Changing thoughts on why I draw

I have been looking at the book Drawing Now: eight propositions. This is a thought provoking book and the introductory chapter, Drawing is a noun, made me really think about why I draw and led to the realisation that the answer to that is changing as I work my way through this course. Prior to starting the course I would have said that I wanted to learn to draw ‘properly’ i.e. for whatever I was drawing to look exactly like whatever I was trying to draw. The closer that an artist’s work looked like something I could clearly recognise as being accurate, the better I thought it was. I still want to be able to learn to draw well and accurately and develop the technical skills but increasingly I am realising that there is so much more to it than that, and that one of those things that is vitally important is artistic interpretation, and that, with the drawings or paintings by artists that I view, it is this that can repel or attract me, bore or stimulate me, take my breath away or leave me cold. This is an area, that at present, I feel I am decidedly lacking in, that and an imaginative approach. I would like to now increasingly work at being able to interpret rather than just ‘copy’, to be able to capture the essence of the subject, to become increasingly aware of the variety of methods available, to be aware and open to the vast number of approaches that artists are using now and have used in the past, and to be able to appreciate and relish the different approaches. At present my actual drawing skills are still quite limited and I am still at the point where I am trying to learn as much as I can of the technical drawing skills, the ways to draw, so that I am able to actually draw what I am looking at. That is something that I need to continue to work on, but I can get so caught up in trying to do that, that I can forget to try and experiment, I can be too scared to take risks and I can become too blinkered and narrow in my approach towards a drawing.

The introduction to this book looks at drawing and takes the premise that drawing is a noun. Now, previously I would have thought of drawing as a verb as when I draw I am doing something, trying to produce something.  Early in the chapter Richard Serra (who I discovered on wikipedia is an American minimalist sculptor) is quoted as saying “ ‘There is no way to make a drawing – there is only drawing. Anything you can project as expressive in terms of drawing – ideas, metaphors, emotion, language structures – results from the act of doing.” Simply put, for Serra and for many artists of his generation, “Drawing is a verb.’ ” And that made sense. But the chapter suggests that the work that the artists shown in the book are doing “are creating a kind of drawing that refers as much to the language of life around us as it does to fine art – that can communicate information, narrate a story, create a scenario, or conjure a world or a system of belief” and it goes on to say “With all respect to Serra, for many artists today drawing is not a verb but a noun”.  And I found that that really made me think as to the difference. Wikipedia explained that Serra was involved in the Process Art Movement. This was a movement that I had not heard of before and Wikipedia explained that “Process art is an artistic movement as well as a creative sentiment where the end product of art and craft, the objet d’art, is not the principal focus. The ‘process’ in process art refers to the process of the formation of art: the gathering, sorting, collating, associating, patterning, and moreover the initiation of actions and proceedings. Process art is concerned with the actual doing and how actions can be defined as an actual work of art; seeing the art as pure human expression. Process art often entails an inherent motivation, rationale, and intentionality. Therefore, art is viewed as a creative journey or process, rather than as a deliverable or end product”. I could now understand why the chapter suggested that drawing is not a verb but a noun as though I believe art is a creative journey I also believe that the end product is actually very important, it is the end product that has within it the artists interpretation, a glimpse into how the artist sees, feels about his/her subject, that as, for example, when I look at a painting by Turner or Monet opens my eyes to a whole new way of seeing. And as I progress through this course I am beginning to increasingly realise that thinking about what I am trying to say in my drawing, and why I am drawing whatever I am drawing, is as important as acquiring technical skills. This however is something that I am going to need to work on so that I can try and develop as I progress, because up until now I have mainly concentrated on acquiring technical skills and if I thought I was lacking in those, it is nothing to how much I feel I am lacking in my ability to express and interpret. I still like a drawing to look like whatever I am trying to draw. However, for the first time for me, that is no longer enough. I might be able to draw an onion for instance, and make it look just like the onion I am looking at, and at the beginning of the course I would have thought that that is what I needed to do and would have been really pleased if I had managed it, but there is a growing need and wish inside me to do more than that. Increasingly I am beginning to realise that there is a difference, and that difference is extremely important. When I did the recent exercise, using hatching to create tone, I drew several pieces of fruit in my sketch book as preparation and was left with the feeling that I may as well have drawn plastic fruit for all the character that my drawings had, they looked like the objects but they had no life to them. At present I might not know how to, may not feel able, or confident enough to, but I do know that I want to do more than ‘a copy’ and that something is changing within me, that for me now a “good” drawing is no longer necessarily one that looks exactly like the subject, it is something extra, something personal. I don’t want my drawings to be verbs, I would like the end product to reflect my journey and to grow from being a ‘copy’ to being an interpretation.


Drawing Now: eight propositions. Hoptman, Laura. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002.


Man of Steel by Sean O’Hagan, an article in The Observer newspaper 05/10/2008

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One Response to Changing thoughts on why I draw

  1. Reblogged this on The Milkman Goes To College and commented:
    Some interesting reflections on why we draw and a discussion on “Drawing is a verb” v “Drawing is a noun”. Worth checking out.

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