Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tate Britain: Drawing from Turner

One of the current exhibitions at the Tate Britain challenges the notion that copying is no way to learn. It comprises a small sample of drawings from the Turner Bequest which is housed at Tate Britain together with drawings created as a result of copying those made by Turner by a number of professional artists and art students from the University of the Arts in London, as part of a collaboration with the Tate.
The fifty-eight artists participating in the ‘Drawing from Turner’ project were able to choose from a representative group of thirty-five drawings chosen from amongst the thousands available in the Turner Bequest. Each artist working on the project chose a Turner drawing which interested them in some respect and was requested to analyse their chosen work through visual means in order to learn something from the great master. (Tate Britain website)
Art students copying from an artist in order to develop their skills is a very old tradition and one which Turner himself was involved with. However copying from the artists to learn how to draw and to develop artistic skills is an 'art' which has not been practiced much in art schools the recent past - just as drawing from life slipped out of favour for a while.

An essay by Stephen Farthing on the exhibition website makes an interesting read - it summarises and explores the rationale behind the research project
This exhibition is the outcome of a research project that set out to improve understanding of the process of learning to draw by making drawings of fine examples. It comes at a time when both within secondary and tertiary education there are few shared assumptions over how we should either define or teach the subject. But in the light of the fact that for the past fifty years at least there has been just one solid area of agreement, which is that copying is no way to learn. This exhibition questions that assumption.

.........Each person was invited to make their own drawing of one by Turner from a sample group of about thirty drawings selected from the Tate’s Turner Collection. The aim was for the individual to discover what they could learn about their chosen subject by drawing it. The aim was not to make either a slavish copy or an extravagant interpretation, but through the process of study and drawing to better understand, the methods, inventions and creativity of its maker. What remained open-ended throughout this pilot was both how we defined the word copy and whether we choose to use it at all. For this reason, participating artists were asked to try to work forensically with their chosen drawing ‘re-treading’, as it were the hand of the draftsman. The goal was not to forge, but to try to understand. (Stephen Farthing "Drawing from Turner: so as to better understand" 2006)
If you'd like to have a go, you can see the Turner Bequest and a great many more of Turner's drawings here. Turner bequested the entire contents of his studio to the nation on his death in 1851.
In addition to finished oil paintings and watercolours, the Bequest includes approximately 37,000 drawings and watercolours ranging from fully worked-up studies to the scrappiest sheet recalling the briefest touch of the artist’s hand. Whether complex design or cursory doodle, the Bequest as a whole represents a rich, visual record of a lifetime’s endeavour (Tate Britain website)
Have you ever copied the drawing or painting of an artist? What did you learn? Have you ever set out to try and understand how another's hand created certain effects and how a drawing or painting was created?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your posts. This was very interesting and what a generous guy! Turner really left us a great legacy!
PS: our landscapes are luminious.

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