Friday, September 2, 2011

The Art of Copy

A fun movie about a boy and his baseball dreams
"The great Babe Ruth steps up to the plate. His bat rests quietly on his shoulder. He leans into the plate. His eyes meet the glare of the pitcher, calmly, confidently. He breathes in, breathes out, his eye on the approaching ball. The bat swings, connects the ball with a crack, another home run! The crowd roars!" The young man swings, hearing the roar of the crowd in his mind.

A young ice skater imagines skating like Michelle Kwan or Scott Hamilton.
An artist copies the works of the artists he admires, working and observing the details, the technique, the colors, the shapes, the shadows of the work.
An aspiring musician imitates the style and finger technique of his favorite musician, playing air guitar, taking in his movements, learning by  paying close attention and studying each move and note played. The Suzuki Method teaches by listening to the pieces being played, then reproducing them on the student's instrument. By copying.

Many foreign language programs use listening, repeating, hearing the sounds of the foreign words and imitating them. Again, copying.
Children watch those around them, attempt to follow their actions, singing out the familiar words, "Me too!"
At school, the students  watch and copy their teacher, repeating her words, following her example. A good teacher teaches by attitude, enthusiasm; by repetition the subject is caught, duplicated. Or, they copy the other students around them, for good or bad lessons.
Whatever field, you can find examples of learning by copying. Science, sports, art, math, music, language and writing all afford examples of copying in order to learn.
Two of my favorite examples in the writing field are Benjamin Franklin and Jack London.
In his Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin gives ten steps to "elegant writing." These are paraphrased:

  1. Choose a piece of writing that inspires or challenges you; that you wish to imitate.
  2. Make a list of short hints of the sentiments in each sentence.
  3. Wait a few days.
  4. Without looking back at the original, try to complete the papers again by expressing each sentiment at length and as fully as had been expressed before in any suitable words that should come to hand.
  5. Compare your work with the original.
  6. Discover any faults, and correct them. Look for word mastery and variety.
  7. Turn prose into verse, turn verse into prose, then turn them back again.
  8. Wait a few days again.
  9. Jumble the list of hints into confusion, then reduce them into the best order, which teaches method in arrangement of thoughts
  10. Discover the faults, and mend them, improving on the original if possible.
Eliot, C.W.(1980) The Harvard Classics. Grolier Enterprises Corp.

Jack London spent many, many hours at the San Francisco library, reading and painstakingly copying word by word the writings of great authors recommended by the librarian. Uneducated, independent and poor, he taught himself by copying.

I collect quotes related to this art of copying. It is a fascinating and simple method of learning and teaching. As September begins and schools get back in gear, this is a good time to evaluate how we learn. To take lessons from the greats, no matter what field you are studying.

 "You should constantly try to paint like someone else. But the thing is, you can't! You would like to. You try. But it turns out to be a botch...And it's at the very moment you make a botch of it that you're yourself."                                 --Pablo Picasso

"...keep your eye on the pros. Study their moves, pick up their tricks, imitate them if you like. As contradictory as it sounds, imitation is one of the quietest paths toward finding your own voice. Though he was talking about painting, the words of Pablo Picasso, the most original of artists, apply equally to writing..."                                --Harry Bauld
                                                                On Writing the College Application Essay 
I love that phrase, "...the quietest paths toward finding your own voice."

Is this a Biblical concept? Deuteronomy 17:18-20, directed toward future kings says:
"Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel."
Who are your teachers? Who would you like to copy?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your well-thought-out article. I agree.

    Becoming familiar with something teaches.

    Whether it be gazing at a painting that is pinned to the wall, listening to a piece of classical music (or other), reading the "whole" novel rather than the Literature Textbook's excerpt - each strongly influences the one who goes forth to paint, play an instrument, or write for himself. The model influences. Yet as you say, originality comes forth, too.

    This is especially true with Charlotte Mason's method of narration. When a child narrates he is copying from some of the best writers in-a-way yet he develops a style all his own.

    It's neat to see you are reading my book, "Companion."
    We listened to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on audio when our children were children. Hearing read was fun. It seems to be more poetry than prose.
    Karen A.