I will structure this review around the course objectives and use different aspects of my practice on this module to evidence my engagement with these objectives:
LO1 demonstrate a rigorous engagement with drawing skills
My immediate response to this learning objective is to ask myself what I understand by ‘drawing skills’. The first answer I come up with is technical ability to draw in a representational manner. Clearly my skills in this area are a long way away from those of the ‘great’ Masters. And they will never bear comparison. However I bring something else to a rigorous engagement with drawing skills, which in the context of drawing APPS and photography, are equally important. This is a rigorous engagement with drawing in a multi disciplinary context developed through decades of study and thinking about how we relate to ourselves, to other human people, to non human people, and to our environment. I believe I have lived long enough and studied/taught hard enough to have developed some wisdom in relation to contemporary issues and problems. I hope that I can use drawing to communicate some of this thinking and critique to others. I have some understanding of psychology, philosophy, literature and sociology (all of which I have studied at undergraduate or postgraduate level) that I can incorporate into my drawing practice. This makes for rich work. I also come from a background in research and I take a research approach to my work, often starting with a research question. For example, in module six of this module, I start with the question, What can a focus on the metaphor of shoes in fairy tales contribute to a visual exploration of wanting/parigraha and its damaging social and psychological consequences? I think that this interest/experience in research and investigation is an important skill I bring to drawing and that it has enabled me to interpret the exercises in this module in rigorous ways. For example, my response to all the exercises in part five on Time are rigorous – for the exercise on changing the viewer’s perception of time I chose to argue that video is part of the extended field of drawing, and made a video of the formation of stalagmites and stalagmites in a cave in North Yorkshire. A process that takes eons (so the subject of time is uppermost in the work), but also I brought an awareness that Time can perhaps best be manipulated through video since each frame can be held for as long as the maker decides (very well encapsulated in Andy Warhol’s videos of the Empire State Building which certainly played with the viewer’s perception of time by dragging it out eternally). Another example is my choice of silverpoint for another exercise on Time, this exercise asking the maker to draw with care and take time. I chose silverpoint for this drawing both because it is not a drawing technique that can be dashed off, but also because silverpoint itself takes ‘time’ to develop and changes over time. These examples are chosen to illustrate another aspect of rigour which is related to choosing media that are congruent with, and add to, subject. Perhaps I will mention a last example – in my work for the exercise on how clothing expresses character, I drew on Dante’s inferno. I explore the clothes women wear on a night out in Newcastle, in the snow. I was interested in self objectification, and I chose to draw in ‘hard’ materials including nail varnish and glitter.
For me, ‘rigorous’ means sustained, thoughtful, determined, patient, disciplined, curious, leaving no stone unturned, analytical and step by step. i.e. one thing leads to another and the journey is not complete – although at some point in a degree one must move on. This means creating starting points for investigation that can be returned to repeatedly, for example, I have returned to the cave as a place and as a metaphor several times during this, and previous, modules, and drawings for the ‘The Machine Stops’ (TMS -novella written by E.M. Forster) on part five, are a continuation of work from ‘Exploring Drawing Media’ and will be returned to again in future modules for the degree. Interestingly, the quick drawings that I did on Part Five, for the exercise on drawing a passing scene, are not rigorous in most of the ways I have defined rigorous here. I guess they fit the ‘curious’ definition, and perhaps fit the experimentation definition since I was playing around with different media. The drawings themselves were fun, and I like them a lot – for example they have spontaneity, movement and colour in some of them. However, while I ‘like’ them they do not hold the same importance for me, as say the TMS or work on the chair (see below) I did for part one, or on Dante. Perhaps because I do not yet see a way to take them further – although as practice in drawing people, or as colour studies, they are a useful exercise.
LO2 communicate complex ideas through your practice
This is a strength that I bring to drawing. The exercises have provided a framework and boundaries that have been useful as a jumping off point for new ways of engaging in the expanded field of drawing. As I have written at various points during this module, I am particularly interested in bringing together an experimental approach to making/process with complex ideas about the world and our place in it. I see drawing as a way to communicate/critique idea to any and all audiences, since it bi-passes language and can be understood, or interpreted, by all. During this module I have (mostly) remained focused on how to communicate a critique of our use and abuse of the environment as well as of mainstream discourses relating to our current situation. For example, in Part one I began by exploring discourses about travel versus staying put, and the imperative to keep moving versus the, perhaps spiritual suggestion, that we should remain still and stay in the present. (Of course the imperative to travel shifted later in the year once the covid19 situation developed). This focus is evidenced in exercise one which asked us to draw an object – the object I chose was a chair. The way that this led to the issue of Travel/migration/staying put was a great lesson in how exploration of objects can lead to exploration of issues (I had no idea at the start that this was where it would lead). Part four also focused on the environment and began with drawings of a cave, which quickly became associated with an exploration of another idea – that of ‘Plato’s cave’ and our imprisonment in false beliefs about the world and our relationship to it. I am influenced in my work by literature, poetry and philosophy, for example I drew on Dante’s Inferno for work in part two, and, as I mention above, I returned in Part five to finish work started in a previous module on The Machine Stops (TMS), a short story written in 1909 by E.M. Forster. I viewed this story as prescient when I started work on it three years ago. I now see it as even more so. I used an exercise on Time in part five to finish the remaining small drawings on TMS and will come back to make larger works on this project in the next drawing course on narrative. The particular exercise on part five was to make an artists book about something that takes place over time. It is slightly unclear how much time passes in TMS but two years are mentioned as passing, and it’s safe to assume that many years have passed, rather than days. For me, my work on TMS is the most exciting and important – I am using it to express ideas that I feel are crucial for us to explore as we live through what is perhaps the most far reaching and consequential shift in modes of working, relating, consuming and producing and has been described by some as the fourth industrial revolution. E.M. Forster’s concerns, expressed in TMS, that our relationships with one another, ourselves, and the natural world are fundamentally damaged through technological developments and AI should in my view, be foremost in all our thinking. I see drawing as a contribution to thinking about this, as well as part of an activist approach to critique and challenge our beliefs/behaviours and responses.
In my making I bear my tutor’s comments in mind with regard to any work that is critical of social norms, discourses and practices. This can easily become didactic and off putting for the viewer. I attempt to avoid this by a focus on process – experimentation and exploration – and by not having a fixed idea of a specific ‘image’ that I have in mind to produce at the outset. Instead I let images emerge through the work, as well as directions in which the idea itself might develop. I aim to leave room for viewer interpretation and communicate any critical message with a ‘light’ touch.
LO3 evidence your engagement with experimentation through your practice.
As I allude to above, I do not want ideas to lead my work alone. Nor do I want experimentation/process to be devoid of ideas and content. Ideally I want to develop a practice that is lead by both experimentation and ideas/concepts/critique. I recently read a paper by Elizabeth Fisher and Rebecca Fortnum: On Not Knowing: How Artists Think. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rebecca_Fortnum/publication/337331636_On_Not_Knowing_how_artists_think/links/5f80219e92851c14bcb8fc8c/On-Not-Knowing-how-artists-think.pdf?origin=publication_detail
I took from this that the author’s are arguing that artists come to know what they want to say through practice i.e. we come to knowledge through experimentation in drawing, rather than start with knowledge and express it through drawing. I have some sympathy for this view. Certainly as I express above under LO2, I have come to ideas through experimenting with drawing e.g. ideas about travel through exploring drawing a chair, or ideas about human enslavement through drawing a cave. It is certainly exciting to reach these ideas through the process of drawing and discover different ways of understanding the idea through doing so. However I also think that experimentation in art needs to be strongly grounded in knowledge from other disciplines and/or areas of experience – whether humanities, arts, sciences or first-hand life events . Art is an interdisciplinary subject and I believe that drawing on knowledge from these other disciplines and experiences strengthens the impact and reach of drawing. For me, experimentation without arriving at concept remains empty. An example of where I have experimented with no intention of attaching the experimentation to a concept is the work I conducted for assignment 5. Here I responded to an exercise on time that required us to make drawings that required time to pass for their completion. I experimented by placing peelings inside different kinds of paper, wrapping them in cardboard and leaving them with weights on top, for six months to see what happened. The resultant ‘drawings’ have a certain beauty and I believe my response to the activity was appropriate. In itself this was an interesting exercise – as with the quick drawings of scenes described above, in terms of my engagement and excitement the exercise is not fulfilling, and in terms of communication to an audience – I guess the ‘drawings’ communicate very little apart from a subliminal message that time changes everything – which of course we already know, and hardly needs saying. (Interestingly these drawings on my Instagram page have as many ‘likes’ as those on TMS, which I find baffling – they are drawings made by ‘rubbish’ and their title IS ‘Rubbish’. And they remain, in my view, ‘Rubbish’. )
To summarise this section, I believe my work on this module gives much evidence of experimentation – from those examples outlined above, to my experimentation with silverpoint on top of ink in part five, to the highly experimental work for assignment three that involved responding to music – in this assignment I decided that rather than draw TO music I would write a musical composition and discover a new visual language to score it. For this I experimented with oil and wax drawings that incorporated information to a pianist about how to ‘read’ the score, including the key, which chords to play, the dynamics, the pitch and tempo. I finished assignment three by making a video of me playing the composition alongside the drawings. Other examples of experimentation include many experiments to see how different media work together, including using enamel alongside soft pastels, oil pastels under water based mono prints, and many experiments in scratching, rubbing, layering (see part six for many experiments that involving layering many drawings on top of one another) and with different kinds of substrate e.g. PLIKE paper, coloured paper, Washi paper and copper. I am a keen experimenter and enjoy finding out ‘what happens if…’. I will continue to keep this to the forefront of my practice.
LO4 situate, reflect and critique drawing in historical and contemporary contexts and reflect on your own learning
I hope I have given evidence of my ability to do this in the writing so far for this review. Evidence can also be found in my responses to my tutor’s feedback (written on the tutor report itself). All my blogs end with a review of my learning, both about materials, subject, process, end product and further work. I continually seek out other artists whose work and practice I can learn from. For example, I think that Anselm Keifer is an excellent role model as an artist who is constantly experimentally while remaining equally focused on exploring and critiquing the human condition. The Dadaists and war artists like Kathe Kollwitz and Henry Moore (whose drawings I sometimes think are rather under-rated) have much to offer in this respect. I am also inspired by artists working today, for example Jim Shaw.
I write a lot, and writing helps me develop my ideas for practice. I am beginning to explore incorporating writing into my drawing too. This is most apparent in the drawings for TMS where I use the words of E.M. Forster rather than my own words, but I may explore using my own words more in future. I have written copious amounts about other artists work in blogs for this module and have explored theoretical ideas about art at length, for example, the process/content debate (I sometimes get the impression that process is winning out in this debate (see for example the article I refer to above about coming to knowledge through drawing, rather than bringing knowledge to drawing) and argued for a balanced approach in which content/ideas are given more prominence and art is viewed as having meaning beyond itself – in a way that does not become didactic. My experience as a teacher is relevant here: I tell my students that they must write to learn, not to show what they already know. Yet I recognise that in order to write to learn they must have gained certain knowledge as a starting point. Writing, and I think drawing too, are processes through which knowledge is clarified, evaluated, developed and crucially, communicated clearly. In terms of a developing voice, alongside my interest in social critique, I think narrative and the inter-sections between story, and different kinds of language are possibly emerging as the core of my practice.
Final thought added at the very end of this module – I need to produce an awful lot of work before I make anything that I am pleased with! Out of the more than three hundred drawings I have made for this module, I am excited by the possibilities of perhaps 14 of them (all submitted for assessment – six of them are in the flip books). I love the drama and darkness of the series of drawings in the middle of The Red Shoes (drawings made of the long dance scene, and before the film returns to the framing story) and I feel that in these drawings (in the last few days before the final date for submission for assessment) I am getting into my stride.
The outcomes from the module in terms of learning are of course huge.
Here are the 14: