First, one needs to understand that drawing is more than a craft; it is an integral part of the plastic arts. They need to understand what constitutes art and what does not. They need a strong overview and a game plan in order at achieve Mastery. They need to understand the Five Levels of Intent and what each level entails.
INTENT: There are five levels of Intent; Imitation, Intellect, Interpretation, Intuition, and Imagination.
The lowest rung on ladder of Intent is Imitation; it is the starting point for all draughtsmen. Imitation deals only with surface detail and the drawing of things to look like the things drawn.
The second step in becoming a Master Draughtsman involves INTELLECT. One cannot draw well what they do not know. This stage involves acquiring inFORMation about subject’s Function and Form and its underlying construction.
Thirdly, one has to determine how to use this new inFORMation in their drawing. This process involves selection and arrangement, i. e., deciding what to leave in and what to take out.
The best things in the Artist’s work are often a matter of Intuition or instinct. Knowing when to subdue intellectual inquiry and letting intuition kick in is a mysterious realm. Intuition is an ephemeral thing that disappears if looked into too closely. Moreover, there is a danger that too much knowledge and training will stifle Intuition, leaving an expressionless formulaic execution in its place.
The last stage in the development of artistic Intent is working from imagination without the model. Imagination is a combination of memory and invention because all things visual have a point of origin. The Old Masters all had this ability and any misconceptions that they worked strictly from observation of the outward appearance of nature is totally false.
The Draughtsman’s best work is “not in him but through him.” _Ruskin_
They are not the agent of expression, only its host. Talent is “that which we have,” Genius “that which has us.” We have little control over that which “has us,” but we must abandon ourselves to its influence to achieve Mastery.
The Artist must develop the skill-sets needed to express whatever they need to express. On the other hand, one’s temperament will determine the blend of intellect and Intuition that leads to real Mastery. Great things are only done in art when the Artist’s creative instinct has a well-organized cache of skill-sets at its disposal. They must realize that one’s training deals purely with perfecting a means of expression. Intuition lies beyond teaching; one can only nurture it. All a Mentor can do is surround students with the best works of art and nature and analyze the aspects of what make them superior works.
At this point, one must provide a working definition of the art of drawing. Many definitions exist, but most are inadequate.
- “Art is nature expressed through a personality.”
- “Art is the expression of pleasure in work.” _Morris_
- “Everything which we distinguish from nature.” _Lang_
- “An action employing which one man, having experienced a feeling, intentionally transmits it to others.” _Tolstoy_
A definition of drawing must apply to all the arts because they are all interrelated and none of the above fill the bill.
Observation connects our senses to our brains, transmitting facts, feelings and thought. On the one hand, we have pure feeling or emotion, and on the other pure intellect. One’s feelings should embrace intelligence, while their perceptions escape pure intellect. Pure intellect constructs from an accurate measurement of nature. It does so by negating the interplay of one’s intuitions. It creates an accurate depiction outside of human experience. It provides a mechanical means of measuring, bypassing our Intuition, recording the observed while eliminating the human equation. This scientific registering of facts via the aid of mechanical instruments’ may be accurate, however, accuracy is vastly overrated and has little to do with art.
Art deals with the subject’s expressive aspects, which requires human interaction. It requires human sensual experience. Mechanical methods such a Sight-size and the excessive use of mechanical measuring devices do not constitute art, in fact they are alien to it. The artistic intelligence is not interested in things from the standpoint of mechanical accuracy but in the effect of observation on the living consciousness—the sentient individual in each of us.
Pure intellect is the theory behind drawing from the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, the worst book ever written about drawing. Putting a drawing by Leonardo on the cover is grossly misleading and an insult to Leo. This book proposes using one’s brain much like a camera by negating interaction with one’s sensory experience and response.
Scientific observation will always produce similar works, whereas Artistic Observation will vary with each individual.
Drawing to be successful, must connect with our sense of Balance, Rhythm, and Harmony. All three being different aspects of the same thing and constitutes the ordering of universal truths. Apart from Intuition, there is a dynamic order that appeals to the human spirit. This innate sense of order felt by all ethnicities throughout recorded history in painting, sculpting, dance, music, poetry, and architecture is closely aligned with the Golden Section.
However, the technical side of art is not concerned with the spiritual motives of expression; its only concern is the outward appearance of things; if the outward appearance is uninspiring, the resulting work will be uninspiring. On the other hand, the Master Artist can bring artistic expression and dynamic order to all things. Beauty is in the Eye and Mind of the beholder. Their subject matters not because outward appearances do not inhibit them. The visible world is to the Artist is the ideal garment, which reveals the subject’s inner truths. They have a consciousness of what lies beyond the surface, which transcends beyond the ‘real.’ searching for the ‘ideal.’
As Keats would say: “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty.” Hence, the love of truth and the love of beauty can exist together in the work of the Artist.
Those whose vision does not penetrate beyond pragmatic observation are perplexed when seeing the common place painted beautifully. They believe that altering outward appearances is inherently wrong. To those that would expound, idealization, stylization, alteration, deviation, exaggeration, enhancement, or rearrangement are negatives. We would respond that these are the very design elements needed to create a work of art. In the words of Kenyon Cox: ‘Without design, there may be representation, but there can be no art.’ When the Artist gives more profound expression and meaning to a work, they are still working from observation; it is merely a more in-depth observation that delves beyond surface detail.
Fromentin’s_“Art is the expression of the invisible by means of the visible,” expresses the same idea, and it gives art its high place among the works of man.
Beauty puts us in correspondence with a world of rhythm, balance, and harmony, creating a sense of order. Beauty is a state of mind rather than an attribute of particular objects; although certain things have the power to induce it more than others. We must tread lightly in these rarefied regions and get on to more practical concerns. By finding and emphasizing those elements in visual appearances that express these more profound things, the painter stimulates the perception of them in others. No amount of technical knowledge will take the place of feeling or direct the painter to select the subject’s most pleasing aspects.
The two extremes positions to consider are; “Art for art’ sake” the equation’s aesthetic side, which deals with Forms emotive qualities and “Art for subject’s sake” which deals with the pragmatic or scientific side. The Artist will lean one way or the other depending on their temperament. However, neither position can neglect the other without severe consequences. Form aesthetics cannot escape the visual aspects of observation, nor can observation disregard Forms emotive aspects. In good art, the matter expressed, and the manner of its expression is so intimate as to have become one. The deeper associations connected with appearance give way to the mass conception of Form in the Master Draughtsman’s mind.
“Art for subject’s sake’ working from obsessive observation, drawing what one sees with a hyper concentration on outward appearances. The practice of tonal trancing, shape aping, mindless mimesis, or drawing things that look like things without any human connection does not make a drawing or painting. This arena of activity is an exhibitionist display of skill-sets and technique and is the province of craft. The model-dependent diarrhea of detail hides under the umbrella of ‘Realism,’ ‘Classical Realism,’ or ‘Hyper-Realist’ has no relationship to ‘Designo’ (Drawing/Design) what-so-ever. This sub-category of craft lacks any aesthetic relationship to the human experience, I. e., sensory feeling, and thus falls short of being artful.
Realism or ‘Detail for Detail’s Sake’ is currently in vogue. In the last several decades, it has gained momentum, slow at first, with Atelier Lack in Minneapolis’s founding in 1968. It gained little ground until the founding of Charles Cecil Studios and Daniel Graves Florence Academy in 1991; since that time, ‘Classical Realist’ ateliers have multiplied like rabbits expanding from a few to a few hundred. This craft-based movement gained serious momentum when Fred Ross founded The Art Renewal Center or ARC in 1999. ARC is the ‘Realist’ movement self-appointed governing body. ‘Art Renewal Center’ is a misnomer because the emphasis is on craft or technique at the expense of art. To qualify as ‘Art’, a union has to exist between craft and aesthetics, i. e., technique and individual integrity.
As in a good poem, it is impossible to consider the poetic idea apart from the words that express it: they are fused together at its creation.
Perhaps nowhere is the aesthetics of form more apparent than in old master drapery studies. Here the real gives way to the ideal to portray its most dynamic aspects. Here the draughtsman has selected, simplified, eliminated, empathized, and rearranged the folds and forms to create the most substantial function and structure. In most cases, these are studies done from the other Master drawings. In other words, these are idealized depictions of drapery that have more to do with the laws of physics and form than with actual surface detail.
If the expression is adequate to convey ones feeling to others, there must be some aesthetic arrangement of forms, i. e., design, and composition. The composition must contain balance, rhythm, and harmony, creating a sense of order. The deeper associations connected with appearance give way to the mass conception of Form in the Master Draughtsman’s mind. Drawing involves arranging the elements of art that evoke the senses and give the most dynamic and meaningful impression.
There is no better example of the marriage of observation and intellect than Albrecht Durer. He was a superior observer of nature with a contemplative knowledge of its underlying geometry and mechanics. In other words, he not only knew what a clock looked like; he knew what made it tick.
The pretense that one can create masterworks by observation alone is grossly misleading. Yet this hoax has been perpetrated on a large group of uninformed participants. Some that promote technique over substance may actually believe that what they are doing is actually art, but others are only in it for self-aggrandizement.
Techniques and skill-sets must be learned… the more the merrier, however, one should never conflate them with ‘Art.’
The common idea that painting is “the procedure utilizing colors to make perfect representations of natural objects” is bogus. The invention of Color photography in 1907 made this pursuit irrelevant and obsolete.
What, then, will serve as a working definition for drawing? It must center around the individual and individual expression. It must be a marriage of Imitation, Intellect, Interpretation, Intuition, and Imagination/Invention. It involves observing natural phenomena from the inside out and the ordering of these observations into meaningful expression. “The Rhythmic expression of Feeling” might do: rhythm is the ordering of the design aspects of art that brings them into a relationship with our innate sense of harmony, which gives them their expressive power, without this relationship, no direct means of inviting the viewer into the process.
When it comes to the ‘rhythmic expression of feeling’ none surpasses Rembrandt. No one has accomplished more with less than the famous Dutchman. We are giving a good deal of space here because Rembrandt epitomizes the Master Draughtsman.
Not surprisingly, many in the ‘Realist’ encampment believe that Rembrandt could not draw. This illustrates how far down the rabbit hole they have gone on their errant journey to draw things that look like things.
The Purest Form of this “rhythmic expression of feeling” is music. Moreover, as Walter Pater shows us in his essay on “The School of Giorgione,” “music is the type of art.” Poetry, the most musical form of literature. In excellent drawings, Form and concept are united with harmonies analogous to music.
The draughtsman expresses feelings through the representation of nature. Their objective is to translate Forms derived from nature through their imagination. The combination of representation and expression is essential to the creation of art. So great is the power of emotion in this equation that the Artist who can tap into it will seldom fail. On the other hand, the painter who paints things that look like things with no aesthetic integrity will fail even though their technique impresses the uninformed masses.
Few students are aware of what constitutes art. They have a desire to draw and paint, however, they do not understand that art consists of more than copying nature. If this dialogue serves to disturb the “copying theory” in students’ minds it will have served its purpose.
Drawing is “the expression of Form upon a plane surface.” Art owes more to form for its expression than color. The world’s great artist’s understood this and restricted their use of color. They depended on Form as the main focus of their works. Apelles only used three colors, black, red, and yellow; Rembrandt and Velasquez used little else.
The study of drawing is essential, and the foundation of all art training; it is where one begins to succeed as an artist. Drawing is not copying, it is combining what is seen with what is known about one’s subject. Training one’s mind to appreciate Form and one’s hand to interpret it onto a flat surface is job one.
Unfortunately, the current tendency is to seek short cuts to proficiency. Just as the beginning music student is eager to play compositions before mastering finger exercises and scales, the novice art student is eager to draw things that look like things before their eyes comprehend what they are looking at in visual terms. The sooner the novice understands that there are no short cuts, and no one is born with the ability to draw, the sooner serious study can begin.
It is a common misconception that if one learns to copy that they will learn to create original works, copying is not a pathway to originality. One can teach technique, but originality must originate with the student. Although originality, i. e., creatively, cannot be taught, it can be inhibited or even destroyed by a singular focus on mimetic copying. Unfortunately, this practice is in vogue in many of the ‘Classical Realist’ Ateliers throughout the world. It is not that what they teach is not of value; the problem is that they portray Sight-size methodology as a means to an end when it is only the very beginning. Mimetic rendering should be a minor part of a much more extensive curriculum. To build an entire multi-year program around space aping and tonal trancing techniques is alien to originality and creativity. To spend a couple of semesters doing meticulous copies of the Bargue Plates in a foolish waste or time. One learns when the Barque Course has to offer within a few hours of days; to waste one’s time doing finished highly finished drawings based on flat shapes creates a false sense of accomplishment.
It is a common misconception that if one learns to copy that they will learn to create original works, copying is not a pathway to originality. One can teach technique, but originality must originate with the student. Although originality, i. e., creatively, cannot be taught, it can be inhibited or even destroyed by a singular focus on mimetic copying. Unfortunately, this practice is in vogue in many of the ‘Classical Realist’ Ateliers throughout the world. It is not that what they teach is not of value; the problem is that they portray Sight-size methodology as a means to an end when it is only the very beginning.
Mimetic rendering should be a minor part of a much more extensive curriculum. To build an entire multi-year program around space aping and tonal trancing techniques is alien to originality and creativity. To spend a couple of semesters doing meticulous copies of the Bargue Plates in a foolish waste or time. One learns what the Barque Course has to offer within a few hours or days; to waste one’s time doing finished highly finished drawings based on flat shapes creates a false sense of accomplishment.
One would be much better off buying a good plaster cast and learn to draw the illusion of form than to buy the Bargue book and learn how to copy shapes. If one lingers to long in the realm of copying shapes they will forever be model dependent and unable to create the illusion of form and a flat surface from memory, imagination and invention.
It is not enough to portray the appearance of objects accurately. To express Form, one must first be moved by it. It needs to have an emotional significance, the hidden rhythm, balance, and harmony that is not caught by tonal tracing, shape aping, and mimetic copying. Sight-Size academic drawings and mechanical reproductions never contain this emotive quality. It is not easy to pinpoint these qualities—capturing the gestalt by selecting the significant and suppressing the non-essential creates more vitality and truth than a painfully accurate drawing. Too often, the essential gestural expression gets lost in a non-essential diarrhea of detail. A drawing succeeds or fails at the point of conception; if one has no idea where the drawing is going, it will go nowhere. Drawings should focus on a mass conception or idea; every mark made should fine-tune that idea. If a mark does not strengthen the idea, it is not needed. One must replace trivial detail with universal truths; bulk, vastness, weight, balance, rhythm, mass, largeness, smallness, lightness, roughness, smoothness, et al.
Diametrically opposed to the ‘Classical Realist’ Ateliers are the Chinese and Russian Academies which teach a constructive architectonic methodology which is the pathway to learning how to draw creatively. The ‘Classical Realist’ may teach one to copy extremely well but to learn to ‘Draw’ i. e., create one must escape the confines of model dependence.
Imitation is the first stage in Draughtsman’s journey; the student must train their eye to observe forms accurately. Academic studies provide the skill-sets to make mark-making instinctive, paving the way for more aesthetic drawings. They free the mind to dwell on the design aspects of drawing. In academic studies, the feeling is not the focus. However, one must start cultivating their emotive responses to move beyond the academic to the aesthetic. Accuracy is a given, it is the most basic of skill-sets, but it is not drawing.
The drawing must present things more vividly than we see them in nature. Every great Draughtsman discovers a new significance in familiar things and gives the world a new visual experience. They represented the qualities that inspired them. To criticize a drawing that does not represent the object’s outward appearance accurately is the province of the uninformed. Accuracy depends on how well the drawing fulfills the Draughtsman’s Intent; this varies from Artist to Artist, and the drawings produced will vary as well. The dynamic character of each drawing is the only standard with which to judge accuracy.
The difference between scientific accuracy and artistic accuracy confuses many. Science demands recording nature with unemotional accuracy. In contrast, artistic accuracy demands that the Artist must have an emotional response to things observed in nature, and that response by evidenced in their drawing. When viewing a drawing or painting that deviates from outward appearances, people with the scientific habit see what is to them glaring mistakes. It is not the drawing but their scientific point of view that is at fault. While no absolute artistic standard to judge the accuracy of a drawing exists, there is a rough physical standard of rightness in drawing, violent deviations from which, produces an unacceptable result.
One’s early academic training should utilize every aid that science provides, such as Perspective, Anatomy, and, in the case of Landscape, Geology, and Botany, to create inFORMed drawings. The appeal of artist work depends on the power and character of their expression. The degree that expression may override outward appearance is always a subject of debate. In the best drawing, the departures from mechanical accuracy are so subtle that they go unnoticed. One should aim for factual accuracy in early academic training with the knowledge that at some point academic studies must be phased out and replaced with an aesthetic consciousness of what constitutes art.
Probably no Master Draughtsman illustrates the premise of this essay better than Hans Holbein. The understanding of Form and the essential elements and character of a drawing are unequaled, every mark adding to the drawing’s integrity. These exquisite portraits should be part of every Draughtsman’s plan of study.