D. Libeskind, Micromegas, 1981. One of the greatest architectural drawings in line.
Even though I am best known for my drawings, and have spent many years as a teacher of architects, I have never taught drawing. The reason is that each person who wants to draw should devise his or her own way. It makes no sense to teach a method or style of drawing, because drawing is a way of thinking, and it would be wrong to didactically teach a method or style of thinking. Each person must learn from the drawers—and the thinkers—who appeal most to them, and then devise their own ways. Originality—in drawing and thinking—is important, for the same reasons that individuality in all matters of existence is important: it confirms the wonder, and the terror, of the human condition.
Essentially, each of us is alone. Biologically and psychically we are not only separate from other living things, but also from others of our kind. We cannot feel or think what another person feels or thinks, nor can they know exactly our feelings or thoughts. Because we are social creatures and dependent upon each other, we spend much of our time and energy trying to communicate our thoughts and feelings, and also to understand, as deeply as possible, those of others. It is a uniquely human task and one that requires all our intellectual effort, emotional commitment, and expressive skills. Spoken and written languages are the foremost of these, but drawing—in all its variants—runs a close second. Indeed, as we know, there are ideas and feelings that can only be expressed in drawn form. We might imagine, if we look at the caves of Lascaux, that drawing came before writing and was, in its narrative making of marks, its source.
When very young, let’s say in my late teens and twenties, I had a fierce desire to communicate my thoughts and feelings through drawing. In high school I had some mechanical drawing courses, where I learned to use t-square and triangles, but little else. For inspiration, I had to look in magazines and art books. I was tremendously moved by the etchings of Francisco Goya, the drawings of Peter Brueghel, the ink and watercolor drawings of Paul Klee. And, of course, the drawings of Michelangelo Buonarotti and Leonardo Da Vinci. Each artist conveyed something different in their work, something that resonated with my own sensibility, but did not sum it up. Different as these artists were, they all had one thing in common: a mastery of line.
What I mean by ‘line’ is exactly that: a single mark, short or long, drawn with a pen, pencil, stylus, or any sharply pointed instrument that is held in the hand and commanded by it, in coordination with the brain, to inscribe on paper, tablet, plate, or any chosen surface exactly that mark and not another.
This last qualification is important. When rubbing a piece of charcoal, pastel, or blunt pencil on a surface, one accepts (even hopes for) a certain degree of approximation, even of accident. The resulting tone is, from an analytical point of view, vague, when compared with line. Line is precise and unequivocal. It is here, not there. Making a line is not about accidents. Rather, it is about contour, edge, shape. It is about where one space begins and another ends. It can be spontaneous or studiously deliberate, but it always carves space in a decisive way. It has a clear ethical, as well as aesthetic, impact. The drawn line is one of the great human inventions, and it is available to all of us, a tool both common and esoteric, personal and universal.
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- May 5, 2008 / 7:37 pm
- Lebbeus Woods