Reality, Color, Appeal

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Reality, Color, Appeal

From Iian Neill

Published before 2005


I meant simply that the set of skills that are essential to drawing are also those that are the foundation of the other types of visual art. I am not thinking primarily here of drawing as an activity involving pencil or charcoal, but drawing as disegno or design. I do not mean that the painter must start with a charcoal sketch, or that the sculptor must draw up his profiles. But the skills that are involved in describing reality in terms of line and tone are fundamental to the other visual arts.

It is a difficult concept to get across, and I hope that I do not come across as mystical. Perhaps an analogy in music would be that an understanding of musical theory (of the principles of musical construction) is essential to the composer, and helpful to the performer. Drawing in visual art represents these constructive principles. Drawing happens to be customarily associated with pencil, pen, or charcoal, but I think we can also talk about 'drawing in paint', 'drawing in stone', and even 'drawing in architecture'.

Photography does not allow for this interpretative or constructive process to the same degree as the visual arts. A few dashed lines from Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci are more purely artistic because these lines stand for, signify, or interpret something that the artist has seen and felt. By referring to these masters I am of course referring only to lines drawn truly, not the haphazard approximations of modernists.

According to John Ruskin, a naturalistic drawing or painting is made up of countless of these marks or strokes. Each one of them has to be right or true. If even one of them is out the artwork is injured. The first few brush strokes or pencil marks are more perceptibly impressive as we are able to directly perceive the justness or the brilliance of the mark. To make a highly naturalistic drawing, many thousands of these marks have to be super-added to give the suggestion of reality. The risk for the artist is that the more marks that are added (the more perception involved) the greater the likelihood of lapse in concentration, blunting of feeling, hardening of preconception: error. The risk for the viewer, who has no practical experience of art, is that the painting comes to be seen less as an artwork and more as a mere image. The viewer experiences it as a highly rendered representation and not as a suggestion or interpretation of reality.

I know that this holds in my musical experiences: to a certain point I am incapable of judging the virtuosity or technical accomplishment of a performer. I can seize on certain obvious features - rapidity of execution, roundness of tone, dexterity, etc. - and these can be undoubtedly dazzling when they are in the service of virtuoso music. They are meant to impress, and they do. But I cannot say I, in a true sense, understand the higher skill involved in playing an instrument. I literally will not be able to perceive these higher virtues until I have acquired some experience with playing the piano or violin, and have attempted to master the difficulties myself. I can go to a certain point, and no further.

I think the same holds for the visual arts (and for literature).

-- Iian