return to, the home of critical reviews

Re: Self portraits by kids. teenagers in the times

From:     blp
Category: Art
Date:     28 May 2007
Time:     08:49 AM


On average, drawing skills in contemporary art are pretty low. I had some good drawing teaching at
various points and the dumb thing is, it's  something almost anyone can improve at if they're shown
how. And once you've had that, it's something you can run with in any direction you like. It doesn't
limit you, just gives you more to work with and more fluency - like learning a language or an
alphabet or a computer programme. 

Clearly at some point in English art schools people got the idea en mass that they pretty much
couldn't teach anything anymore, so there's hardly any drawing teaching except in weirdy outposts
like the Prince's Drawing School. I remember reading something a Goldsmith's tutor said about how
you could have a life model at Goldsmith's, but only if you could mount a really convincing
theoretical justification for it. Incredibly pompous and totally putting the cart before the horse.
Whatever happened to the honest notion that people become students because of what they don't know
rather than what they already think they know? It's suffocating. 

I read a systems analysis paper recently and I can't seem to stop applying its thinking to
everything, including this. The woman who wrote it had studied under a famous systems expert at MIT
who'd said that, in every study he ran, he found that people were incredibly good at finding the
leverage points for change in a system, then pushing them in the wrong direction. I think this
applies in two ways to the drawing at art school issue. First of all, if I understand it correctly,
the idea that you can't teach it is to do with some idea of imparting freedom to students, but, as
I've already sort of indicated, it actually limits their freedom because it leaves them stuck in
their old patterns of knowledge and behaviour, which may be very limited indeed. Imagine taking the
same attitude to reading and writing. Second, students themselves generally push their drawing
itself in various wrong directions. Drawing from a photo seems easier (as well as seeming cool
thanks to the thirty-year old strategies of Gerhard Richter and Warhol) and somehow more
sophisticated and less naive, though it's rarely fully explained how.  More fundamentally, most
students start off thinking drawing is either a matter of being very careful and meticulous if you
want to do it 'well' or kind of tearing into it if you want to do it in a primitivist or cartoony
way. It's a totally false dichotomy. A good drawing teacher will get students tearing into it, not
to turn them prescriptively into wildheart expressionists, but to quickly develop a fluency in
depicting what they see. Yes, of course the drawing will never actually be what they see, yes, there
will always be multiple ways of depicting the subject and yes, ultimately, you may well want the art
work to have a certain autonomy from the subject or depiction in general, but you'll have a way
better understanding of all those issues if you've butted up against them in practice, plus a lot
more means at your disposal for deconstructing or transcending the process of depiction. 

return to, the home of critical reviews