Archive for January, 2010


A history of drawing in three paragraphs

January 22, 2010

A history of drawing in three paragraphs for the Open College of the Arts…..
The first known drawings known are cave paintings, the most famous of which are those in Lascaux, France. Such early examples of mark making were clearly designed to communicate a message, but the aesthetic quality of these communications was transparently demonstrated in the earliest of marks, not just in cave paintings, but also in symbols produced in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), and later in Eygpt and China. In non Western societies art, calligraphy and craft have always been enmeshed, and drawing as communication is something that is universal, and through history remains a constant reason for picking up a mark making tool. The ‘reasons’ for drawing through the ages, the struggles with drawing conventions and styles, while not remaining static, are still pertinent in the 21st century. There is today, a resurgence of interest in drawing, and a re-examination of the role of dawing in the field of art.

It was not until around 1300 that paper existed and not until around 1500 that drawing paper was created. Before that, the concept of ‘sketching’ or preliminary drawings did not exist. The artist/artisan working from Byzantium through to the medieval world were producing images to the glory of God, using conventions that were based on simple geometrics, and were working directly onto specially prepared boards or parchments, using copybooks and imagery that was carried down through the ages. The 15th century was a time of dramatic change with the beginnings of the Renaissance. The rediscovery of classical art, a new interest in science, the development of artistic patronage, and the new role of the artist as a profession were the key factors driving the the huge expansion in the concept of drawing. Instead of being just a craft skill, drawing became a tool with which to investigate the natural world, and most importantly a way of artists expressing their own views of the world around them. Drawing became a tool for design and experiment, and with the advent of a system to describe the three dimensional world: linear perspective, later in the 15th century, the boundaries of drawing expanded phenomenally. Leaonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo pushed drawing towards descriptions and visions of nature, dissecting bodies to investigate the detail of the bone and muscle under human skin. Brunelleschi used drawing to design the most incredible new architecture, using his new perspective system, while the Renaissance artist Pisanello created beautiful drawings of animals that stand in their own right as works of art.

During the sixteenth century with the rise of the academies, drawing training became rigid, and trainee artists were asked to copy classical statues and other artists’ work to learn how to draw. Formulae were prescribed for facial and bodily expressions and the ‘rules’ for portraying people were very tight and controlled by the mid 17th century, as exemplified in the French Academies. By the 18th century there was rebellion against the strictures of the academy and many artist enthusiastically adopted the softer and freer stylistic licence provided by the Romantic movement in art. By the 19th century there were two definite streams of art practice, exemplified in the drawings and paintings of Ingres (highly contrived, rigorous classical work) and Courbet: naturalistic, who wanted to portray the harsh realism of the world and work directly from nature. This was the beginning of the move to much greater diversification in approaches to drawing, though the rigid academies approach persisted right through into the 20th century in parallel to many more innovative approaches to drawing (and painting). Reform was patchy but persistent, the Vienna secession pushed some reform in art training: throught the campaigns of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, whose stunning work is still popular today. The drawings of these two are so intensely different from just being about observation and copying. Their drawings are about personal expression, feeling, pathology. By now, drawing could be used to aid the expression of personal feelings, or have a whole range of other purposes. The invention and popular dissemination of photography had a fundamental effect on artists’ drawing. The need to copy ‘reality’ had lessened, the camera could do that. The Impressionists in particular experimented with a range of drawing media, previously frowned on. Charcoal, inks, graphite became common currency for drawing. Now paper was available in much bigger sizes, and with the advent of abstraction early in the 20th century, the role of drawing was challenged again, so that the ‘making of marks’ of all kinds became honoured, and the process of drawing became something of interest, rather than just the output. Now, in the 21st century, drawing can be anything. The reasons for drawing are so disparate it is impossible to encapsulate its role in a paragraph. This freedom in drawing is both exciting and terrifying. As a budding artist, as someone interested in studying drawing, it is important to understand the meandering path the development of drawing has taken. It is also important to have control of the media you use, and to be able to interpret what you see, and communicate it effectively in drawing. To be able to do this, you still have to observe, observe, observe, and practice practice, practice.


Contemporary Art

January 19, 2010

Contemporary art.

A talk by Sheila Mcgregor.

Sheila is the Chief Exec of Axis Web, the repository for contemporary artists in the UK. Sheila talked eloquently about art of all eras, so I jumped at the chance to go and hear her talk about contemporary art in Sheffield last week. Her definition of ‘contemporary art’ is ‘made within last 10 years’.

I found the assertion that commercial galleries take risks that municipal galleries do not take illuminating. The examples she provided were of the White cube in Hoxton and Mason’s Yard near Piccadilly. She also mentioned the soon to be opened (local for me) Hepworth gallery in Wakefield and the wonderful Cohen collection in Wolverhampton. Take note if these are in your geographic zone.
Sheila talked about various forms of contemporary art through examples by artists including Toby Ziegler who uses computers to plan images of a richly patterned nature and Ian Davenport, who drips and pours paints very carefully to form stunning images, a sort of ‘ Josef Albers meets Saturday Night Fever’. She then talked about sculpture as a way of occupying space and highlighted the work of Eva Rothschild, who will open the new Wakefield Gallery with her work shortly. Other types of sculpture are often better described as installation, such as the work of Egolafur Eliasson, and even more tangential are Public Art statements such as the work of Jeremy Dellar in which public art revisits conflict. My question is Is this art ? Sheila refuses to get in a stew about the definition of fine art, and I certainly came away feeling that nowadays art can be ANYTHING. She requoted Gombrich: ‘There is no such thing as art, only artists’. She also suggested that art is a comment on experience, and an invitation to look, but to be art it must contain at least two of the following elements:
• content….
• concepts …
• technique …
• method. …
• process
She gave the example of contemporary art often being temporary and responding to a particular site such as Annika Eriksson’s temporary flood lighting of the famous (or infamous?) sixties Park Hill housing estate in Sheffield and Philippa Lawrence’s bringing trees back to life in a quirky and delightful way.

Sheila also talked about the role of photography in art, and this raised the question about the length and breadth of art: photography as art, art as photography. She highlighted the work of Nan Goldin. which has a personal and political dimension and the role of film or performance in tightly demarked space, often about the art is simply in creating a relationship with the viewer. She showed an amusing Youtube link to an Ultra-red performance piece. Hmmm, I didn’t think it was art, but entertainment.