Drawing Attention

By Jones, Geraldine | Contemporary Review, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Drawing Attention


Jones, Geraldine, Contemporary Review


The technological inventions of the twentieth century have created a society dependent on images. Photographs and illustrations are reproduced in newspapers, books and magazines, while billboard advertising invades our environment. Television, film and videos dominate our lifestyle. It is impossible to avoid the pictorial image and consequently painting is viewed very differently from what it was in past centuries. It has become accessible to all levels of society through the media and art, once an elitist interest, is now part of our popular culture as is shown in the Turner Prize and the attention it receives. There has been much debate whether a video of seated policemen, the winner of the Turner Prize, is really 'art'. The recent exhibition of avant-garde art at the Royal Academy provocatively called 'Sensation' caused outrage to the press and with much of the public.

Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the public are often given a distorted view of the state of the art in this country due to the 'hype' of the avant-garde. Whilst promoting discussion, the avant-garde attracts attention through its ability to shock, and in doing so is taken up and promoted by the media and by galleries. To them the avant-garde is big business, but whether it is 'good' art, only time will tell. Like all art produced in the past, however, it is a record of and an insight into, the society and times in which it is produced. It is easy to assume that this type of art is the norm, produced by hundreds of British artists, but this is not true.

Most artists are unsuccessful in commercial terms. Only a minority reach the level of success that involves regular private gallery and museum exhibitions and coverage in the international art magazines. Most artists support their work through a second job, but their measure of success is very different from that of making money. The satisfaction of creating something unique and personal from an emotional and intellectual response to our present environment and society is their success. Nevertheless, they need to measure their achievements and perhaps the best way to do this is by exhibiting with other artists. This is one of the foremost functions of the art society today. There are hundreds of art societies throughout the country, some professional, some amateur, but they all help the individual artist to see his work alongside that of others, as well as stimulating discussion which is often vital for the creative mind.

Artistic societies, although having similar functions and aims, have different requirements for membership and selection procedures. There is only one British art society, however, that considers good draughtsmanship as the prime requirement for membership; this is the Society of Graphic Fine Art.

The Society of Graphic Fine Art was formed in the early part of this century in order to promote good drawing and this is still its primary aim today. Originally called the Society of Graphic Art, it has its origins in the etching class of the old London County Council's Central School of Arts and Crafts before the First World War. At that time a number of enthusiastic students met after their classes to talk about their work with their tutor, Luke Taylor, in a friendly and eager atmosphere. With the start of World War I, although these meetings continued, they changed as men went to fight. Luke Taylor, being a man of exceptionally high ideals, as well as an excellent etcher, enlisted at the first opportunity and after a short period of service was sadly killed. His successor at the etching class in London also joined up and it was up to a senior student, Frank Emmanuel, to take over the running of the class and the after school meetings. Being a man of considerable drive and having a sound technical ability, he kept the work of the students at a level of competence that soon became known for its high standards of achievement.

While art classes continued to take place, the First World War inevitably affected many practising artists and many of them enlisted to see active service.

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