Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Mass drawing, and the scarcity of linear drawing in our current era
Here is a drawing by Jean Clouet 1485-1541. It is of course an example of a linear style of drawing. Clouet was a portrait artist in the French court and was a creator of many fashionable drawings. Noble patrons bought and exchanged these drawings as we might exchange photographs today.Here is another
This is the work of Hans Holbein the younger 1497-1593. They may have met, although Holbein worked in the English court he traveled through France and they were contemporaries. I think it is amazing how similar their work is.
and here is another by Holbein
When I was a student I copied a number of drawings by each of these artists. Their eloquent and understated style seemed to me to be the ultimate way of drawing. I liked the repression, and the ethereally delicate modulation of the values that made these drawings so subtle. Another artist whose drawings have the same sensibility, although he lived a little later is Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres 1780-1867. I have shown his drawings before on this blog. He gets my vote for greatest draftsman.
Here is another Ingres head with much the same sort of an aesthetic.
One of my readers is working on a portrait and that got me to thinking of the different approaches to drawing . I am next going to show you some mass drawings, that are from the opposite end of the spectrum and are made with strongly stated values. The seem to me to have power rather than delicate elegance.
This head of Isabella Brandt, his wife, is by Peter Paul Rubens 1577-1640 This is a tonal or mass approach. Here is another example below.
This figure was drawn by Michelangelo 1475-1564 and is another example of mass drawing.
Linear and mass drawing, these are really the two great poles of artistic drawing. As an artist it is best to be able to do a little of both of them. Painters today tend to think in mass, and sometimes it is called the painters way of drawing. The implications of impressionism are largely tonal, the French impressionists obliterated line and worked entirely in mass, and we are almost all the result of that system of thinking. We hear so much about the "war" between the impressionist and the academic painters of the 19th century. I think too much is made of that, by the way. Looked back on from the distance in time at which we now stand, they seem more like each other than the avant garde art that followed them , which seems to be totally unlike either.
Here are two drawings by the Fenchman Pierre-Paul Prud'hon 1758-1823
Within a short generation the academies and then the art schools began to teach a method of painting that was heavily influenced by impressionism. By 1900 virtually all of the training in the art schools was based on impressionism. My own teacher R.H.Ives Gammell was essentially an impressionist trained painter, and he spent his whole career trying to do academic paining using that impressionist training. I think in a way he was hobbled by that, as the things he made were influenced more by the pre impressionist generation. Either way for better or worse we are nearly all of us painting today from a mostly impressionist sensibility. As a landscape painter, that's pretty logical for me and not really a problem. If I wanted to make allegorical paintings it might be.
Where I am going with all of this is, it seems to me that the linear style of drawing is becoming less and less common today. Most, not all, but most of thecontemporary drawings I see reproduced in the art magazines today are mass drawings. I think that the computer generated art that I see out there is heavily weighted towards mass drawing. The manga and graphic novel artists are more linear but and work leans toward a "cartoon sensibility" rather than realism. The linear draings above are not like cartoons, but are a reductionist kind of realism. I would have thought that the stripped down, simplification of linear drawing would be most popular in our "modernist" infleunced era.
I wonder if line drawing now seems archaic to contemporary viewers or whether it is harder for them to read because of all the photographs we see daily. Photographs are of course a mass treatment, rather than a linear one.
Other than in cartoons we seem to see linear drawing only in explanatory art, blueprints and instruction manuals .When I was younger there was a lot of fashion illustration in the magazines which was done in a linear style, and their were often little pen drawings illustrating magazines. Those have both gone away too. Perhaps it is only fashion or perhaps it is more. Either way I hope that as traditional painting is revived, which sure seems to be happening today, we again see a renewed popularity of line as a drawing medium.
Illustrations courtesy artrenewal.org.