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05 September 2012

Drawing, and Drawing Well

Tangible Standards

S. Carlo ai Catinari and its Convent, Rome
Michael Graves’ editorial on drawing in the New York Times has sparked many reactions in the architecture community. I reviewed his book of drawings from his time in Rome several years ago, and over the years have given copies of his excellent essay on “The Necessity for Drawing: Tangible Speculation” to my students, since I like him am concerned not only that students don’t draw, they don’t really know what drawing is for or how it works in the design process.

But let me take this in another direction. Drawing has been in crisis longer than the advent of the computer. From the moment architects abandoned the accumulated knowledge of the classical tradition in the middle of the last century, drawing has become one of those things, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, that is not so remarkable that it is done well, but that it is done at all. Naïve drawing, which Graves cultivated as much as Le Corbusier, Hejduk, and Krier, became a slightly disingenuous, aw shucks, I’m just sayin’ kind of performance, not wanting to be measured against real drawing achievements from the past while asserting the value of the hand in the face of an increasingly faceless, technologically-driven profession.

Fountain of Tivoli, Villa d'Este
But people like John Blatteau and Steve Bonitatibus were simultaneously revivifying classical drawing for architecture, especially wash rendering; and in the art world many artists were recovering the skills of accurate figurative drawing. Some remarkable draftsmen like Randy Melick have made themselves absolutely measurable against the finest draftsmen of the past. This has been hard won, but perhaps even harder among architects than artists since there were fewer threads of continuity across the middle of the century in architecture.

If drawing is in crisis it is certainly due to ever more sophisticated software; but it is also due to ever less able draftsmanship among the profession’s “leaders.” Let me say, though, that it is wholly within our abilities, and incumbent on us, to not only draw, but draw well. Drawing should be desirable, something worth emulating. Just drawing for its own sake won’t cut it.
Diogenes and Alexander, modello

I’m just sayin’.

all drawings on this post © David Mayernik