Tom Froese
Mercy and Truth

The Real and The Ideal: Opposing Forces or Best Buds?

Or, What Shaving My Beard Taught Me About Art

I did something rash on Friday. I got carried away in my beard-grooming, and now it is gone. My beard is literally my identity (just look at my logo). It’s been years since I’ve seen my actual jawline, the actual shape of my face. Now I know why I have embraced the beard. Suddenly I am the shell of the man I thought I was. If you own a cat, imagine shaving its fur off. That is the real cat beneath the fur. The fur coat is what makes the cat cute and cuddly. The coat is an interface, a way of mediating between the raw truth of the cat (hairless rat-like creature) and our ideals of what the cat should be (cute and cuddly). I am now a hairless cat. My beard was an interface, mediating between the raw truth of my bone structure and pale features and whatever it is I am perceived to be to others, and to myself when looking in the mirror.

By now you might be wondering what this has to do with illustration. Can I tie this back to art? Naturally, I’ve been thinking about that. It’s really something to do with the relationship between The Real and the The Ideal.

By now you might be wondering what this has to do with illustration. Can I tie this back to art? Naturally, I’ve been thinking about that. It’s really something to do with the relationship between The Real and the The Ideal. On the one hand, you have the raw truth about something, and on the other, you have some kind of cosmetic adjustment to it that makes it more palatable. There’s what we have, and then there’s what we desire. This idea is at play throughout all of life, and so of course you’re going to find it in art as well. In fact, I imagine that art is really just a concentrated manifestation of this principle. After all, art is a root word of artifice. Art is where we aim for a balance of the real and the ideal. We somehow must communicate through the familiar, through forms that reference the real, but add layers that make the experience of the real new, by idealizing, reshaping, stylizing, face-lifting, beard-growing.

Art is where we aim for a balance of the real and the ideal. We somehow must communicate through the familiar, through forms that reference the real, but add layers that make the experience of the real new, by idealizing, reshaping, stylizing, face-lifting, beard-growing.

Is there more virtue in drawing with pencil on paper than doodling in Procreate? Is a physical painting, with all its visible, non-undoable flaws more valuable than a painting perfectly composed in Photoshop?

Is there more virtue in drawing with pencil on paper than doodling in Procreate? Is a physical painting, with all its visible, non-undoable flaws more valuable than a painting perfectly composed in Photoshop?

Circling back to the beard (in a very forced segue), my beardless face is the real. It’s at least in some way closer to a “raw truth” than when it’s adorned by my beautiful, golden fringe. The beard is not a lie, but a frame. It bolsters my jawline, not in a deceitful way, but as a more malleable part of my truth. I can’t control the structure of my face, but I can mold and shape the hair the grows from it.

Illustrator. Creatively Empowering Teacher/Speaker. Represented by Making Pictures/UK & Dot Array/USA. Top Teacher on @skillshare. www.tomfroese.com/links