...

Perhaps you would be interested in Philippe Halsman's Jump Book...

Lovernios said...

I prefer a Paper Mate Flair Felt Tip pen. It just feels right. I like the way it flows across the paper. It really is a paper mate.

William said...

He never got to me. He could have just taken pictures with his phone camera if it's so damn important....What desperate measures we resort to in order to find significance and permanence in our inconsequential, brief lives.

Lovernios said...

I also have a Fisher Space Pen. Interesting story about how that pen saved the lives of the Apollo crew. Space Pen

Art in LA said...

OK, you convinced me. I just bought a couple of "Pro-Art Spiral Sketch Book 4x6: 80 Sheets" from Amazon (oops, I should have linked from here, next time). I'll toss one in my backpack, see how it goes.

I've been shooting 4 or 5 rolls of film the past couple of years, old school "slow photography." With film, I find myself spending much more time looking around, "paying attention and seeing" before I take the shot. At about $1 per frame, from film purchase to processing/scanning, I am much more selective versus the rapidfire shooting using a digital camera.

With drawing, I'm gonna have to really slow down!

Karen said...

@Ann Althouse
This will explain why you love books like that.
Actually, it will explain the entire world we live in, and it only takes an hour to read.
The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning https://www.amazon.com/dp/B008JE7I2M/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_UeCmEbEQF0EM5

Robert Cook said...

"He could have just taken pictures with his phone camera if it's so damn important...."

Drawing someone, even for just a few moments or seconds, creates more involvement with the other person than taking a snap shot.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Karen. Will read.

@Art Let me know how it turns out.

donald said...

Was never gonna happen, just sayin.

Lovernios said...

Pilot, a Japanese company, makes some awesome pens, including "sumi brush" pens that work like calligraphy brushes. My wife has a couple of them.

Maillard Reactionary said...

Lovernios @10:58 AM: Very true. All of my photographic subjects are what might be called "humble things". Not Yosemite or colorful sunsets, things like that. Weeds. Pitch pine trees. A frozen pond. Marsh grass. That sort of thing. I never run out of material or things to see about it.

Blake:

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour..."

Blake was a mystic, I am not. Nature is infinitely strange and wonderful, the moreso the closer we look. Photography of simple things is good training in looking, and appreciating.

Maillard Reactionary said...

Art in LA: I use roll film too sometimes, but mostly TMAX 400 in 4x5, which is $2.60 a sheet. It really doesn't matter because I use so little of it; a day when I come home with more than 3 sheets to develop is unusual. I think it's the best B/W film that's ever been made. I hope they keep making it.

Slow works for me too.

If I don't make any pictures that's OK too. It's good exercise hiking with all that gear, and it's nice to be out in the woods where it's quiet and no one's bothering you. Never feels like wasted time to me.

I've tried drawing, I can't do it.

rhhardin said...

“A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst's couch.”

Anti-Oedipus

Inga said...

Uni-ball pens have long been my favorite. I use the Uni-ball Signo most times. Smooth. Love it.

rhhardin said...

I would view it as a private practice of paying attention and seeing. Like taking notes or keeping a diary.

"If you have given yourself a private definition of a word, then you must undertake to use the word in such-and-such a way. Wittgenstein

tcrosse said...

It looks like Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is still in print. Even if you don't draw, it helps draw attention to what you see.

tim in vermont said...

Who gets bored? What kind of person gets bored? Why is such a person writing for a major outlet?

cf said...

How marvelous, thanks, Althouse for turning me onto him.

I experienced that kind of a call in New York City, too, it was an epiphany, and I think I might have written of this before on here:

When I was living in SoCal and stuck in a cashier line, which would be often enough, I would entertain myself by imagining everyone was a cartoon. And it was great entertainment, everyone was So specific and charming in their own farSide kinda way. the wait time would fly!

So I get to NYC to visit family, and after a busy week of subways, ferries, exploring and tasting, I am on one more long ride back to Brooklyn and feeling "done". So I think, hey, entertain myself, look at all these folks like they are cartoons! and so I began.

The thing was, I could not do it. There was something about each person on that train too complex, too fully in their space, too real. With each one I perceived a Portrait. And could not conjure the cartoon. cool.

maybe it can be true anywhere. I repeatedly only found it there.

Respecto.

MadisonMan said...

That's a marvelous blogspot of his art. Thanks.