Tag Archives: The Analytical Language of John Wilkins

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.

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Filed under Drawing, language