I'm leading a sketching session at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University this weekend, as I've mentioned. I've been sketching in museums for a very long time. This occasion at Duke prompts me to think about what it is *to draw this way and why it is we do it.
Sketching is about connecting, whether the subject is a beloved 15 month-old child, an Alpine peak in Italy, or a monkfish on a slab at the Bergen fish market.
I like the word 'cathect' to express what we do when we draw: verb tr.: To invest mental or emotional energy in an idea, object, or person.
When we are lucky, the energy runs both ways. We become a conduit for the emotional energy emanating, on its own, from the Other.
The varying degrees part is key. Sometimes when we sketch a painting or sculpture, we feel as if our hands and heart are one with the original artist's hands and heart.
Sometimes, we attempt to get at the heart of the artist's creation through close observation and faithful rendering (remember, my rendering is always on the loose side!) :
At other times, we are simply making gestures in the general direction and spirit of the work in question.
All are worthwhile stops on the continuum of interconnection.
As with writing, we often don't know what we think about something until we draw it. And the process of drawing can be revelatory in ways other than intellectual.
Recently at the Nasher, I drew some pieces by Joan Miro.
His creaturely figures manifested an intense spirituality, much more so than the 15th-century German bust of Christ I also drew that day. I might have expected the reverse, but the Christ figure was stolid and very human--- which may have been what the artist intended to convey, after all. The Miros were eloquent and transcendent, for all their apparent fragility.
There are other things to say about sketching in museums. We could talk about drawing materials allowed in museums and ways to expand that often limited vocabulary. We could talk about sketching certain kinds of work for consolation and personal affirmation. For example, I love to sketch sculptures of the Buddha and bodhisattvas when I need a tranquility boost.
If you have any experiences or observations you would like to share on these subjects, please do comment!
*Here I'm not referring to the practice of copying Old Masters in museums, a mainstay of past academic art training, but something more personal and most often less rigorous