Category Archives: language

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

Successful Drawing Part 1

Succesful Drawing

Drawing & its Relationship with Language

Drawing, to be successful, must operate at a sub- or sur- linguistic level. By that I mean, in order, for example, to draw a cup on a table we must forget what is “table”; we must forget what is “cup”. Otherwise what drawing becomes is merely a process of placing a series of signs or symbols onto the surface of the paper. We might as well save ourselves a lot of trouble and say in words “here’s a cup, here’s a table. The cup is on the table”. I hope it’s not too obvious  to state that a cup seen at 3 o’clock of a sunny afternoon is not the same as the identical seen at 2 in the morning by candle light.

Jorge Louis Borges wrote  about just such inadequacies of language,  its inability to give a true rendering of the world and how it might be made more accurate in “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins “. It really is a fantastic piece of writing and I would recommend anyone to read it more than once. But Borges, at the end, admits language’s failure in a quote from G K Chesterton:

“He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest… Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semitones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals”.

The world, in all it’s complexity, is literally indescribable. Any means of description is ultimately doomed to inaccuracy and error and language can be seen as only  a  crude system of signs, useful for providing information and assigning status amongst members of our species but ultimately alienating. This is where I would privilege observation and graphic representation over words. And why I’ll continue this in a second part and try to deal with some of the implications.

Cezanne chair

Paul Cezanne, graphite & watercolour on paper, 47x30cm

I haven’t heard hide nor hair about the fate of any folding sketch-books for a while. It’d be nice to know if they’re still out there. That’s all.

Actually as I was writing, an email arrived from Ruth McCabe with the next instalment from book three which is on here. I’m really looking forward to seeing at least one of these books completed. I’ll post Ruth’s drawing in the next day or so, so if it’s not there now it will be.


Filed under Drawing, language