Drawing – notes on an everyday art [2012]

Drawing – notes on an everyday art [2012]

• Draw. An interesting word, an interesting state. We are drawn to one another, we draw thread through cloth, we draw breath. Drawing is an interesting process. It is a force that is the opposite of forcing. And for an artist to draw is for that artist to be at one with what is drawn whether at the level of the graphite, the mark, the figure, the landscape, or the void. Drawing is a performance but drawing is not just a performance, it is a definition. It is the gesture made concrete.

• Jacob Bronowski noted that the hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Drawing is the primordial act of hand and mind. It implies gesture. The gesture of drawing can be thought of as the immediate establishment of the other and the immediate integration with that other. It is the basic act of human grammar. The gesture gives one both ‘I and Thou’, and ‘I and It’, the initial double-duality of our social and physical world. It is self and other, it is opposition, it is complementarity. It is both separation and integration.

• Drawing is the desire to make, to mark, to erase. For erasure is drawing also. Drawing is being and nothingness. It is a fluctuation from nothing that creates the cosmos of the mind.

• When we draw we assert. Descartes wrote ‘cogito ergo sum’ / ‘I think therefore I am’. One interpretation of this is not that thinking defines us as conscious beings, but that the very act of thinking defines the state of being. The performance of thinking is the point, not the idea of it. So, for me then, I can say ‘I write, therefore I am’. Or, with a pencil in my hand, I draw therefore I am. So drawing becomes the act that defines consciousness. Drawing defines my being. It is an existential act. To draw water, to draw your finger over your lover’s body, to draw graphite over paper. To draw on rough paper, smooth paper; to draw charcoal across cloth. To let ink be drawn up into the brush and let it be drawn back by paper and gesture to draw out the form and void of the image.

• And then you go past the first mark. And you find yourself abstracting in order to represent. Or perhaps you abstract in order not to represent, but resemblance comes into play whether you seek it or not. So drawing becomes also about how we think we construct the world. As Blake says: nature has no outline, but imagination has. Drawing is the first shelter in our ecology of mind.

• In art criticism we talk often about abstraction as though it had something to do with not being figurative. But abstraction is just drawing. It is just the consequence of gesture. The Scottish geometers of the 18th century knew this. Simson’s Euclid is much more than just a gathering of proofs, it is a reflection upon the possibility of our very notion of reality. His concern is that if we are thinking about our being in the world, we must start with the world, and draw out from it, abstract from it. That may seem rather over-obvious, but it is the opposite of what we normally consider to be obvious. In short Simson rejects Kandinsky’s order of point, line, plane, in favour of the opposite: plane, line and point (and the plane itself abstracted from the solid, three-dimensional world). For him, as for Bateson, the issue is mind integrated with nature and abstracting from it, not mind as some kind of independent entity dead set on colonising nature.

• The strangeness of three dimensions, where resemblance becomes possible. Drawing makes you think of this.

• Another way of drawing: the drawing of the thread or cord. Labyrinthine, constructive. The nature of the knot is one of the most curious of all drawn things. If you take a ribbon and knot it once, that simple revolutionary act in three dimensions, when pressed flat again creates a perfect pentagon, with every explicit subtlety of that figure in terms of angles that sum to nine and the presence of golden ratios.

• In a different register, a friend of mine, an artist deeply committed to the anthropology of drawing, once found herself making knots cast from glass.

• Drawing is the song of the hand.

Murdo Macdonald
5 March 2012

[Originally published in Gray, E., ed., (2012) A Parliament of Lines, Edinburgh: City Art Centre.]