What Is Drawing, Anyway?

I remember, it must have been a decade ago, and I was taking part in a Cathy Johnson workshop/tutorial on pen and wash art.  It may have been the one she did for Strathmore.  Anyway, one person asked, “does this require drawing?”  I thought this was the stupidest question ever because Cathy made it clear that we were going to draw THINGS from life or photos.

Since then I’ve given little thought to that question because I have run in urban sketching circles where everyone understands that the base skill of everything urban sketching is drawing.  But now that I’m wandering in the world of oil painting, things are different.  All the instructors have to emphasize that to paint well you have to draw well and if you don’t, you won’t.

And so I ask you, what is drawing if one assumes you can paint without doing it?  I bet, as a person who draws themself, you have an answer.  I thought I did but here’s what The Primacy of Drawing, a 500+ page book on drawing has to say about it:

“It should be reasonable to expect that a book devoted to the exploration of drawing should begin with an authoritative definition of its subject.  However, my examination of many, many definitions of drawing, both contemporary and historical, has proved to me the futility of attempting such a task.  Any formula would have to encompass the indefinable status and contradictory aspects of drawing, and therefore would immediately dissolve into a web of disclaimers.”

So that’s why people don’t understand what drawing is (grin).  One of the big problems of defining drawing is that definitions should not only define the thing being defined is, but also what it is not.  We have a similar problem in modern definitions of art, which exclude nothing from being considered art, including cans of excrement contributed by the artist.

And so we’re left with “drawing” being an amorphous activity where people believe they can paint scenes or objects without drawing, all the while using a brush to define the outlines of said things.  Very confusing.

Oil Painting of biscuits

Pen and wash sketch of biscuits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so I come to the earth-shaking question.  When I draw an onion with a brush, using oil paints, is it a painting, or is it a sketch of an onion in the same way it would be if I drew it with my fountain pen?  Why is this relevant?  It isn’t really.  Only something to ponder.  But I was adding tags to my latest oil painting/sketch/drawing and I came to the choice of “Sketch” and I wondered, is it a sketch or not simply based upon the medium I used.  Yes, yes, it can be anything I want it to be.  But which is it really?

 

 

 

2 Responses to “What Is Drawing, Anyway?”

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  1. Tina Koyama says:

    Oh no, not those existential questions again! I do find it hilarious how many people believe it is not necessary to study drawing before painting. And I say this based on the huge number of paintings I see online that could be vastly improved with some basic drawing skills. But what do I know? I may never get around to learning to paint…still having too much fun learning to draw.

    • I love these kinds of questions, though debating them isn’t high on my list of things to do. To sit on a rock and think about them, though, is generally helpful in my understanding of the world around me. Must be from my other life, when I was a scientist (grin).

      You’re right about a lot of paintings needing help in the drawing department, including my own. And, like you, after 10 years of learning to draw, there are so many aspects of it I’ve barely touched, that I must say that I still don’t know how. I take solace in the face that “ability to draw” has nothing in it that defines how well 🙂