I have drawn in Italy since my student days almost 30 years ago. While at first I was anxious about Italians staring over my shoulder while I worked, a compliment or two went a long way to emboldening me to draw in places where crowds couldn’t be avoided. On a Gabriel Prize in France ten years after graduation I drew in the packed corridors of the Louvre, where I was jostled, filmed by Japanese tourists, and occasionally complimented. As I have grown more sure in my abilities, I have begun to relish my role as a sort of “performance artist,” since what I do is just rare enough that I see my role as partly evangelical, spreading the word about the value of drawing after the Old Masters.
In that light nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to draw a crowd of kids when I’m at work in Italy. Italian children, still largely uncorrupted by the crush of technology that buries most American kids, are instinctively fascinated by someone drawing: I can almost guarantee that Italian pre-teens will pull their parents to watch me at work, and they are not shy about expressing admiration (imagining, no doubt, that I am much more famous than I am in fact). Other kids in other places have stopped to watch me at work, but nowhere else as consistently. I believe many children, with encouragement (or at least without discouragement) from their parents, love to draw, and associate being artistic with being able to draw (i.e. represent) accurately what they see. Representational art is natural, proper to us: we have to be taught to “like” non-representational art, and since we naturally appreciate representational art we also naturally appreciate those who do it well (the Old Masters) over the moderns who mostly do not.