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Book Review
The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice
Before color paintings and today’s much fancied new media came to existence, what mattered most to proponents of creativity and expression was the fine art of line drawings. The genre has existed since the era of early civilization and is still termed the original and genuine form of expression.

The dominance of lines can be gauged by peeping into the history of art. One can see the distinctness of line drawings from the ancient cave paintings to the origin of creative arts across the world. While for sheer academic purposes, it acts as a pointer towards the finished work, for collectors it’s akin to a rare insight into an artist’s soul. When a sculptor or a painter wishes to give shape to unbounded imagination, the creative process is set in motion by making lines. They tend to form the initial crucial jotting of the germ and a draft layout for the artwork. That is what makes drawings fascinating and priceless.

Artists generally turn to drawing for expressing their inner urge in an uncomplicated manner, akin to the inner dialogue one is having with oneself. Some of the famous Indian artists known for their proficiency in the medium are Jamini Roy, Ganesh Pyne, Nandlal Bose, and MF Husain among others. Each has had his individual style and technique. They all have been greatly inspired by the simplicity of drawing as an art form.

A drawing invariably sets the structure and format for creative minds that essentially serve as pointers to the concept of a finished painting. This is evident in the work of several renowned artists in India and internationally. For example, if one looks at legendary artist Pablo Picasso’s drawings from his famed Suite Vollard collection, one can grasp that some of them lead up to his most iconic piece, Guernica. FN Souza’s scribbles of nudes, the manner in which he deftly placed his magical figures across a surface, the oft-endless studies of horses by Sunil Das, the depth of artist Tyeb Mehta’s minimal brushstrokes, all perfectly preceded by countless of drawings…all of these creations are not only of academic interest, but also precious collectibles in their own right!

‘The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice’ (Publishers: Yale University Press; Pages: 524, Illustrations: 324; Cloth: $65) by Deanna Petherbridge tries to give a basic idea about contemporary line drawings and its roots. It’s an exposition of distinct characteristics of line drawings from the ancient past to drawings by contemporary artists. In this important documentation, the author forcefully affirms its significance as visual thinking from the 15th century to the present, particularly in western art. Since the early 1990's, she has been striving to emphasize the importance of drawing in context of contemporary art practices. She has highlighted the role of drawing through a series of journal articles, catalogues, exhibit notes, public lectures, books, and conference papers like the series ‘Drawing towards Enquiry’ at London’s National Gallery in 2006. The art expert has taught at Drawing at the Royal College of Art and University of the Arts, London. She has also had numerous exhibits of her work.

An introduction to the book states that scrutinizing a wide range of drawings, the author confirms a long historical commitment to the primal importance of sketching in generating ideas and problem solving. She examines the production of autonomous drawings as gifts or for pleasure and traces the importance of the life-class and theories of drawing in the training of artists. As the note explains, Deanna Petherbridge also addresses the changing role of drawing in relation to contemporary practice and its importance for conceptual artists working in a nonhierarchical manner with a multiplicity of practices, techniques and technologies.

“In addition to analyzing specific works by Leonardo, Rembrandt, Goya,Michelangelo, Picasso, and other great draftsmen, the author pays close attention to those artists traditionally regarded as ‘minor’ because of their graphic elaboration or involvement with caricature and play, as well as to the important contribution of women artists in the 20th and 21st centuries. Responding to the vibrant rediscovery of drawing as significant practice in art schools, studios, and exhibits she proposes an ambitious agenda for the detailed study and appreciation of drawing,” the write-up adds.

Drawings serve as an important record and benchmark for serious collectors, as they indicate a crucial phase in an established artist’s life and career graph. They also give the provenance, which is so very important in grasping the nuances of how an artwork was originally conceived. As the book underlines, the pleasure of possessing a drawing lies in that effervescent embryonic form - warts, flaws etc. In this context ‘The Primacy of Drawing’ examines the historic importance of drawing as significant practice in Western art as well as its relevance to contemporary artists working with multiple practices. The book proposes a broad agenda for the study of drawing as a medium of soulful expression.