At no time, probably, have drawings failed to attract people's attention and arouse their admiration, although they have not always done so in the same way. Drawing has of old been regarded as a beginning: the first attempt to define ideas from which works of art in any media may grow and come into being; a way that may lead from drawing to print, from sketch to painting, from design to sculpture, building, or one of the many other creations possible to human hands. The work that we see in finished form only -- a miniature, a portrait sketch, a composition in which care has been lavished on the smallest details -- has almost always been preceded by a first rough sketch or at least a scribble.
The question arises whether we can justify grouping together and writing historical accounts of "drawn thoughts." We can assign them a place in the process whereby works of art are created. By themselves, however, they may seem hardly to belong to the realm of works of art. After all, is it not true that as spectators and users of houses or art objects we are only concerned with the end product? There is certainly much to be said for this point of view.
Many artists have expressed the wish that their drawings be destroyed after their death. Fortunately, such requests have not been carried out often; and we should be all the more grateful for this when we recall that original creations of artists of the stature of Michelangelo and Pieter Bruegel have been at stake. At the same time, we may speculate whether this is not why, except for the occasional sheet that chance appears to have preserved, we have practically no drawings by some of the greatest masters of the Low Countries, for example, Frans Hals, Vermeer, and Jan Steen. As against this, the abundance of drawings by other artists -- the thousand and more drawings by Rembrandt or Van Gogh -- also sets one thinking. The disparity in numbers, at times the complete absence of one characteristic example, makes it difficult for the art historian to present a balanced and responsible over-all picture.
Inasmuch as we limit ourselves in this book to drawings by painters and graphic artists, we are not too badly off as far as the Netherlands are concerned. The abundance of examples, even if they are somewhat unequally distributed, renders the task of making a general survey difficult, to be sure, though in no way impossible. The same profusion is unfortunately not to be met among sculptors' drawings, and still less among designs by architects. Alas, a general survey of the last two categories is not practicable for the Netherlands at the present time.
A survey of Dutch drawing of the last five centuries by no means amounts to a history of the visual arts during that period. For that history, more is needed than drawings alone. The characteristics of a given period can be brought out properly only if the total artistic production is taken into consideration. But, in that case, what sort of general picture can we get from drawings? It cannot be denied that, apart from all personal forms of expression, a general process of development and change can be traced in a chronologically ordered series of examples. Certain periods reveal particular characteristics precisely because of the way in which the art of drawing was developing at those times; and this cannot be entirely accidental. On the contrary, we shall see that even changes in drawing technique or preferences for specific media are inseparably bound up with a particular age and with the then current artistic styles.
There is still more to it than this. Drawings take us into the artist's workshop, and they also take us along whenever the artist, armed with a sketchbook and chalk, pen, or pencil, exchanges his studio for another place of work or for the open air. The history of the artist's expanding . . .