Can You Draw Like This?
Humbling skyscrapers, heart-stopping monuments, glistening fountains, and the sights and sounds of hundreds of people in every direction was an image more often than not conjured within the prison of my imagination. Considering I was native to a modest, rural town in the forested region of Southeast Massachusetts, a building hosting more than four floors was considered much more impressive than it actually was. The inherent behavior of my hometown made it evident that humans were at the mercy of nature. Buildings did not grow higher than trees. Roads were not without cracks from erosion and the emerald grasses that picked them apart, albeit gradually. A rainfall meant that basements would be flooding and our great many lakes and ponds would block streets and engulf backyards in their overflow. A rare hurricane, or even an all-too-common thunderstorm or blizzard, would almost certainly knock down telephone poles and send trees flying into cars and homes without restraint. As if she were the Grim Reaper haunting our streets, Mother Nature would end a life just by pointing her windy finger. Some days, it seemed the world decided that my daily life seemed constantly in need of a nature-borne obstacle, and the weather acted accordingly.
Perhaps these surroundings are what lead humanity’s greatest triumphs to baffle me. It is thoroughly amazing that our species can launch something that reaches farther into outer space than we ever dreamed possible a few generations ago. It is incomprehensible to me that we have been able to spread to every corner of the globe and thrive there. It is nothing short of wonderful to stand face-to-face with an office building that reaches a hundred stories into the sky where it condenses into a point at the edge of my field of vision. I have spent years of my life constantly stupefied by the world’s most impressive accomplishments on the fronts of both nature and humanity. It never fails to inspire me and plant a smile on my face.
For the longest time, I have been fixated on New York City. While it was possible that I simply craved this feeling of amazement, I also was fully aware that the overcast Massachusetts nights were lonely and silent aside from the occasional hum of crickets and hoot of owls. I wanted to fall asleep to the sounds of horns honking and the incomprehensible chatter of human speech. The problem with too much silence is that there remains a tendency for thoughts to wander and find ways to amaze their designer, often to the point of dragging consciousness into the small hours of the morning.
My wishes finally became reality when my mother and I boarded a six-hour bus ride destined for the Big Apple early on a foggy August morning. The farther south we traveled, the more magnificent my surroundings grew. My amazement would be nothing compared to the skyline of New York City herself, standing proudly in the sunlight. This was not the first time I had visited. In fact, I had walked the streets of this particular city twice before with family and friends. Nevertheless, I was excited and ready to return for more.
My mother and I spent the day walking the entire expanse of Manhattan. Not only was I in awe of my surroundings, but I was also very impressed that it was possible for my feet to ache as much as they did at the end of the day. When I plopped onto my likely-uncomfortable hotel bed, it suddenly became the most wonderful place on Earth. Once in a blue moon, I sleep like a baby, with no strange and perplexing thoughts. My first night in Manhattan was one of those great exceptions.
What happened the next day was what changed my perspective on humanity’s dominion over nature forever. My feet still sore from the previous day, my mother and I traveled by subway to Central Park in hopes of visiting both the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This being my third visit to both of these museums, I already knew of my preference for the former. However, some very fond memories were made in the latter. My excitement to return to both of them was running high.
There are two indications that imply an incredible experience - either time stops or time loses its meaning. In the Metropolitan, the hours passed as though they were being warped by my own brain, as if it were so focused on its surroundings that it simply lost the ability to understand the fourth dimension. After all, the art in this museum only needs the first three.
My favorite part of the Met is the area hosting the artwork created millennia ago by the Ancient Egyptians. I have always been fascinated not only by the style but by the theology behind their artistic decisions. Gazing at the jackal-headed statues and the depictions of animals as deities and leaders brings one closer to what it means to be human. The Ancient Egyptians saw nature as the ruling force of their entire realm, and while they live in a time long gone, they stand out in a city where many of these forces once deemed godly are subservient. I suppose the artwork is relatable, in a way.
Once we stepped out of the elegant yet primitive Egyptian gallery, we made our way into the high-reaching, dome-topped contrast that was the Greek and Roman statue room. Where Egypt failed to capture perspective and proportion, these works were as lifelike as the people staring up at them. One lonely, older man was sitting on a stool in the center of the room with an easel, intently focused on his drawing. Wearing a pink button-down shirt and a beige beret with matching khakis, he resembled one’s idea of a stereotypical artist. Curious, my mother and I walked behind him to see what it was that he was sketching. What was on the canvas was breathtaking. His hand steady and moving with ease, a hyper-realistic sketch of the statue just in front of him was taking form. I instantly knew I would never be able to draw like that. While we had just spent three hours so far wandering halls boasting the greatest artwork humanity could offer, it was at this moment that I truly felt inadequate.
The artist stopped his work and turned around, an inviting smile forming on his face. “Do you draw?” he asked.
I glanced back at my mother and shrugged. “Yeah. Sometimes.”
“Do you like to draw?”
I hesitated for a moment, unsure of where he was going with this conversation. Sure, I like to draw. I love writing even more. Even though I hide it, I enjoy singing too, so long as I am alone. “Yes,” I said, “I like to draw.”
“Do you want to draw like this?”
“One day, certainly.”
The artist smiled a bit wider. “Can you draw like this?”
I giggled to myself. Of course not. “No way,” I replied, slightly embarrassed.
He nodded and shifted himself to face me head on. “Do you draw?” I raised a brow. Hadn’t he just asked the same question before? Was I going crazy? He took my hand and placed his pen in my palm, wrapping my fingers around it. “Do you draw?”
“Yes,” I said, quietly. “I draw.”
He nodded, moving my hand and holding it to his canvas. “You can draw like this.” I remained silent. “There are two kinds of people in this world - people who want to draw and people who draw. There are people who want to write and people who write. There are people who want to be artists and there are artists. So long as you take a pen in your hand and create something, you have the world in your hands. People judge their skills on how good they are now, and that is what stops ninety percent of the world’s greatest creators from ever coming to be. That is why talent means nothing without perseverance.”
“So,” he began after a pause, gently smiling. “Can you draw like this?”
I stared at the picture on the easel. How could I ever draw like this? Then, it dawned on me. There are three more kinds of people in this world. There are people who allow nature to control them. There are people who are foolish enough to believe they are above such forces. And there are people who harness the power of the natural world. They wield it by setting it free in the form of art.
“Yes, I can.”
Anika Tullos is a 16-year-old from Massachusetts.