draw what you see and not what you know

I’m reading “Drawing Projects – an exploration of the language of drawing” by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern as recommended by Sandra Flower, one of the OCA Textiles tutors. it looks like a very thorough book with some theory as well as many practical examples and exercises and analysis of artists’ work. at the start of the book is as section “What we know and what we see”. whilst this might seem to be a basic, easy concept, it’s one that I have forgotten so am including a couple of quotes here.

prior to this, the authors talk about how children draw what they see – “the drawing incorporates the child’s knowledge and experience [of the pond] as a whole body experience perceived through all of their senses, and not just through their eyes, or from a single point of view. In some ways, this is children’s drawings at its best, and perhaps it exemplifies something of what Picasso was searching for when he is reputed to have said that he had spent 80 years learning to draw like a child.” (page 10).

later, as the child becomes older, they learn more words and concepts and then (perhaps) start thinking their drawings are not perfectly matching reality, so they stop drawing. “Unfortunately most adults’ drawing skills do not develop beyond those of the young adolescents who gave up drawing. The world is full of educated people who, it is assumed, see the world as sophisticated adults, but draw like adolescents.” (page 11). I can relate to this! I stopped drawing after grade 10 art class, which was a very long time ago.

“When we are making drawings, we must learn to use ‘what we know’ selectively, and only when it helps us to communicate a clearer understanding of what it is we are attempting to describe in the drawing. Students are continuously told by their teachers to ‘look more carefully’, and to ‘draw what you see and not what you know’. The most common mistake we make is to draw our limited and ill-conceived knowledge as a pre-conceived fact, and in this case we are making it up from what is probably our poor and limited visual memory. As a general rule, it is always better to look very carefully, and draw what you see. Not looking intently enough usually results in using generalised and ‘unseen’ information that has been conceptualised and become fixed.” (page 22)

this is something I was coming to the realisation of when I made notes for my previous post on sketching and seeing.

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