Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Contemporary Drawing Practice

People have been querying why certain submissions for the Jerwood Drawing Prize counted as drawing. My response was that contemporary drawing practice has moved well beyond what most people think of as drawing.
No longer limited to the preparatory sketch, contemporary drawing ranges from pencil on paper, to the conceptual, and to the three dimensional.
Axis - Drawing 1
The Oxford English Dictionary is still firmly rooted in the tradition of the past but contemporary practice has moved on.

So here are a few resources for those interested in learning more about the direction drawing has moved in.  I've taken two extremes as examples:
  • what the Campaign for Drawing tries to do in promoting drawing to the unitiated and
  • how academics and artists write about drawing today
Plus this is an article about Drawing conclusions: the rise of contemporary drawing

Drawing - Learning Revolution Groups

Below are a number of special projects of the Campaign for Drawing.  These are generally about:
  • bringing people back to drawing who have little or no experience and 
  • seeing how drawing can be used to enhance their lives.  Drawing is an important cognitive and potentially social process as well as a means to an end (ie a drawing).
My feeling is that these type of sessions can feel quite threatening to those who think they know about drawing - because some would challenge our more traditional concepts about what drawing "is".  I know I've felt unsettled in the past when confonted with new ideas about drawing.  I'm guessing quite a few people would probably be surprised to hear what counts as 'drawing' these days.

Click the links to see case studies of what happened in each project as people explored what drawing can mean today.  Bear in mind that these activities are mainly with people not used to drawing.
  • A Dab Hand, Penrith, Cumbria - initiated drawing sessions in the middle of a hot local debate about Penrith’s proposed town-centre shopping development.
  • Arts Action York, York - work with a group supporting young adults with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) using ’Tagtool’ digital drawing projection equipment
  • Bristol Drawing School, Bristol - set out to bring drawing to a wider adult audience (including excluded, deaf and disabled people) by organising 3 events.
  • De La Warr Pavilion, East Sussex, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex - worked with four local groups for older people, helping them to reconnect with the pleasures of drawing.
  • Harborough Artist Cluster, Market Harborough, Leicestershire - helped adults with learning difficulties, and support staff, to develop Photoshop and Power Point skills and create a ‘Virtual Tour of Market Harborough
  • Ikon Gallery, Birmingham - worked with a local art appreciation group to plan 5 sessions for diverse adult groups to explore drawing afresh
  • Manchester Museum, Manchester - used drawing to explore parts of the plant collection not on public view.
  • Mill Yard Studios, Staveley, Cumbria - invited ’non-drawers’to draw circular views with the aid of cardboard tube viewfinders to concentrate the eye
  • Museum in the Park, Stroud - aimed to make drawing an all-inclusive and accessible activity for the adults involved, and to change the minds of some who began by saying, ‘I can’t draw. The idea was to produce images of the old walled garden using seven different ways to ‘draw’ the scene, aided by a group of local artists.
  • National Museums Liverpool, Merseyside - participants learned how to create a drawing that recorded something about a place in Merseyside that was special to them
  • October Gallery, London - ran run nine creative training workshops
  • Ordsall Community Arts, Salford - involved drawing dogs differently
  • Prema, Uley, Glocestershire - worked with a county-wide arts and health project to make lifesize drawings of creatures: from butterflies to giraffes.
  • Spacex Gallery, Exeter -  developed various activities including a public breakfast drawing workshop using breakfast ingredients as materials
  • West Sussex County Council, West Sussex- ran a centrally co-ordinated programme of events which aimed to inspire adults in different times of life and a range of settings county-wide; from a day centre for adults with mental health problems, to a local primary school and a gallery in a town shopping centre
Contemporary Drawing Practice - in Books

Another way of gaining an appreciation of contemporary drawing practice - at a much more academic and professional level - is to examine various books about contemporary drawing practice

Here are some examples
You can see descriptions of what they are all about in BOOKS: Surveys of Contemporary Drawing Practice on The Best Books about Drawing and Sketching. 
'Described crudely, contemporary art currently follows two main trajectories: the post-Conceptual and the neo-Romantic. Crucially, it is within the field of drawing that the inherent tensions and contradictions of these two directions are intriguingly played out'. 
Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing, Phaidon: London, 2005
Next time you're in a good bookshop I recommend picking one up and taking a look - and you'll see the sheer diversity of drawing practice nowadays.

Plus there is 'Tracey' which is is an online peer reviewed journal, hosted by Loughborough University (School of Art and Design) that publishes and disseminates material concerned with contemporary drawing. Most of the content is found under the 'Research Themes' section.

How well acquainted are you with contemporary drawing practice?

Do leave a comment below - whatever your views.

1 comment:

  1. This week Cai Guo-Qiang is making one of his gunpowder drawings for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. From 9 a.m. central time (3 p.m. UK time) this will be live online at

    I've been a volunteer on the project and it has been a fascinating experience. Cai stretches the definition of drawing; instead of using a charred stick to make his marks he uses materials that will char the paper itself.


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