Successful Drawing Part 2

Succesful Drawing2

Note book page, ink & pencil, 17x22cm

Drawing & its Relationship with Language (continued)

Richard Gregory in his seminal “Eye & Brain” says “…visual & other perception is intelligent decision making from limited sensory evidence”. And goes on “We now think of the brain as representing (visual perception), rather as the symbols of language represent characteristics of things, although the shapes and sounds of of language are quite different from whatever is being represented. Language requires rules of grammar (syntax) and meanings of symbols (semantics). Both seem necessary for processes of vision: though its syntax and semantics are implicit, to be discovered by experiment.”

I like the “limited sensory evidence”. The human eye is not that great an information gatherer in comparison to some other species.  But what we do lack in optical quality we make up for in processing power.

If we accept that a baby, new born, is adrift in a sea of sensations, unmapped; that understanding only comes about by relating one visual sensation against another and that that can only take place within the context of the memory of all previous sensations; then we have to accept that visual perception can only take place within a framework, a system where sensation interacts with memory, with relationships,  with everything else in an individuals life.

This is where the visual, and more especially visual representation,  develops something akin to language. Representation can  be said to have a syntax: edge, centre, soft, sharp, strong, faint, pattern etc. And it is easy to see that visual representation can be a carrier for meaning in ways formal and symbolic.

But does the visual operate through  an actual “language”?

Language pre-supposes at least a two way exchange. Originally between child and carer; between child and other children and so on. Language starts with a social exchange and develops into enabling conciousness and thought- it could be said to exist on the surface of the mind, where the discrete individual interacts with others.

The visual, on the other hand, is initially private. Seeing is the processing of information going directly into the dark space of the brain. Although influenced by social interchange, one does not need anyone else to learn to see; this is achieved, as stated above, through experiment.

Gregory also says “Two and a half millennia ago Greek philosophers thought that light shoots out of the eyes, to touch objects as probing fingers”. Anyone who draws knows that there is a truth in this. We probe and test, try out and criticise the results of our inadequate foray into the outside world; then return with the knowledge gained to try again, this time to try better.

Language, as words, is great and I love all forms of writing, I love talking (too much). But I get weary of the ability it too often gives to dissemble, to evade and obscure. More than anything it’s disgust at the dishonest rubbish I talk sometimes.

This is where I find drawing so unique, so exciting. Despite visual representation being  a social act, the visual is nevertheless  secret, dark, unknown. This is where drawing becomes so important as ,despite (perhaps, because of) it’s inadequacies and stuttering inaccuracies, it manages to reveal so much about the mysterious inner workings of another’s being. And, honestly done, provides access to an experience of a world you’ve never seen yourself.


Giorgio Morandi Flowers, 1959, pencil & watercolour, 22x21cm



Filed under Art, Books, Drawing, language, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Successful Drawing Part 2

  1. Interesting stuff David. As a poet and writer, here’s my ha’ pennorth – which is, of course, a defense of words!

    Language, as a means of describing what one sees/perceives, is more sophisticated than drawing/painting. An autistic person might manage a successfully expressive visual representation of something while being practically incapable of speech about that thing. Language is the tool by which a processed and analysed perception is described, whereas a visual reproduction of a perception – the work of an artist – is pre-language and in that sense more primitive, a more direct reaction. And hence – yes, I think I agree – more revelatory (well, potentially at least) of ‘the mysterious inner workings of another’s being’.

    …But on the other hand, isn’t that a matter of belief, or trust, in the artist’s honesty – just as much as it is a matter of trust that a wordsmith’s words are genuine, honest and authentic to that person?

    Is it true to say that people are more likely to ‘trust’ an artist’s creativity than they are able to trust a poet/writer’s words? This might be the case, in view of the power of words to manipulate.

    Or might artists, equally, be manipulative of those who view their art? Don’t you think some artists consciously (cynically – or not) create visual representations which pull the wool? Isn’t that what’s going on when an artist aims to have mass appeal and sell work: the image needs to hit on the public’s ‘mass’ sense of ‘truth’ – never mind the artist’s own true, authentic reaction from that dark inner place.

  2. One way in which I might have been a little disingenuous is in not explaining the way in which the physical outcome of drawing and painting can be manipulated and read as signs. The way, for example, that roughness and lack of finish can be deliberately used as shorthand for directness and authenticity and that finish and polish can seem over sophisticated and slick; that clumsiness is more honest than grace. There is a whole semiological approach to this that I try to avoid as I think it gets in the way of getting the job done.

    Another way of looking at it is that we (both painters and poets) feel the need to avoid ease and facility & must always put obstacles in our own path.

    Experience is always fragmentary and incomplete, as is this reply to your (always appreciated) thoughts, so I think I’ll just go away and let what you said marinate for a while.

    • But David, that itself is a manipulation of the viewer by the artist, is it not? As in, ‘Hey, I’m really really direct, me; really authentic; I’m not one of those [over-] sophisticated, slick guys. I’m [as you put it] ‘more honest’…

      As for “putting obstacles in [my] own path” as a poet: I hope I don’t. And that’s not because I’m lazy. I just don’t see the need to make heavy weather of poem-writing. Why is that needed? Is it to make oneself feel – or appear – more erudite / serious? Challenge onesself, yes, but why does the process need not cause us pain?

      If it does, pursue a different craft. Life’s too short.

  3. That was my point, that you can read visual art in this way and also attempt to manipulate your viewer. It’s playing the “I’m a blunt, plain speaking man & I say what I mean, me” sort of game. That was the kind of simplistic, semiological analysis that was fashionable at art college and one of the reasons I tend to avoid it. I now think the whole dense weave of image and form, medium and application carries far more complex information than can be accessed through any linguistic analysis.
    That’s kind of how I feel about the poems I like and some prose- it’s more of an experience that leads to a type of opening than to understanding.

    As to tripping myself up, it’s something I’ve always used as a device against easy solutions- if we were to get psycho-analytical about this it’s the need to turn everything into “work”. I don’t think it’s to make myself seem more erudite or serious (maybe it is?) But it is to get a density into the work that I find is lacking in that done with more facility. Having said that, a scrappy drawing by Roger Hilton or El Lissitzky can be as dense as anything I take a month to do.

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