If you give me some paper and pencils, I’m happy and it has always been this way ever since I was a child. My earliest memories were never having enough paper, I used to draw in the blank pages in books and occasionally on walls. I found the abilities to create a world intoxicating, from lines, marks and smudges on the page people come to life, cities are built, jungles explored, and it can all be rubbed out in an instant and more things can be created in the same place…what godlike power!
It was and still is my passion and therefore I am saddened by the wholesale abandonment of drawing from art education in recent times. I’m not arguing against modern art, I just feel that as an accountant should be able to add and subtract, an artist should be able to draw fluently whatever style of art he or she later decides to employ. With Picasso, for example, whatever you think of him, his exceptional drawings which he did as a child give the rest of his work an authority it would not otherwise have.
When I was at school we were taught how to draw, admittedly it was not L’École des Beaux-Arts, but we did learn the basics of perspective, composition and casting shadows. The art room as full of drawings of typewriters, sculls, musical instruments and a myriad of objects carefully rendered with painstaking precision. Today this is not the case, GCSE and ‘A’ level art is more orientated around writing about art than actually doing it. This was recently illustrated by an extremely gifted young artist who made national news by failing art GCSE. I have heard that art educators do not focus on drawing because they do not want to discriminate against those who are not talented, an issue which every other subject, particularly the maths and science boards, do not remotely worry about. The result of this well-meaning yet misplaced wokery is the accidental discrimination against talented artists who have no other way to shine.
Picasso famously said that when he was a child he drew like Raphael and it had taken his whole life to learn to draw as a child. This attitude came out of the avant garde, who saw everything that tradition valued as culpable for everything that is wrong with the world. Academic drawing fell into this category and so the drawings of an uneducated child, untainted by western civilisation, were seen as preferable to the works of Raphael. It took time for these ideas to sink in, initially it was just the opinion a few eccentric artists but gradually over the years it developed slowly until now, a hundred years later, this ideology is as mainstream and bourgeois as IKEA.
Curiously, this unfortunate situation is not true of other art forms, everyone understands the value of a classical training in piano or ballet which involves hours of often dull hard work and disciplined study over many years. We all believe Malcolm Gladwell when he states that for the ability to do anything well, you need to practice for 10,000 hours before the age of twenty. Unfortunately drawing is now not a subject where this rule is applied, ‘self-expression’ is the aim. The result is that drawing has descended from an admired pursuit of geniuses like Leonardo and Michelangelo to little more than therapy. I do not want to deny this role of drawing; putting marks on a page to depict a form is therapeutic but splashing around in the shallow end of a swimming pool is all very well, but you’re going to enjoy it more if you learn how to swim.
Over the course of my life, I have drawn comics, portraits, book illustrations, my children, stage set designs and of course buildings which I draw daily. Drawing has enriched my life in so many ways I worry that future generations of potentially talented artists who have not learnt how to draw are cheated out of something incredibly life affirming, joyful and an activity they were born to do.
Needless to say most art schools being ‘avant garde’ in spirit do not teach drawing. Until the 1960s, art schools had regular life drawing classes and rooms full of plaster casts of the great sculptures of antiquity and the Renaissance for students to draw. This has all gone and the casts have been chucked in a skip and the life models service is no longer required. The result is that people are voting with their feet; a decreasing number of people are taking art A level and an Art School degree is not valued by future employers, particularly me, an employer of creative people.
But it is not all bad, though good drawing is not valued by the art establishment, it is still valued by a vast number of ordinary people judging by the amount of ‘how to draw’ videos on the internet and the enduring popularity of Old Masters both in galleries and exhibitions. A drawing by Raphael is still worth millions and a child’s drawing, charming as it may be, only has value for the parents. As a consequence of this counterculture movement, a few art schools do teach drawing in the tradition way and if you would like to learn how to draw, I suggest you apply to one of them. Here are a few (some also teach painting and sculpture):
The Florence Academy of Art, Barcelona Academy of Art, London Fine Art Studios, The Grand Central Atelier and Chelsea Classical Studio.
Alternatively, you can just teach yourself as I did.
All drawings and photos (apart from mine) are from The Florence Academy of Art