Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Dialogue on Drawing

Max Mulhern, a dear friend and an artist, currently in Paris, best known for his Aqua Dice Project, wrote me about drawing, and I wrote a reply, and the correspondence became a dialogue. I transcribe it here (with some editing) with his permission.  

MM: I thought a lot about your example of writing and drawing. You would ask students who moaned that they didn't know how to draw to go to the blackboard and write their names. You would then ask them to sit down and then you would explain to them that they had just been drawing. Did I get that right?
KK: Yes, you remember perfectly.  I was urging the class that the best way to remember the works of art shown on the screen is to draw them, however sketchily and even inadequately. I want to add that in Japanese 'to draw' and 'to write' are homonyms, kaku, which, incidentally and interestingly, is also homonymous with 'to scratch'.  One is reminded of the silverpoint on paper and the etching needle and even burin on a copper plate. Writing and drawing is also musical with a certain sense of rhythm, or more precisely it is choreographic -- finger tips dancing.

MM: Of course I can't help but wonder about the effects that drawing has on the self and how the style is so revelatory of the person.
KK: I certainly believe that is so, precisely because the finger control is choreographic; dance movements shapes and reveals the person, and so does the handwriting. 

MM: I changed my drawing style through handwriting. I started connecting all of my letters and made each one legible and generous in form. I believe that I am a nicer person because of that. Does that sound possible?
KK: In fact, as you know, there is such a thing as art/science of graphology, or handwriting analysis, which links the graphics of writing with the writer's personality.

MM: In an effort to shed my skin I spent the summer signing my name differently. In fact every time I signed something my signature became  an automatic drawing. This had a serious effect on me. I began to have  flashes of non recognition in regards to myself. I am not sure how deep the self alienation went. Was it superficial or working further down in my subconscious?  I seem to be the old me now but am on some kind of a new path.
KK: Inasmuch as writing/drawing is an extension of the self's bodily identity, changing the style of writing is not very different, I think, from changing one's hair style.  Women are more familiar with this phenomenon; but beard works the same way for men.  A more drastic change like shaving one's hair or thick beard momentarily disorients her (or his) sense of identity and works slowly in time to let its owner rediscover the altered form as the new identity. 

MM: Of course a lot of artists have employed  all sorts of tricks in order  to become something else. That is what theater, for example,  is all about albeit temporarily . . . or do actors undergo irreversible personality changes after playing certain characters?. For a non actor such as myself I need to find other ways to perform a permanent transformation, i.e. through drawing.
KK: Actors, I think, master the art of transforming oneself temporarily on the stage and returning to his/her original self so as to prepare for a new identity in the next play. There are people who don't change their hair style the entire life (excepting those who lose it without trying) and those who do.  So, there are artists who remain constant in style the entire life (like, say, Morandi, C├ęzanne, Kirchner), those who change gradually as they age (like Michelangelo and Titian), and those who change drastically maybe once (Goya) or more often (notoriously, Picasso and Matisse) -- not only through drawing but palette, composition, medium, subject, etc.

MM: During Aqua Dice I equated drawing with many things: as a roll of the dice, as a GPS unit for the dice, as props for a digital representation (thereby creating ghosts as you once mentioned, but between the drawing and the uploaded digital image of the drawing which entity is the ghost?). I thought that I could draw my destiny or that of the dice (somewhat the same). Of course this is nothing new in light of the incantatory drawings of  cave painters, ex-votos, the studies made for great paintings. It seems that  drawings are prayers and offerings for a future perfect.
KK: Very interesting thought.  Dance and singing can be (and were originally in many cases) incantatory, too.  Studies for a painting (as beautifully demonstrated by Hopper's Drawings recently at the Whitney) can certainly be said to be incantatory, repeating over and over and yet slightly changing with each repetition.

MM: In the end though I often have the words of Fagan (Oliver Twist) echoing in my mind as he sings to the Artful Dodger that he will remain the same as he as always been: "You'll be seeing no transformation . . "
KK: That's only a half of the story.  I often said in my teaching that history is change and unchange; constancy and vicissitudes.  One's lifetime is also both change and unchange. I think everyone who reflects on his/her process of maturing and aging is fully aware of this fact.

MM: I love to draw. It combines the drawing up of contracts, the signing of articles, printing, journalism, archeology, sounding, mapping, engineering, design and writing to mention a few activities. As I struggle to find employment these days I have difficulty deciding what it is that I want to do. This is because when you do art you have all of the jobs in the world rolled up in one.
KK: I also want to say that those who draw see better.  Drawing is an extension of seeing, seeing intensely, precisely, and systematically, and gaining knowledge perceptually as is impossible in verbal comprehension alone. How Leonardo understood this!

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