Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Secret of Drawing: All in the Mind

by Drew Martin
The Secret of Drawing: All in the Mind is the third of a four-part series from the BBC about drawing, which I have been enjoying and writing about. In this episode the host, Andrew Graham-Dixon, takes a closer look at how the Western tradition drawing became synonymous with accurate representation and the empirical mind, followed by the reaction to move away from it. 

We visit Sarah Simblet, professor of life drawing at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford, who makes a distinction between her detailed anatomical drawings and some of her more abstract work.

"With these I suppose it's a process of looking, seeing, thinking, understanding, gaining knowledge of something that exists in the world...with these, it's really drawing an's like an outwards breath."

One thing that Graham-Dixon pushes in this episode is which part of the human mind artists call on and how much of the inner self they reveal. He explains the efforts made by Picasso and other artists such as André Masson to undo their schooling and work in a child-like state. But first he explains how drawing has often been a kind of secret diary for many artists. A more revealing expression can sometimes be seen in the under-drawings of the more proper frescoes that hide them, like a thought being buried in the subconscious.

We hear from John Tchelenko, the head of drawing and cognition at Camberwell College of Art in London, who studies the way the eye and hand interact with the mind in order to understand how artists observe three-dimensional objects and depict them on a two-dimensional surface. And then we take another look at cave paintings and what they imply about the mind of early humans.

There is also an interesting chat with the illustrator David Shrigley. When Graham-Dixon talks about surrealist concepts of subconscious-drawing Shrigley adds that he feels like he is part of the human collective consciousness when he is drawing.

Graham-Dixon covers a lot of different ideas in this episode. He expounds upon the notion that artists are often more emotionally sensitive, and then segues to the artwork of psychiatric patients, and then, more broadly, outsider art.

Finally, we meet up with Michael Landy, who seems to be an incarnation of Graham-Dixon's kick-off thesis for the show. Landy is a conceptual artist and one of the Young British Artists. In his piece Break Down he shredded, dismantled, and crushed his earthly possessions including all of his artwork. What followed this performance was of great interest to Graham-Dixon because Landy started over again by drawing. His first drawings were of weeds. They were beautiful, like something Albrecht Dürer would have drawn 500 years ago. And then he made more intimate and emotional pieces, like a series of drawings of his father.

The full documentary of this third episode can be watched here: