By Fred Lynch
Nearly everyone has seen the drawings of Saul Steinberg. He was one of the most brilliant and celebrated illustrators of the last century. But one kind of drawing was particularly difficult for him, and that was drawing from life - from observation. He was no urban sketcher, but at one point in his life, he certainly learned it's value. That's what's revealed in Reflections and Shadows, an interesting book assembled from interviews with Steinberg from the 1970's by Aldo Buzzi.
Saul Steinberg wasn't schooled as an artist or illustrator. He was trained as an architect. And it wasn't until he was in architecture school, in Italy, that he really seriously drew from observation for the first time. It was a struggle and a revelation.
"It's impossible to find anything new (to do in a drawing) without first giving something up. There's a moral in this. It's stinginess that holds us back, especially when we're not enamored of what we've discovered but are convinced it's good. There are those who, in working from life, continually use the baggage they picked up yesterday; they work from life without really looking, without working from life."
"…in drawing from life, I am no longer the protagonist; I become a kind of servant, a second class character." "And so I'm afraid that the drawing reveals certain parts of myself, areas of vulgarity where I don't tell the truth, making use of what I already know, commonplaces, and I see in myself-I mean in the drawing I've done-some of my regular faults: stopping without finishing, getting tired at a certain moment and failing to insist on some point that ought to be essential, out of timidity or laziness I don't insist, and so things don't end the way they should-the result doesn't live up to promise."