What does it mean to draw?

If you’re someone like me who looks at the pictures in an article before reading the text, this time you might have been surprised to find a card and a page of signatures. Maybe you even said to yourself, “You call that a drawing?”

Like the title of my Psychology Today series of articles – “Why Draw?” – this is a good question. But it’s not easy to answer, because it means finding a definition of “drawing” that encompasses very different types of images: realistic renderings, abstract designs, scribbled sketches, and architectural plans, to name a few.

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In fact, people have been trying to define “drawing” for centuries, and it’s even harder now with all the latest digital imaging technologies. For example, a 21st-century definition of drawing would have to include actual drawings by Salvador Dali alongside those created by craiyon.com’s “generative artificial intelligence” system, Dall-E mini, into which even young children type a few words can prompt and produce hundreds, if not thousands, of Dali-style images without ever picking up a colored pencil.

With these facts in mind, this article offers some ways to understand the many worlds of drawing while avoiding a harsh and quick definition of the word itself. First, let’s take a closer look at “The Bigger Picture of Drawing” (Figure 1, below) and how it opens up the general theme while breaking down drawing into manageable chunks. From there, I’ll go back to my five “drawing teaching paradigms” presented in my previous article and consider their relationship to Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) (1983, 1999). (This will set the stage for future articles that will look at each paradigm individually.)

“The Bigger Picture of Drawing”

Source: Stephen Farthing, used with permission.

For better or worse, all of these examples – maps, signatures, artificially generated images and more – have a place in The Bigger Picture of Drawing above, created by British artist and Royal Academician Stephen Farthing (2012, pp. 21-25) .

For Farthing, this map is the latest in a series of attempts to develop a ‘taxonomy’ of drawing, linking different types of drawings according to their common characteristics and distinguishing them from other types (2014, pp. 28-33). As in the life sciences, taxonomies themselves often take the form of drawings: typically tree-like diagrams with the common name as the stem, from which lines branch by kingdom, tribe, class, order, family, genus, and species.

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Farthing made several attempts to plot his taxonomy of drawing before arriving at the system reproduced here. If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s based on Harry Beck’s classic 1931 London Underground graphic. But instead of well-known stations like “Paddington” and “Hyde Park,” Farthing’s “Stops” are other types of drawings.

Many of them are unexpected – like road markings, playing cards, chess boards, eyeliner, air traffic control screens, wallpaper, Einstein’s Oxford Blackboard, illuminated signs, pyrotechnics, sports fields, photography, film and computers. Perhaps most surprising is the list of “natural phenomena” with snail trails, contrails, tire tracks, skier tracks and even natural shadows.

As with the subway map, the main lines connecting the stations are colour-coded, but here colors distinguish different drawing functions: decorative results (pink), control (red), idea generation (yellow), instructions (blue), recording ( green) , and play (purple). Also, stations denoted by circles connect the functional lines based on common purposes (like “Mapping”, “Computing” and “Manipulating Shadows”), sources (including “From Memory” and “From Life”), or forms (like “The Measured” , “The Grid” and “Musical Notation.” Presenting his map at the first symposium, “Thinking Through Drawing” (2012, pp. 21–25), Farthing remarked that “within … this drawing of drawing is my definition of Draw.”

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Like Farthing, I sidestepped the problem of defining drawing once and for all when I wrote Drawing Lessons (2021). It was for a similar reason: because there are almost as many ways to teach drawing as there are to make drawings.

As mentioned, in my previous article I identified five “teaching paradigms” based on different ideas of what drawing is and what it is for: drawing as design, as seeing, as experience and experiment, as expression and as visual language, or Languages ​​. Among the criteria I used to compare and contrast these paradigms were their application to specific art styles and fields, and their contribution to fields outside of art.

For example, drawing as design blends fine arts with mathematics based on design principles like “proportions” that apply to artistic styles like geometric abstraction and fields like architecture and design. Drawing as seeing, on the other hand, applies stylistically to realism in art, to the field of illustration and, beyond art, to science.

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From a historical perspective, I related teaching methods from specific eras to prominent schools of philosophy at the time – eg Renaissance rationalism with drawing as design and British empiricism with drawing as seeing. To bring these paradigms up to date, I looked at recent studies from leading drawing research centers in the US, Harvard Project Zero (PZ) and Teachers College Columbia University (TC), as well as internationally with Thinking Through Drawing (TtD). , The Drawing Research Network (DRN) and The Big Draw (TBD).

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The following “Drawing Suggestion” connects at least two of my teaching paradigms to Farthing’s “Bigger Picture” while looking back to early PZ research and Howard Gardner’s famous Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983, 1999). But where Gardner focused drawing primarily on “spatial intelligence,” I associate drawing with all — including “logical-mathematical,” “linguistic,” “musical,” “physical-kinesthetic,” “inter- and intrapersonal,” ” naturalist” and “existential”.

Drawing proposal

In addition to the many types of drawing listed on his map, Farthing also mentions two that we do all the time but don’t typically think of as drawing. The first involves spatial intelligence: when we look up at the night sky and mentally connect the dots between the stars to identify constellations such as “The Big Dipper” (2012, p. 22). The second, which (at least initially) requires physical-kinesthetic intelligence, is based on a quote by the artist Joseph Beuys: “Even when I write my name, I draw” (2014). Another artist, Josef Albers, turned this ordinary act into a drawing lesson.

As one of the first exercises in his drawing class at Yale University, Albers had students write their signatures (1969, p. 26) not on paper but in the air, and not just once but over and over again, sometimes with their eyes closed. From there, the students took the same steps above the paper, then on the paper, but over and over again.

Ultimately, it was about, as Albers put it, helping the students “get in touch with their instrument” — that is, to do what musicians do when they practice. Drawing is about becoming aware of how hands, arms and shoulders work together.

Source: Josef and Anni Albers Foundation; Also from Search versus Re-Search: Courtesy of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.

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But once students could write their names more consciously, the next assignments required them to push those skills in other directions, literally: drawing their signatures backwards, then upside down, and finally reversed and upside down (Figure 2, left).

I learned this lesson along with many others pioneered by Albers in William Reimann’s foundational drawing class at Harvard. Reimann had studied with Albers at Yale, and at both universities classes like this one challenged these academically gifted students to learn not only new skills but new ways of thinking.

Reimann wrote about this task under the heading “On the sense of motor kinesthesis” and recalled “bottom-up” vs. “top-down” thinking:

“The physical inner awareness of being in motion plays an important role in supporting the subtle distinctions that the eye makes. The first awareness exercises, writing in the air, then in the air with your eyes closed, try to bring that awareness into the center of attention for a moment. Through the movement of the arms, each person affirms the process of first experiencing a sensation and later connecting it to an idea, purpose and goal… [B]Most importantly, the learning process is shown to go beyond the passive use of the ‘head’… It is eye-mind-hand coordination that is necessarily one of the most important events in drawing.”

In other words, or in Gardner’s terminology, the task transforms a familiar “linguistic” activity into a problem-solving/product-making process that involves both “physical-kinesthetic” and “spatial” intelligence.

You can try if you like. Start with a pencil and several large sheets of paper, but don’t draw on the paper just yet. Instead, take plenty of time to practice writing your signature in the air, and try to kinesthetically feel all the movements of your fingers, hands, arms, and shoulders. Notice how your awareness sharpens as you draw with your eyes closed. Then notice how corporeal-kinesthetic and spatial intelligences combine when you draw your name upside down, upside down and upside down and upside down.

From my point of view, this exercise starts with “drawing as language” but ends with “drawing as design”.

My next article will take a closer look at what it means to learn how to draw with design in mind.