Archive for December 24th, 2010

The word texture has the same root as the word tactile, which means touching. The sense of touch is the most intimate of our senses, above seeing or hearing.  If you can produce a work that reaches the viewer’s sense of touch, you’re literally hooking him/her.   If you can make my fingertips tingle because I feel I’m touching your drawing or painting or sculpture, you’re onto something.  The sensation of texture goes right to the heart.

Let’s take this drawing by Maggy S. and imagine it with a nice clean outline (traced by me from a copy of the original).  This outline, also called the contour, gives us all the information we need to figure out what we’re looking at. The contour gives us information.  It separates the figure from everything else, namely the space around it.  This information is basic because we want to know what’s what.  This is how small children draw and no wonder, since the child’s brain works full time at labeling, i.e. figuring out what’s what.  While such drawings are endearing when produced by children, when they are the work of adults we tend to associate their hard edges with the urgency of advertising or the punch of comic books.  Hard edges and clean contours make the image easy to read; we take in all the information at a glance and move on.  Hard edges do not encourage us to take time for feeling; they do not extend an invitation to the viewer to linger, contemplate and introspect.

For the beginning drawing student, texture is a luxury.  When you’re looking at a still life or a model, you do want to get the information down first.  That’s hard enough.  Just seeing what’s there, the what’s what, can take up all your time and energy.  But Maggy S. seems to have set herself the assignment of drawing the figure—a very complex subject—without contour lines, or very few.  They’re there, of course, but faintly.  We don’t read the figure by its contour.  Instead, the presence of this figure comes about through the shimmer of the rough texture, created by repetitive zigzags of the pencil.

The choice of the angle at which she sees the model is telling.  Students can move around and situate themselves in the class room according to a view of the model that appeals to them.  It’s possible that this angle, with the concealed face, inspired the artist to go for texture.  When the face is visible in a drawing, the viewer is often directed to psychological, personal associations.  Here, however, with the hair concealing the already averted profile, we get a sense of privacy and introversion.  We easily slip into a state of contemplation and the textural surface of the drawing encourages that state all the more.  Except for the slightest suggestion of a forehead and nose, the entire head is hair—and the hair is all about texture.

The impact of the drawing is not diminished by the fact that it ignores the anatomical niceties of the deltoideus and bachioradialis or that it makes a ghost of the hand.  Maggy’s drawing doesn’t come out of the dictates of the Renaissance or the École des Beaux Arts where texture is a no-no since it evokes the personal and subjective.  This drawing comes out of a modern sensibility.  We are individuals.  We are subjective critters. We’ve been modern now for a hundred and fifty years and it still takes courage to let go of academic dogma and mess around with texture.  In the context of my teaching experience, I appreciate this drawing for its competence, courage and  subjectivity.

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