Dillon, Brian (2009) The End of the Line: Attitudes in Drawing. London: Hayward Gallery Publishing
The End of the Line is a booklet made to accompany an exhibition by the same name. It contains drawings by eleven international contemporary artists, although “drawing” is understood in a very broad sense. The exhibition meant to show where the revival of drawing as an artform in itself has lead so far and comprises more traditional works in pencil/ink on paper as well as films and works I would call installations rather than drawings.
Historically, drawing was perceived as the foundation of all art but at the same time less an artform in itself than a means to an end – a way to exercise and study in order to produce a work of art like a painting or a sculpture. In the 1970s with the “conceptual overthrow of old orthodoxies” (Dillon 2009) drawing was seen as an outdated practice and was no longer a self-evident discipline to be taught at art schools. Today however, drawing has reentered the stage as an autonomous form of art, drawings being understood as works of art in their own right.
In the foreword Dillon raises questions about how drawing today is different from what it has been through the centuries. His main argument crystallises around the thought that the right attitude to drawing is an “absence of attitude” (Dillon 2009), an innocence and a sense of discovery. However, he questions the availability of such an attitude today, in an era of self-consciousness, as he puts it. I have difficulties understanding what he means and why an open, discovering attitude should not be possible today. They involve – and have always involved I think – the forgetting of what we know of our object and why we do a certain thing when drawing. John Ruskin in The Elements of Drawing describes it as looking with an “innocent eye”, to see as if for the first time (Dillon 2009). Barthes calls it a gaucherie – a clumsiness, i.e. not being in total control. This latter concept refers to looking as well as to mark making, depicting or expressing. The innocence in our attitude is a conscious act, a letting go of preconceptions – so why should we not be able to do that today? Dillon states that it now is impossible to separate art (of any kind) from its conceptual, linguistic, historical or personal content and context. I am not sure if this is special for our time. I think the involvement in a context, in contemporary questions, events and views, is important in the making of art, in that this gives a work of art its depth and meaning. And so it has always been. However, I do not think that it must be conscious. Making art as an active, thinking human being of my time I cannot make art out of my context unless I am actively avoiding it and imitate styles from other eras. This is what innocence means I think: making without knowing why and to what purpose, letting go and find out where my hand leads. Dillon calls it to “gesture meaningfully but at the same time (…) without a sense that one is making sense”.
I rather think drawing – and indeed painting or sculpture or any artform – today is different from art in past centuries in that artists today actively seek to broaden horizons, to overcome limitations, to break new ground. The examples of contemporary drawings in The End of the Line show that this can be and is done in a number of ways – by the choice of subject matter, by the use and combination of certain techniques or media, or by leaving the boundaries of paper or canvass altogether and move into three dimensional space.
Naoyuki Tsuji for example makes animated films by photographing his drawings, erase parts and redraw them to take a new photo and so on. He uses charcoal which leaves a trace when erased, thus the earlier “movements” will be visible throughout the film. His drawings are accompanied by music by Makiko Takanashi. Here is an example.
Monika Grzymala leaves the paper and “draws” instead in the space of e.g. an exhibition hall. For the lines she uses duct tape, gauze or wood which she stretches over walls and across doorways, windows, pillars… Her lines in space look very much like drawings, and are really powerful. As she makes her pieces for specific rooms they are ephemeral, being destroyed when the exhibition ends. This gives them a kind of performative character. I am surprised to actually see them as drawings as it does stretch the term. It makes me ask myself what drawing is, and where it merges into other art forms. I think pushing the boundaries of what is normally called drawing opens doors to very interesting ways of expression.
I had difficulties with this book. The foreword was hard reading for me as I could not really follow Dillon’s argumentation. I feel he sets up ideas and thoughts as facts and I cannot understand how he arrives at them. For example he writes: “The drawing is characterised by its lightness, even where the finished work seems heavy, insistent or crude.” I don’t agree, but maybe I could, if he explained his train of thought? Why is drawing light, as opposed to say painting?? This feeling of not understanding and not agreeing followed me throughout the text.
As for the images, I had difficulties with them, too. Some showed very interesting approaches and some opened my eyes as to where drawing can go. But I regret the absence of something I really liked, something that goes under my skin, something beautiful (whatever that means).