Views of presentations by (clockwise from top) Ryan McGinness, Carter Foster and Terry Winters. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Hyperallergic attended tonight’s invite-only symposium on the state of drawing organized by The Drawing Center at the New School in Greenwich Village. Invited were five artists (Deborah Grant, Ryan McGinness, Amy Sillman, Jessica Parker Valentine and Terry Winters), two curators (Carter Foster and Michelle White) and an audience full of critics, curators, artists, collectors and others, who attempted to answer the broad issue using the following questions as guidelines:

  1. How do we define drawing? Is it an activity or a medium? Can drawing exist without a material residue?
  2. How do artists situate drawing in relation to the other elements of their practice — i.e. painting, sculpture, performance etc.?
  3. Are drawing via the computer and drawing by hand two distinct media/practices or should they be considered in tandem? What possibilities do digital technologies open up for drawing in all its many forms?
  4. How does our constant exposure to virtual space change the way artists approach working in two and three dimensions?
  5. What role does drawing still play in reproducing or navigating the world?

What was accomplished you ask? Little of anything, to be honest, but the presentations by a few of the speakers highlighted some of the dilemmas of today’s art-eratti, who are confronted with more multimedia work than ever before and left to wonder what is a drawing anyway and why should we care?

But people do care and they proved it by the earnestness of their presentations and the comments from the crowd, including one from a person who, when asking her “question,” insisted on telling us that she recently discovered (while drawing, of course) that there’s a part of the human fingertip that is particularly flat. Oh joy!

Curator Carter Foster’s visuals were some of the best of the night and they had the art history geek in me creaming in my pants, as he contrasted Old Master works with contemporary stuff on paper and offered this pearl of wisdom, “If you’re literate and you can write, you can understand drawing.” Is drawing and writing really that related?

He also threw out something to chew on when he suggested artist Mark Bradford, who works with paper, considers himself a painter and not a drawer (is that the right word? I mean draftsperson sounds so arcane). That nugget was particularly interesting when a few presentations later artist Amy Sillman, who is a personal favorite, announced that “I don’t make paintings but drawings.” If they’re drawings then why are they being sold for the prices of paintings, I thought to myself. Which brings up another issue, which is why are drawings the lower priced stepchild of art? Sure, they’re not priced like prints, but they’re not exactly as pricey as sculptures either.

But then again, drawings are not “drawings” anymore, according to Ryan McGinness, whose presentation seemed to reflect a younger generation’s view that digital drawings à la vector jettison the idea of the original all together, makes the issue of size (versus scale) irrelevant and functions in a realm where copies aren’t only possible but practically required — the copy is the message.

McGinness, who functions more like a designer, uses his digital drawings on merch, cuts them to make sculptures and layers them onto canvas — the cynic in me thinks it’s probably because they fetch more than if they were on paper.

The most interesting aspect of his segment was when he demonstrated how he digitally renders galleries to figure out where his wall drawings should be placed before he creates them IRL. The silliest part of his presentation was when he presented a grid of images that showed animals and a child drawing along with a tree, which he said could “draw” by attaching a drawing instrument to its branches and letting the wind do the rest. Yeah, artist Tim Knowles already did that, though McGinness didn’t mention him by name.

Curator Michelle White had the deepest thought on the matter when she cited Jacques Derrida’s 1990 essay “Memoirs of the Blind,” which was penned for a show of the same name at the Louvre that exhibited drawings of blind people. She explained it demonstrated that “drawing was an act of memory and not vision,” which felt corny but rang true. Her presentation veered into a ditch when she started discussing our contemporary moment and its need for authenticity as a response to the ubiquity of the virtual, which sounds sweet but seemed wrong considering our culture’s search for authenticity has been going on for decades and well before the advent of email.

The final speaker was Terry Winters, who spoke like some drawing elder imparting knowledge on the rest of us. “Drawing is a precision instrument,” he said and later offered that Eva Hesse seemed to draw in three dimensions in her work. He concluded his presentation with a slide of two of his drawings and the statement, “Drawing is the prototype, the model and the pattern.” Which was enough for me.

Probably the highlight of the event was the short clip of an iPhone animation that was screened by Amy Sillman. She talked about her smartphone and how she was using it to draw. Wait, David Hockney doesn’t have a monopoly on that?! At the end of her presentation, which had no visuals, she showed a short clip of her animation, which was drawn to accompany poetry and was sweet and endearing, if seemingly unfinished. I captured a 17 second clip on my smartphone, which I posted below:

YouTube video

What is the state of drawing? From what I can figure it’s an enigma and it’ll probably remain that way.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

5 replies on “Tonight’s State of Drawing Panel and Amy Sillman’s iPhone Animation”

  1. Why was this an exclusive event? Was it for members only of the Drawing Center? 

      1. Doesn’t it strike you odd that it was exclusive event? It makes those who draw and are publicly approved of it by institutions and small collective groups rather exclusive in themselves. There are many artists known and unknown in these circles who draw rather well, yet because they are not part of some art world function, they are not privy to this inquiry. 

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