Message to drawing and painting pathway undergraduates
Hello – I’m Emma Drye and I’m the new programme leader for both the drawing and the painting pathways. For everyone on those pathways, I wanted to write to you to introduce myself and some of my ideas.
I see the pathways as akin to departments in an art college – the painting department and the drawing department. How do we build departments at OCA as an open learning college? Clearly a department would not have walls – material or otherwise, and that is a good thing for lots of reasons. One reason is that our courses are electives or core courses for students from other pathways, which makes for exciting opportunities for cross disciplinary conversations and diverse perspectives on the course content. Another is that the ‘department’ is only one sphere within which you are undertaking your learning. More than most undergraduates, you have autonomy both at home and via your regional groups from the start and as you progress to your graduate suite of courses, you are supported to engage in developing a ‘real world’ solution for connecting your practice to the world around you and moving ‘beyond the academy.’
Drawing and painting work well together as they have shared theoretical territory, are often used together practically by students, and both concern themselves critically with specific media as a framing for artistic activity. That last point means that drawing and painting are degrees which ask questions about specific materials and processes related to their respective disciplines. As much as they might overlap at points, they have their own histories, their own discourse and their own techne. I’d like to be confident and curious about that – to be sensitive to their individual character in a way which is celebratory and ambitious. If you are a drawing student – what could drawing be for you if it could be anything? If you are a painter – what could paint be released to achieve if you let rip and let it have its head?
I graduated with a degree in painting in 1992 and more recently I have been developing a situated artist’s process (a residency type model of practice) which incorporates both disciplines. I am a Fellow of the HEA and have been teaching since 1992 in Higher and Further Education and lifelong learning. I’ve written courses for OCA at all three levels and taught at the college for over 10 years. My MFA from the University of Edinburgh and my current PhD at Chelsea School of Art have been enormously beneficial to my teaching.
We are extremely lucky to have had a cluster of academics and artists with a drawing focus at OCA at a crucial time for the development of the drawing pathway. Many of you will know that I wrote both Investigating Drawing and Exploring Drawing Media so I have already been a part of that development, but we have some exciting courses coming on stream which continue to reveal the character of the drawing degree.
Drawing has a particular connection to thought. It can act fast – as fast as speech. It shares many characteristics with writing. It’s loved by many students for its direct expression of intent. We use drawing to record immediate sensation and experience and to express something performatively. The moment where categories, naming and boundaries fall away encapsulates a key feature of my approach to the two pathways; encouraging artists to build a personal relationship with materials and tools which is both expansive and intimate. For the drawing pathway, this primacy, intimacy is contrasted with a particularly social aspect of drawing which is its shared territory across visual culture and graphic communication. Much contemporary drawing operates at the moment where the meniscus between intimate performance and the tropes of other drawing practices such as animation, cartography or calligraphy is broken.
Piranesi Carceri d’Invenzione from Grégoire Dupond on Vimeo.
Painting too has some great new courses and it too has more in the pipeline. UPM, for example, is a fantastic course, which privileges materiality and process, written by Annabel Dover who is a wonderful painter. With an elegantly light touch UPM encourages both a more academic approach but mostly a deeper engagement with notions of performativity and agency of both artist and materials which students have responded to with impressive creativity.
Painting often utilises a more sophisticated relationship to time and performance than drawing tends to. What you see is not always what you get. Illusion is a central vein running through painting’s history, largely because paint readily describes illusory space and our perceptual systems are primed to read it. Beyond the picture plane, paint can literally create new spaces making it ripe for both invention and critical entanglements. An entire sky can be poured on with the flick of a wrist, a prominent nose might be 5 layers back on the painted surface. In an expanded notion of painting students can start to take these tools for manipulation and perceptual rerouting and bring them out into the praxis of the everyday like Katharina Grosse, or pull away from the picture plane and let the world of the painting escape into the room like Benedict Drew. Paint as a material is infinitely mutable, but it does have its own agency. The thrill of painting for many of our students is the personal relationship that each artist builds with paint. Readiness to hand was Heidegger’s attempt to express a closeness to tools and materials that goes beyond naming and expertise and into fluency and fusion. So the techne of painting and material agency are key elements of my vision for the painting pathway. Virtual space needs a particular mention as it has transformed artists’ relationship to imagery much as it has transformed everybody else’s with access to it. The internet is up there with perspective and photography in terms of how central it has been in shifting how artists use imagery and approach two dimensions. Appropriation, multiversality and fragmentation are postmodern concerns that continue to have relevance today, and painting is well placed to lead in investigating those concerns and celebrating their potential.
Critiques of painting can be quite gruelling, I was just reading an article written relatively recently that talked about painting in terms of its ability to ‘persevere’ (Rottman 2012, p9). I would prefer to absorb this sometimes quite arid discourse into a wider exploration of paint’s cultural context, along with the cultural context of the students themselves. Painting slips its leash every time it appears trapped; using its twin characteristics of mutability and, frankly, a kind of slippery disobedience to expand and subsume attempts to sideline or even categorise it. My vision for a painting pathway for undergraduates privileges the agency of materials and the creation of a confident, nurturing ‘space’ where students can find their own balance and position within the extremely rich contexts of painting. Basically I’m looking for us to be the Aretha Franklin style response to decades of criticism!
Crucially, for both departments, I also want to celebrate an expanded notion of ‘artist’. My work on embedding inclusive practice at OCA connects with my passionate belief that art, if it is to have any pretension to be about the human condition, needs to be made by as many different kinds of human as possible. I would like to undertake more responsive course design with more student input, you are an amazing bunch. Look out for opportunities to contribute and co-construct course materials as they arise. I know Craig at HQ has exciting plans to overhaul our student survey, and Paul in the TEL team is cooking up some exciting technological developments which will improve our capacity to listen and collaborate. Christian, the Director of Teaching and Learning is bursting with innovative ideas for working with you. I will be looking to use this blog, the forum, regional groups and whatever else I can get my hands on to connect with as many of you as possible.
I look forward to meeting you.
Rottman, A. (2012) ‘Remarks on contemporary painting’s perseverance’, in Graw, I., Birnbaum, D., Hirsch, N. (ed.) Thinking through painting – reflexivity and agency beyond the canvas. Berlin. Strenberg Press pp 9-13
Images: All images are of my own work to give you an idea of the kinds of things I do, you can find out more at www.emmadrye.co.uk