In every field of human endeavor there is a specific practice that most directly speaks to the fundamental nature of that field. That practice serves as the philosophical manifestation of its arena—not an academic philosophy, but a lived-in, worked-in philosophy. To study philosophy is to study the core of a thing – the why, how, and what – and every discipline has such a core. Literature has poetry, the pure exploration of language and structure; music has the piano, the most versatile and complete of instruments. Science has research, the pursuit of pure understanding. The visual arts have fine art or gallery art, art that exists for its own sake and which explores the formal and conceptual limits of the field. Within fine art, however, there is an even more specific category that most directly touches on the philosophy of art: drawing.
Traditionally, drawing has often been defined in negative terms, by what it is not—a finished piece, a work using a full range of colors, a complex multi-layered work, etc. The contemporary description is more generous: “Drawing as an art form is principally understood to have an essential quality of directness and transparency: Its great strength is the clarity and simplicity through which the viewer can grasp the artist’s actions, ideas, or emotions.” (Drury/Stryker, Ch. 1) This explanation gets at the heart of what drawing does rather dealing with surface questions of medium and appearance. The emphasis on “clarity and simplicity” is a key aspect in understanding drawing as philosophy.
I would like to suggest here that drawing serves as the necessary base or core for art and is the most direct means of studying the theoretical basis of aesthetic experience. Continue reading