Academic journal article Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore

Drawing the Line: Reflections on the Importance of Drawing by Hand in an Increasingly Digital Age

Academic journal article Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore

Drawing the Line: Reflections on the Importance of Drawing by Hand in an Increasingly Digital Age

Article excerpt

For over 2,000 years, the noun "digit" (from the Latin digitus) has signified "finger," but now in its adjectival form "digital" relates to technology that generates, stores, and processes data. This lexical shift is emblematic of a larger change within our culture, and more specifically, the practice of drawing. With a new millennium quickly unfolding before us, I cannot think of a better time to look at the past to reconsider the essential role that tactile values have played in the practice of drawing since time immemorial. Are our hands becoming obsolete as creative tools? Are our hands being replaced by machines? And where does that leave the creative process?

These questions were first raised by my entry into the realm of academe in the fall of 2010, when I became a member of the faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts in Richmond, VA. Charged with teaching, among other things, the fundamentals of drawing, I was required to analyze and articulate, in a concise manner, the processes that as a draftsman, I had developed and employed over the years--and which had become mysteriously instinctual and intuitive. This development in my professional life soon led to a renewed interest on my part in the practice of observational drawing. Perhaps inevitably, this led to a rediscovery of the lessons learned while attending the Istituto Statale d'Arte in Florence, Italy.

I had the good fortune to come of age in a culture that fostered a holistic, humanistic approach to art education. A seminal influence for me at this stage of my life was my instructor of disegno dal vero (life drawing), the sculptor and painter Marco Lukolic. A kind and thoughtful man, he reveled in the eye-mind-hand coordination that makes drawing possible, and fostered an appreciation for the art of translation, namely those processes of thought and perception that permit an artist to transcend the prosaic and embrace the poetic. His work is at once modern, ancient, sophisticated, and naif--in short, it lends itself to being appreciated on multiple levels. He valued the organic over the clinical, and the imaginative over the literal. Perhaps most importantly, he taught me to value tradition and to recognize that tradition is not nostalgia, but knowledge passed on from one generation to another. For his example I am grateful, for it encouraged me to see my artistic development as a microcosm of the larger history of art, and thus have a sense of belonging to a larger whole.

Maintaining a daily diet of drawing

The challenges I have faced as a printmaker, illustrator, and painter over the years led me to work more and more from memory, and in a manner and style perhaps more indebted to the advent of synthetic cubism than to the figure drawing lessons of my youth, which revolved around the discovery and exploration of such extraordinary draftsmen as Pisanello, Watteau, Ingres, the youthful Degas, and Kollwitz. This distancing from the academic drawing practices of my youth was pushed further by my lifelong fascination with the relief-block print, a medium that imposes unforgiving constraints and necessitates a high degree of formal stylization.

Still, I never completely abandoned the practice of drawing from life. Over the years, my work has come to embody a sort of dichotomy comprised of two complementary approaches to image making: one inspired by anonymous Italian folk art of the 15th and 16th centuries, and 18th- and 19th-century American folk art; and a second inspired by the aforementioned European tradition of master draftsmanship. My "Daily Drawing" series of mixed-media studies is a testament to my commitment to the practice of drawing remaining an integral part of my daily life.

A firm foundation

The things that shaped my experience in school--a love for artist's materials, a hands-on approach to the image-making processes, etc.--no longer apply to the art student of today. …

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