Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Consideration of Drawing

About a month ago, Brett Littman, Executive Director of The Drawing Center ("the only fine arts institution in the United States to focus solely on the exhibition of drawings"), gave a talk here on campus as the kick-off event for a collaboration between Parsons and The Drawing Center. The talk was titled "Is This A Drawing? From Lascaux Caves to Autocad." In it, he gave an overview of drawing or mark-making history, including cave art, earth art (e.g., Walter DeMaria), tattoos, handmade films (e.g., Len Lye, Stan Brakhage, Harry Smith), and a number of contemporary art works and experiments, such as Roxy Paine’s ‘drawing machine.’

Littman spent much of the lecture defining what a drawing is, or what is characteristic of drawing, distinctive from the other arts. The words that came up repeatedly were “immediacy” and “thought.” According to Littman, drawing is a generative activity related to object-making in no specific medium. It allows for new spatial thinking and serves as an intermediary between thinking and doing – a visual manifestation of what’s only in the mind. (Richard Serra: “Drawing is always an indication of how artists think.”)

This definition of drawing as an intermediary between thinking and doing has ready applications to Deleuzian theory in terms of his assertion that art-making is a process by which something is brought into the world through the germinating forces of percepts and affects. [From Sam's lecture on March 24: "The work of art is a record of a process or event through which the artist is becoming artist—using materials (i.e., "supports") that "fix" the percepts and affects in time."]

As such, drawing is an intermediary with a very low technical profile—i.e., it requires no mixing of paints to obtain the right color, no adjusting apertures and lenses to obtain the right exposure and depth of field. Drag one's finger across a sandy surface and you've made a drawing. Roll a ball across a water puddle, leaving a wet streak on the ground, and you've made a drawing [Gabriel Orozco, "Extension of Reflection" 1992]. It thus entails a kind of tracing of events, relatively unfiltered and unmediated, with a greatly reduced interval of time between thought and the virtual image of what unveils itself within the drawing. It is the proto-artistic act – the body leaving its imprint on/in the world.

The act of drawing can be viewed as one of the simplest instances of Deleuze's 'immanent becomings' – his assertion that images manifest themselves on the plane of immanence, not as representations of pre-existing ideas, but as events or things-in-themselves that come about through a movement in space and time. From Cinema 1: "This in-itself of the image is matter: not something hidden behind the image, but on the contrary the absolute identity of the image and movement." The hand touches a surface, simultaneously producing an image – the physical record of that collision between mind/hand/world.

Littman posed open-ended questions concerning the relevance and future of drawing in contemporary artistic practice, especially as it loses its traditional role as a measure of artistic ability and becomes increasingly relegated to preparatory or training exercises in support of other artistic/design disciplines. Even then it exists primarily in digital applications such as Autocad for architectural drawing.

Though Littman never directly answered his own question, “Where does drawing go from here?”, based on the range of exhibits planned for The Drawing Center, it seems the implicit answer is that drawing is going into other artistic realms for inspiration. Upcoming exhibitions at The Drawing Center include works involving printmaking, performance, painting, musical interpretations of drawing – i.e., everything but drawing/mark-making itself. At the same time, in the gallery world, so-called na├»ve drawing/illustration (e.g., Marcel Dzama) and ‘hyperrealistic’ drawing are currently in vogue, and a number of contemporary artists are playing with the folk appeal of graphite-on-paper as a kind of return-to-roots statement.

In the second part of this post, I'll discuss one of the exhibitions that I attended at the Drawing Center. It was a collection of drawings by 'relational-art' superstar Rirkrit Tiravanija, which subverts the Deleuzian concept of art-making as pure becoming, and shreds expectations of what pared-down, minimalist drawing-acts can or should be.


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