Friday, 17 September 2010


Seymour Chwast
Some readers didn't care much for the figure drawings in my previous post:
I can't believe such pointless work is still being appreciated today. Anyone can achieve the same thing in half a second with a camera...

The art schools were not producing artists, in fact that is something you can't really teach.... These people were highly skilled in a craft that could just as easily have been carpentry or building.

My camera is capable of interpretations too, I can set it to add filters and thus alter the actual captured photons. After all, you can call every human drawing an interpretation...
Some scolded me that to qualify as genuine Art, "The act of interpretation should be in service of something more" than merely "perceiving form" with pencil or charcoal.

But I can't help it, I'm a sucker for perceiving form. For me, the subtlest melodies that arrive with the perception of form can rival the most robust intellectual content.

In the most famous figure painting of the 20th century, Picasso certainly went beyond capturing a likeness. He made a statement by deconstructing the human form, moving figure to figure from mere likeness to the jagged underside of reality.

But deconstructing a row of human forms is nothing new. Rembrandt did the same thing 300 years earlier:

Rembrandt's intentions differed from Picasso's-- he abstracted his figures in the service of speed and design rather than to express a social statement-- but the outcome is just as scary:

Sure, I love the intellectual implications of figure drawing. There is probably no subject matter more ripe for conveying "something more."

John Cuneo explains "Why I Went to Art School" from his book, nEuROTIC

Kathe Kollwitz repeatedly used vulnerable human forms to convey strong political messages.

But whether an artist is merely trying to achieve a likeness or to convey "something more," every considered line represents a choice and therefore has meaning. I'm such a dope it's sometimes difficult for me to find a line that is not "in the service of something more." Consider this phantom figure drawing by Rembrandt:

The background contains thousands of lines

...yet none of them attracts our attention the way these few stray wispy lines do:

They're all just lines, all made with the same etching needle, but some lines weigh so much more than others. You couldn't avoid psychological content if you tried. Even if the artist didn't intend it, the viewer will still fill it in (and that's OK).

So when I hear that "real" Art requires something more than perceiving form with a stick of charcoal, I just can't agree. I look at the torrent of figure of drawings over the years, from ancient Egyptian walls to the earnest labors of George Bridgeman's students, to today's artists posting their latest sketch on their blog, and it makes me happy-- even without that overt "something more."
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning.
...............................-- Gerard Manley Hopkins



The Provensens boldly transformed the figure for their wonderful illustrations of children's books

Robert Fawcett used a dry felt tip marker to search for the rhythm in the bodies of construction workers

Jeffrey Catherine Jones found style and grace in the human form

Arkady Roytman posts a new drawing each day

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