Charcoal Art in the Digital Age

These days, everyone seems to be talking about the impact of computers and social media—and handheld devices in particular—upon the human psyche and attention span. The general response seems to be measured in a feeling of helplessness in the face of an inevitable, undeniable force. Is it really so irresistible, though? After all, we are still in charge of our own thoughts and choices…right? We could simply choose to put down our phones and interact on an authentic, human level. Let’s actually experience our lives again, and absorb and appreciate our surroundings with deeper attention than just a rushed, cursory glance between texts. Looking back on our lives, is a screen all we want to remember? Will we have any memories? How many real experiences will we have sacrificed in the name of keeping up to the minute online? It’s time to look up and employ underutilized portions of our brains once again, re-triggering ancient neural pathways for the sake of our own mental and physical health.

Charcoal art represents the antithesis of (and an excellent remedy for) the instant gratification offered by all things digital. Drawing and sketching take an enormous amount of time, patience, and dedication, and require the use of the hands in relation to physical objects and textures. The creation of art relies upon natural light and non-virtual, three-dimensional, living, breathing subjects. It’s messy. It’s a process requiring deep, close, and uninterrupted attention. When the artist finishes a piece, he or she has something tangible to treasure, show, and keep—something highly personal and irreplaceable. Because art is made with human hands, no two pieces will ever be exactly alike—until they are printed or duplicated on a machine. Perhaps the only similarity between this and the digital experience is that one can get truly lost in art. 

Charcoal Art in the Digital Age

Study of Arms and Hands - Leonardo da Vinci.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the relentless nature of the small, incessant bursts of information offered by social media, try enrolling in a charcoal art class. Once you show up, the structure and engagement of the art form will keep you there. No one will be checking their phones, but everyone will be exploring a deeper part of themselves. You’ll be part of a tradition that has spanned centuries. You’ll be interacting with others and learning a new skill—or practicing an old one. Most importantly, you’ll be re-accessing the facets of your consciousness that excel at perseverance, care, and attention. Report back in the comments and tell us your experiences!

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