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The Role Of Drawing In Western European Art

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Drawing is a term referred both to the “act of marking lines on a surface” and a “product of such manual work”. From prehistory to modern times, it has been mainly used for the desire to communicate. It not only represents culture, and our personal view of the world, but it also allows us to send messages to future generations and leave our mark in history. The whole idea and process of drawing has significantly changed over the past years, having been impacted by important historical events. The Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and other occurrences have played a huge role in how and why it is used. According to Groves, an artist’s creative process is clearly demonstrated in drawing, from little jotted-down ideas to his or her’s final product, their thoughts and feelings are present. Sigmund Freud and other contributors have helped redefine the creative process, and re-establish it overall. Freud’s theory of the subconscious, helps us understand how the human mind operates. He believed that the unconscious mind governs behaviour, it withholds an individual’s hidden desires, thoughts, and memories. Drawing is a way of releasing one’s wants and needs. Furthermore, this can explain how the act of drawing reveals one’s personality, displaying his or her characteristics.

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Walls of prehistoric caves embellished with visuals of numerous animals (and occasional human forms), indicate that animals were of high value in the past. Some caves date back to 30,000 years, for example, the Chauvet Cave in Southern France. Unlike the Chauvet artists’ constant use of charcoal, the markings in other caves were done with natural mineral pigments, sometimes it would be heated or mixed directly on the wall. Unfortunately, there is little to no knowledge regarding the reason as to why such drawings were used in prehistoric society, due to the lack of records and evidence. What function did cave art serve back then? What are some events that may have encouraged or driven primitive people into creating these specific images? To this day, these questions remain unanswered.

In the ancient era, people would use drawing as a tool to express religious or ceremonial practices, demonstrating their beliefs in gods, the heavens, and afterlife. Their interpretations and theories of the world itself were powerfully conveyed and articulated through art. In the west, in ancient times all the way throughout the middle ages, people drew on parchment made out of animal skin. Animals such as, sheep, goats, and lambs were solely utilized as expensive supports or surfaces for drawing. Papyrus grown in the Nile Delta and used as well as invented by ancient Egyptians, was an ideal source of support for drawing. Its qualities has utterly benefited them, the sap as a result of the fibrous water-plants being cemented together, would prevent leakage or “bleeding” of ink. It could be extended by adding more layers of strips, rolled up into a scroll, functioning as an early form of a book. The “Book of the Dead” is a great depiction of the values and beliefs of this period. The text consists of magic spells to assist a dead person’s journey into the afterlife.

Evidence of medieval drawings are found mainly in illuminated manuscripts, produced in monastic centers and later on, in workshops. The drawings were mainly of diagrams, maps, architectural plans, and scientific illustrations. Moreover, studies of figures, patterns, and narrative scenes (containing storylines) were included in model books or pattern books. Furthermore, This helped guide other future artists, for patterns and certain design approaches. Color was an important aspect in medieval illustrations, as it was regarded as appropriate for religious pieces. Many manuscripts include unfinished drawings of anonymous artists, which is beneficial when it comes to investigating the development of their artistic process and drawing techniques. In christianized regions of Northern Europe, new artistic styles were developed, for example, abstract designs that have provided inspiration when combined with religious texts. One of the most outstanding medieval works, is one of Utrecht Psalter. The “Book of Psalms” consisted of 166 drawings, as well as 150 holy poems (psalms). The eight artists who have supposedly worked on it, have exerted their excitement and passion through restless and energetic lines and strokes. Another drawing technique developed in the middle ages, is the use of geometric shapes, further elaborated into figures, animals, or structures. This was established by French draftsman Villard de Honnecourt, in his notebooks (in the 13th century). During the late middle ages, pattern books were essential and routinely used by artists and craftsman, it enhanced efficiency of workshops. An artist would copy from workshop models, and would move on to rely on himself when working with nature.

With more availability and reduction in cost of paper, drawing has become a common activity during the Renaissance period. Paper was invented in China in AD 105, paper and paper making has been transmitted through the islamic world and reached Spain by the 12th – 13th century. Paper making in Europe was initiated from 1300 – 1800. All basic media and tools used in drawing were accessible by the first half of the 16th century. In terms of drawing, the early renaissance transformed the medieval book and pattern book, into the modern sketchbook that we are so familiar with nowadays. Painters were extremely fascinated by the concept of drawing and the opportunity it provided in freedom of experimentation. The idea of drawing has changed completely, unique and different drawing styles were promoted and expected of aspiring artists. Individualism was encouraged, rather than sharing a similar perspective on graphic expression. Pisanello (Antonio Pisano), was one of the first to demonstrate creative thinking, using drawing as a means of self-expression. Instead of copying model drawings, he mastered hand and eye coordination when observing nature. His illustrations was identified to have a realistic sense, capturing lifelike and vivid images. Pisanello has inspired certain aspects of Leonardo da Vinci’s works. One the most famous anatomical studies and scientific illustrations, were of Leonardo da Vinci, he introduced shade and light techniques when drawing solid forms and expanded the range in media. During the 1470s, Leonardo studied drapery techniques from Andrea del Verrocchio, in which he was asked to depict the fall and flow of cloth on a human body. His approach was to moisten the cloth in wet clay, then arrange it around a clay mannequin, allowing it to stiffen. Many other artists have joined the industry, including, Michelangelo and Raphael. In Raphael’s workshop, drawing was referred to as one of the preparatory stages of development of an art piece, such as, a painting. “First-idea sketches, schematic composition drawings, drapery, and study sheet of particular patterns were essential in finalizing a work of art.

The dominant style of the 17th century, also known as the Baroque, was characterized as one of power, emotion, and energy. Social and economic developments contributed to the invention of certain trends, especially after the midcentury, in which artists achieved independence and new social status. With the formation of art academies, people have grown more appreciative of art, taking it more seriously. Landscapes and sceneries were of importance in context of artistic subjects, the natural world was treated as a master’s muse. Claude Lorraine (1600 – 1682) was one of the most famous landscape artists of the 17th century, in his drawings and paintings, his style was based on light and dark contrasts. His works were elaborated in a wide variety of media including, chalk, colorful washes, white heightening, pens, and colored paper. He could skillfully manipulate the media to his advantage, for example, when using washes, he would modulate the light and dark by diluting it (like watercolors). Caricature drawings were of another style that had first emerged in Italy, having been inspired by, Leonardo da Vinci and Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the elder, and Jaques de Gheyn II. Leonardo was the first to experiment with physical deformity or distortion. The illustration was a combination of both humor and distortion, describing an individual through a portrait of exaggerated of characteristics and oversimplification of others.

By 1700, the Enlightenment period, also known as the “age of reason”, has caused major development in art. According to Groves, “among the most significant developments during fashion during the 18th century was the appreciation of drawings as an independent form of artistic expression”. Drawings were seen as autonomous works, that are occasionally collected, framed, and displayed. Printmaking at the time, has made it possible to imitate all drawing media. Venetian artists including, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Sebastiano, and Canaletto have gained more attention, having been overshadowed by artists from Rome, in the past. Venetian artists have introduced many drawing styles, for example, the “Scherzi Di Fantasia” (sketches of fantasy), in which the artist explores his own personal dreams/fantasies or demons. Giovanni Tiepolo was one who represented and used this drawing style, after his death, a series of prints were published. “A Scene of Witchcraft” by Tiepolo, is a great example of such a drawing style. In this scene, a sinister witchcraft ritual was taking place, the details in the art piece were meant to evoke feelings of anxiety, uneasiness, and fear. The development of caricature drawings has also taken place in the 18th century, it was a tool used for social and political statements. With events such as, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, people have been more active (in regards to caricatures), directing their works to a mass audience.

Impressionism is a 19th century artistic movement originated in France, depicting a visual impression of a certain scene, and it relies on the skill of playing with light and color. The rise of photography has had a great impact on drawing and art, deprecating the purpose and idea of drawing. This may have had a negative impact on artists, as they had to come up with new reasons to draw, and a new way of promoting the value of their works. In the first half of the century, the English School has also showed appreciation of 19th century artists, they have been influenced by Claude Monet’s use of water colors. The use of pastel chalks and water colors were of great importance, as they aided in formulating views that are true to nature. Claude Monet was referred to as the “leader” of the French Impressionist movement. In his teens, he pursued caricatures, and later on, under the guidance of Boudin and Johan Barthold Jongkind, he masted landscape compositions. There were two kinds of drawings that have inspired his paintings, pencil drawings (in sketchbooks) and pastel compositions (in separate sheets). He would study his sketchbooks, working out his ideas and developing on later works.

The most influential artists of the 20th century are both Picasso and Matisse. The invention of collage during the first decade, was the main feature of development in drawing in the 20th century. Abstract art has redefined art as a boundless and unlimited activity, in which artists can express what goes on in their imagination. Fauvism, another style used in art, was expressed by Matisse, taking advantage of strong and bright colors in illustrations. Pablo Picasso (1880-1973) has benefited from his constant practice of drawing as a child, allowing him to become aware of his talents in the future. He was inspired by Raphael, and many commented on the similarity of their works. Considering drawing media, Picasso favored pencil and charcoal in drawing, but later on turned to ink.

With technological development and certain historical occurrences, the role of drawing has changed drastically over the years,. It will continue to change in the future, as we expand even more, as a society. The knowledge shared by numerous, talented artists has greatly informed us of certain drawing styles, techniques, and media. It has not only helped us currently, but it will continue to help enhance our artistic performances and encourage new inventions or creations.

15 Jun 2020

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