By Charles Harris
Having explained something about the processes of drawing in Part 1 of this blog article, I thought I would now mention the obvious importance of drawing: for drawing is an instant form of communication. It can say immediately, without a mouthful of words, exactly what we want to communicate. It's also a natural activity, like warming your hands in front of a fire, or waggling a hand in water to see how cold it is.
Sadly, in this century, drawing is not in the strict Curriculum of Compulsory Education, although in my opinion it obviously should be. Leonardo Da Vinci said, "Draw from life every day.” He made over 250 scientifically executed fantastic anatomical drawings, which are held in the Royal Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, at Windsor Castle. Thus, I think we can understand that he did mean this quite literally. These beautiful and accurate 3-dimensional anatomical drawings were still used in medical manuals in Britain until the mid 1960's.
However, usually to promote vested modern art ideas, drawing was sadly mocked and marginalised throughout the 20th Century. A foolishness that was carried forward into the 21st century. Yet, this loss of knowledge and those lost skills have become apparent today in many different ways. For apart from a human practical loss in drawing activity, where its impact upon our wellbeing has yet to be determined, is also the very essence of painting, sculpture and design.
So, let us look back in history to see what this has meant. For six hundred years before the 20th century, drawing and painting were an integral part of the 'Great Tradition.' It began in Italy in the 13th century and ended with the leading impressionists in the 19th century, who still used those skills and standards. Historically, this was 300 years of Italian artists and then 300 years of French artists, with a sprinkling of Europeans and two Brits. While throughout that entire time, 3-dimensional drawing was as naturally used as an essential instrument.
Unlike modern artists today, Renaissance artists were also frequently well versed in other activities. As an easy example, Brunelleschi in Florence, apart from being a wonderful master draftsman, was also a goldsmith, a sculptor, architect, and master mathematician, as were many of his colleagues throughout those times.
While the Italians looked back towards the Romans and the Greeks— where 3-dimensional sculpture is epitomised by The Venus DI Milo and design by the Acropolises and its architecture — the Greeks likely also looked back at 3D Indian painting. And unsurprisingly, recently discovered old cave paintings show a group of happy pigs, made over 5,000 years ago. So, the need to happily express ourselves in drawing is not a new idea, nor is it an outdated, unnecessary one. Quite the opposite is still true, and needs to be encouraged.
I thought I should end this discussion by demonstrating with a handful of people, who like many others before them, practically used drawing to assist them in work of the greater good. In Florence, Michelangelo, apart from being the world's best sculptor, was also an accomplished architect and built a bridge for his fellow citizens across the River Arno. Naturally he used his drawings, which were later re-used by the Italians after the end of the Second World War to rebuild this bridge, which was blown up by the retreating Germans in the later stages of the war.
During the time Michelangelo built this bridge, his rival Leonardo designed and built for his fellow citizens a new drainage system for the city of Florence. He also used his own drawings.
Much later and throughout his career, Winston Churchill made drawings and paintings between his activities as a soldier and as a war-time leader. He found those problem-solving activities, which were not life threatening when he made a mistake, a very reliable, multi-challenging and necessary aid for both his military and political difficulties as a man and leader.
Finally, my father's elderly friend, the late Mr Hardy, who built the biggest dam in the world during his career, also used to draw to keep his mind intellectually active during breaks between his large engineering projects. Like Mr Churchill, he was fully aware he was walking in the footsteps of giants.
I hope you have enjoyed the above and it may serve to raise this entire question of the importance of drawing and draw attention to the urgent need to re-introduce it properly back into people's lives today.
If you've enjoyed this 2 part blog series you'll also enjoy Charles's book: Trust Your Eye - An Illustrated History of Painting