Drawing now – between the lines of contemporary art

I read this book (a while ago now, but only coming round to putting it on my blog) and made extensive notes on the topic that is discussed, something that I am so keen to understand, to be able to move forward in the art world.

I recently bought some of the ‘essential reading’ books for drawing 1, as when I started the course I was unsure if I really needed them all. I was so glad I bought them, especially ‘Drawing Now’. I made notes as I was reading the book and it has really got me thinking about what drawing is and actually (I never thought I would say this) but excited about drawing!!!!!

 Drawing Now

Preface – I got the feeling that the book would be about the processes and the understanding of various ways of drawing through movement and physical action. I feel that a lot other students on the course have amazing drawing skills to show and to be honest I find a lot of their blogs intimidating but is any of it going out of their comfort zone? Is it challenging the notion of drawing? Are they questioning what drawing is or are they simply ticking the boxes? (something I was advised not to try and do). Should we be challenging the notion of what drawing is? To be experimental? To be physical in the act of drawing? To go beyond what the course material is asking you to do.


What familiar possibilities of drawing can be extended and challenged to encompass abstract and conceptual practices. ‘It quickly became clear what our (the authors of the book) main concern was. The subjective nature of drawing over objective, observed study’. This is something that I feel I fall into. To be able to challenge and explore the concept of marks, line, texture and tone rather than ‘labelling’ it as a drawing – which to me is a very scary word.

However ‘drawing now’ goes onto to repeatedly state that ‘it does not advocate any particular position on what drawing should or should not be but rather asks questions that might suggest further direction and investigation’.

The introduction in ‘drawing now’ asks ‘what do we mean by conceptual? Are conceptual drawings theoretical, abstract, intangible or ambiguous?’

It presents drawings/thoughts that go beyond the notion of what is deemed as ‘figurative’.

Instead of translating the visual appearance of something ‘drawing now’ emphasises the performative and the speculative (does this mean/relate the actual movement of making a mark/drawing).

Art can be seen as either a means to participate in an art crisis – (what else can a visual piece offer) or as a means to escape aesthetic boundaries. ‘Drawing is a primal means of symbolic communication’ – we have always used drawing to explain and further our understanding of art as a language. An ongoing debate in drawing is that of the nature of drawing – it’s systems and methods.

Dumb line – Petherbridge

Drawing is a ‘primary means of symbolic communication’. It sits between the metaphysical and physical and/or relates to thought and perception. However since drawing refers to both the objective and subjective it can be confusing.

This book (drawing now) treats the subjective nature of drawing as primary and relates it to the objective nature rather than inserting the subjective. Is it impossible to not ask the question what is a drawing when talking about either the subjective or objective.

The properties in making a mark can change with its making which are central to an argument for subjective and conceptual drawing.

Jacques Derrida’s contradictory metaphor of blindness disturbs the assumption that drawing must provide evidence of observation. This idea is something that is at the centre of Derrida’s discussion which addresses the abstract dimensions of drawing and also ‘the way in which we, as drawers, engage with the world’.

Can you actually draw without memory? Without reflective process? Without some of your own interpretation? Consider the act of drawing itself. Contradicting between the will to imitate.

Derrida focuses on the contradiction between seeing and sight. If we deny sight as a means of reference we can only access understanding  when making the mark. This is the hypothesis of sight – something that the book refers to later on.

Playing with appearance

John Berger distinguishes between 3 types of drawing:

  1. Observation
  2. Communicating ideas
  3. Memory

‘each drawing speaks in a different tense’ which requires a ‘different capacity for imagination’.

The idea that he refers to ‘tenses’ when talking of drawing, he implies that drawing is a verb (the act of doing something). In addressing the action of drawing he demonstrates that ideas and memory are impossible to not have without at least having the memory of observation.

Going into the tenses – he mentions about:

  • the present tense – drawing from observation
  • past and memory – reference
  • future/ what is absent – projection

Drawing plays with appearance – controlling/ being controlled/ seeing/ thinking/ remembering/ imagining as the image emerges.

It continuously shifts itself in the course of its making. E.g. a child who draws a table with 4 legs splayed out shows their understanding of a table needing 4 legs for it to function which is more important than its appearance.

Newman – discusses drawing as a ‘theatre of gesture’. He promotes a focus on drawing as a process. ‘Drawing now’ abandons the idea of appearance and instead presents the experience of something. We focus on drawing the invisible, the ‘unseen’.

The thought of drawing

Petherbridge questions – in what sense can drawing be conceptual? – he mentions ‘reduction’ drawing. Reduction occurs during the analytical process of looking that takes place in objective drawing when objects are reduced to non-existent lines.

Sol Lewitt says that the process of conception and the process of visualisation are of equal importance. Lewis makes the distinction that the idea (the components) implicate the concept (the general direction).

Conceptual thinking in drawing promotes an inability to define.

The book goes onto discuss concept in art and that it must be discussed verbally to go on and find out a meaning or definition of a piece, and for it to form into a recognisable thing. When looking at a drawing, indicating the inference by all things not said but expressed in other ways.  References may have ‘senses’ indicated by the way they are expressed through drawing.

George Miller – in making sense of an image we construct various ideas to make sense of the possible meanings.

The process of representation by concept and imagination are discussed by Immanuel Kent. He distinguishes between understanding and imagining what is demonstrable and what is not. He clarifies between 2 ideas of conceptual drawing: 1. rational ideas and 2. aesthetic ideas.

Rational ideas – elements that form an understanding of something objective so that the concept is graspable.

Aesthetic ideas – representation of the imagination without it being definitive of anything. It is subjective. An aesthetic idea is more visceral (relating to a deep inward feeling rather than intellect) than visual.

John Willats – distinguishes between elements in a drawing e.g. lines within a drawing and the marks made – the way in which they are drawn, their capacity to be expressive, their ‘sound’. Physical engagement with the drawing process moves away from depiction to something that is too complex to understand.

Hypothesis of sight (reflection?)

Without representation, which requires definition of some sort, experience remains continuous – I like the idea of an un-finished article?!

Derrida’s act of drawing utilises physical operations as analogies (comparison between things): the movement of the hand, touching the paper and drawing the line. Play on associations of the uses between the hand to work in harmony with the eye.

Juliet McDonald – visually illustrates the use of the hand in the process of drawing.

The book keeps talking about memory quite a lot and i’m not sure if I am able to quite grasp the idea of it – at the moment at which the pencil makes contact with the paper we cannot see what is going to emerge and yet that pencil anticipates what is to come.

Brien demonstrates a complete self-absorption, that the process of drawing is an extreme immersion in reaction and anticipation. Her description of her works confirms that the performative process of drawing is liminal, moving between conscious decision and unconscious compulsion. Brien spends as much time removing lines as she does replacing them. She also suggests that the ‘removal marks’ add another kind of mark in the making of her drawings. The physical act of drawing touches on the difference between what is seen and what is conceived. Before Brien starts a drawing she has an idea of what she wants but she avoids being too restrictive and as she draws she adapts to what is working and what is not. Her ‘ideas’ are movements and qualities not definitive things. She is driven by what happens on paper and feels that at times she is not the one in control. This links the idea of drawing blind and the mechanics of thinking.

Performative drawing – changing in its own terms, as it performs itself.

Drawings collated in this book focus on what is happening, what is being felt and what is being thought. Drawing here is an active and imaginative performance, a place of demonstrative production.

Drawing is first performative and second a product to demonstrate a visual appearance. The collections of drawings in the book emphasise what drawing is (its physical nature) and the way it conceives ideas (thinks).

Kant attempts to differentiate 2 processes of drawing: 1. demonstrate the drawer’s immersion in the activity of drawing and in turn, typically performative 2. demonstrates a rational application of the imaginary

Drawing hypothesis: it demonstrates oppositional conditions and proposes concepts that are neither proved or disproved, true to false.

(Hypothesis drawings definition contradictory).

Figurative – drawing here recollects the experience of sensations other than vision – Emin/Schneider

Appears to tell a story, that is clearly not of this world – Woodfine

Plays cognitive games – Cambre

When delineating space in recognisble form using simple, unpretentious, gestural line. Dumb line – playful and humourous – Shrigley/Evans/Jeff Gabel

When the line becomes obsessive, it challenges the premise of drawings flatness as illusion of space and is made real – Mckenzie/Locke/Bowlby

The book explains drawing as a representation of experience rather than appearance and in this sense disregards perception.

Artist’s from the book that I find interesting:

  • Julie Brixey-Williams (performed drawings)
  • Mary Clare Foa
  • Hewitt & Jordan
  • Benoit Jacques
  • James Madden
  • Jordan Mckenzie
  • Ming-hui Chen
  • Anne-Marie Schneider
  • Barthelemy Toguo

Author surname then initials (2007) Drawing Now: Between the lines of Contemporary Art

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