A new folio, Drawn on Land, is here. It is concerned with the minimal, not only which crosses and clouds drawing but also has expressive content that is not explicit.
Drawing outside yesterday I was marveling at the tools we have created for ourselves from the first human first noticed his capacity to create a line. Now the choice has expanded through so many tools, points, colors and effects but it hasn’t given a line any more meaning or power nor made the Art of Drawing any better. What power can invest a line in one person’s hand and not another’s.
iTunes U has a number of on line courses. Administrators in academia are drooling over the prospect of distant learning in this way, more customers and lower faculty costs are too delicious a prospect to ignore. It is part of the New Stupid where technology has outpaced ways to use it and so technology has formed new eddies of activity because of itself rather than in the service of some other more pressing need. (Steve Jobs understood this implicitly) The dark side of technology’s power is that it negates labor and is more about bottom line-save-money-and-lower-labor-costs than it is about freeing people from laborious tasks. Learning from the screen is not well understood. It is not the simple broadcast of information. Something else happens in learning. It usually requires another human present in the flesh. Beats me what that transfer is or why it is, but it isn’t simply sending some text or audio over the internet to a recipient who will then take in the knowledge like a donut.
Nonetheless, on line courses have interested me for a long time and I poke around looking at them from time to time to find what’s being offered, what’s popular and what readings are being assigned. Yesterday on ITuneU I watched The Elements of Drawing (taken from Ruskin’s legendary book available from Dover) and was pleasantly surprised by how well the instructor, Stephen Farthing, used the medium. It’s very, very simply done and it seems a credible course for the beginner or one who wants to refresh his idea of drawing. The lessons were simple, direct and with methods that are easily learned. Oxford University has a group of courses on various topics and The Ruskin School of Art has these subsets. It’s free and for anyone interested, I recommend it as a good way to refresh you basic thoughts and practice about drawing from nature. The internet does simple very well.
In the morass of critical language it’s refreshing to return to the simple.
Even though we expected a crowd yesterday, an artist friend and I decided to see the Balthus Exhibition at The Met one more time before it closed. I was again surprised by his precocious drawing series on the loss of his cat, Mitsou.
I had been stirred by its premature blossoming of a young artist’s gift, but yesterday my admiration developed to wonder.
Since I’ve spent that last several months looking at a reprint of the book, examining these drawings again in the gallery, the force, the conceptual (neurological, I really mean) power, the comprehension and manipulation of visual space is so advanced, I started to wonder if some other artist had created them.
How does a kid have that ability at that age?
The visual sophistication of those drawings is singular. On my way home in a cab last night I started to wonder if Balthus had any childhood in the sense of a visual innocence.
The act of drawing is both intensely focused and calmly meditative. Drawing is the one creative act that is always available no matter where you are or what tools you have. An extension of the finger, a drawing is the most primal of all first utterances of the soul. The thought before it is a thought, it expresses an idea before it is even formed into language.
Curious to me is the over-worked term, mark making, which is favored in almost every sentence where drawing is included in academic programs. It seems meaningless for its vague generality and imprecision at the same time it alludes to some primal hitting of one rock against another to make a mark which either forms something, a tool, an axe, or says simply, “I’m here!” as early man might have done. Although I haven’t researched it, it would be my bet that the term rose in use at the time that art school drawing standards which had included surface anatomy and accurate rendering of the seen world, was being replaced by the unfortunate term “creative” drawing programs which were anything but creative and required no similarity to reference as current critical ideas were gaining traction in colleges and university programs.
Admittedly it is a particular bugaboo of mine — I have started to count the number of times it is used in crits and surveys — when one can reach more closely to describe what is happening in a drawing. I see these placid drawings described as mark making where there isn’t even a distant echo of the intensity or necessity that the neanderthal’s mark attained. Words do matter and especially when trying to describe a practice so essential to the nature of an art.