The Field of Play (III)

Some thoughts on the field of play, where thinking happens and understanding grows:

MEDIA


III

The medium of Drawing.

This may be hard for most people to believe, but, talk these days about drawing, in certain professions, in design and construction professions for example — or: in the domain of software development that provides tools for certain professions, which is to say, on the periphery of certain professions  —  talk of drawing as something of a certain value, to be understood for it’s particular function, this kind of talk induces a great deal of outrage. The attitude is not uniform. There are many people in the software industry who appreciate the discussion, people who’d like to carry it forward and see what it can bring to the future of software and media itself. But such people, so far, set themselves up as outcasts, outcast anyway, not from the professions, but outcast from a certain class of software aficionado. Within the actual professions (architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, industrial design) the situation is reversed: drawings are highly valued. I’m going to talk about why.

But it’s important to admit, that an interest in drawings marks you, among that former class, as a kind of a cretin. Deformed and mentally handicapped because of congenital deficiency is on the mild end of it. Once I was told I “have a worms-eye view” (of the situation). Elsewhere, I was offered (in email) the following test of verbal reasoning ability:

  • esoteric is to toilet, as purple is to what?  (esoteric : toilet = purple : X)

Indeed I’m full of it.

I was asked to moderate a panel discussion at a technology conference a few years ago (2014). A question came about drawings. The panel gave me the microphone, so I talked about what drawing is, functionally. There is a certain set of distinctive, and very basic, things going on in the act of drawing, that are not going on in the act of modeling. And this should be understood. It’s worth taking some time thinking about what you’re doing when you set out to make a drawing, or a set of drawings, what you’re accomplishing by doing that.

If you look at anything in the world that’s familiar, like drawing, (or like a chair) and you try to understand it in a fresh way, and in a functional way, if you try to see what a thing is by looking at what it does, then you’re in philosophical territory. Then you’ll be told that the best thing for anyone attempting philosophy is to be strapped to a pole in the town square and lashed. I heard that one too, yes!

So my 60 seconds of philosophizing on the panel met the whip. Someone, who apparently just walked past the room just as I talked, entered, sat down, then yelled,

“I just can’t believe, at a tech conference, after all these years, that we’re STILL, talking about drawings!”

Wow! Such passion!

Drawing has a function, a unique one. The need for that function will continue whether or not this fact makes you angry.

My interest in drawing goes back about 10 years. I mean, my particular (peculiar) interest in it. I was a draftsman for years before that, and before that educated in Architecture, which includes study of drawing, and also modeling, constant companions as they are. These were just things that I did, though, and I had no real interest in them other than as things that needed to be done well, and that I was paid for.

Later I found some real respect for them. For some reason I became more curious. But it wasn’t really fondness for drawing that got me thinking about drawing. It was just work I had to do. People are just not wired, generally, to pay close attention to things around them that are ordinary and familiar. Such things become like air. We don’t notice them really, and we certainly don’t ask basic questions about them, like: What are they?

What got me thinking seriously, one day, finally, about drawing, actually, was modeling. I worked at architecture firms. Specifically, firms that were enthusiastic about digital 3D modeling of their building projects. At some point after about 10 years of doing this, professional digital modeling, something changed for me. Before the change I’d been a fanboy (yes) of modeling, of modeling software, of software companies, of tech conferences, of tech white papers, articles, of people who champion modeling, of evangelists proclaiming the end of drawing!

And I believed all of it!

Sort of.

The end of drawing nagged me. Much as I dreaded the months-long labor of producing a set of drawings, I just didn’t buy that we could toss the whole thing out, move past it, model everything and forget about drawing altogether. Something seemed missing, to me, from that story. I’ll discuss what’s missing, in part IV. Until then, look, these guys have some things to say about drawing:

Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)

‘Let whoever may have attained to so much as to have the power of drawing know that he holds a great treasure.’

Wassilly Kandinsky (1866 – 1944)

‘Drawing instruction is a training towards perception, exact observation and exact presentation not of the outward appearances of an object, but of its constructive elements, its lawful forces-tensions, which can be discovered in given objects and of the logical structures of same-education toward clear observation and clear rendering of the contexts, whereby surface phenomena are an introductory step towards the three-dimensional.’

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954)

‘Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.’

Spencer Frederick Gore (1878 – 1914)

‘By drawing, man has extended his ability to see and comprehend what he sees.’

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

‘Drawing is a kind of hypnotism: one looks in such a way at the model, that he comes and takes a seat on the paper.’

And don’t forget to see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams:

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Return to part 1: The Field of Play (I)