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Society's inability to draw is destroying the art of looking

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Drawing is a delight, and yet, in spite of this fact, the vast majority of the population would maintain that they cannot do it. What is really worrying about this is that they feel no shame at this admission. If we asked if they could read, or were capable of performing relatively simple mathematical operations, everyone would be embarrassed to answer no, as a negative would be evidence of a lack of education and culture. And yet an inability to express oneself through a two-dimensional representation is apparently not critical to the existence of modern society.

My father, who was born in 1886, was not an artist in my experience of him when he was alive. I never saw him put pencil to paper, and yet when I was clearing the house of redundant items after his death, I discovered some very accomplished drawings he had done as a younger man. The point here is that as a young Victorian, drawing was a skill that was a part of life. Inevitably, much of it was academic and lacked a genuine expression and exploration of a wider vision, but the Victorians were not known for their sprit of gay abandon.

We can see very clearly by referring to Hansard that the level of debate in parliament about new public buildings was at an extremely high level in the 18th and 19th centuries. These parliamentarians could, no doubt, all draw, which is a great help if you are discussing the merits of a design which is communicated by drawing. Being able to draw helps the art of looking, and looking is what tends to be absent in this visually challenged society.

Architecture is by implication the art of predicting the future, which can only by done by making approximations of the possible. Sir John Soane only had drawings and models at his disposal. Today the computer has invaded most studios. This is simply another tool, admittedly more sophisticated than the pencil or Rapidograph, to be used by the imagination. Many people think that this aid has ruined the art of drawing, an attitude with which I disagree. I have noticed that all the people in my studio who make the best 3D representations are all able to draw very well using a pencil in what has become known as a more traditional medium. This underlines the importance of being able to draw.

There are difficulties in drawing while on a picnic with anything other than a pen or pencil. The art of looking works in two ways.

There is the art of looking into yourself to allow the movement of the pen, or the mark of a paintbrush, to feel the vision and to allow you to discover things that you would not have seen if you were not engaged in this activity. There is a certain serendipity in this approach which transports you beyond what you know. We are all tainted by our own acquired cultural baggage and lazy habits.

Alternatively we draw what we see. I remember being asked to draw a brick, with no shading, line only, for five hours each week.

After three months I was allowed to progress to the tin can. These objects start to exist in a different way and although I do not advocate such a system of teaching, I do feel that in schools the attitude towards drawing is often seen as an extension of play and not a serious activity. It is therefore no wonder that all arts, and visual arts in particular, are marginalised by society, including our government, in favour of studies that are more obviously linked to the tangibility of materialism.

If our politicians are only able to use their mouths and ears and not their eyes and hands to communicate, how on earth can they be expected to guide us towards a more spiritual, relaxed, and creative future?

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