"What is drawing?" And other questions raised at DRAW2014 symposium in Pittsburgh

Monday, 17 March 2014 02:11 PM Written by  Maggie Negrete


Opening the DRAW2014 symposium back in February, John Carson, head of the Carnegie Mellon School of Art, asserted that “over this weekend we will see how far we can expand the definition of drawing”.   
This comment became more weighted throughout the weekend last month as a number of lecturers and panelists admitted that they “didn’t draw” but instead saw themselves as painters or printmakers. This observation caused me to question, “If we expand the definition of drawing to include painting, dancing, printmaking, etc., when do we realize that we are no longer discussing drawing and ignoring those that still practice and identify with the process and product of drawing and illustrating? Does illustration and caricature have a place in fine art when contemporary critics and academics favor and shift focus towards concept and process based art?” 
As a local zine/comic maker, I found it compelling that many of those artists who testified as illustrators or comic artists were artists from the Pittsburgh community.  This local representation as well as the symposium itself will, hopefully, continue to position Pittsburgh as a critical region for developing and supporting artists.
Internationally acclaimed artist Amy Sillman offered free lecture that utilized her artistic process to discuss the broader context of drawing, from Japanese masters to interventions of technology. While some may see drawing as a means-to-an-end or an afterthought in the corner of one’s notes, Sillman described the tactile need to draw in order to think and that in the process of drawing, one is also drawn into the art work, and also the artist’s viewpoint. 
Such concepts were explored more fully through Jim Holyoak’s commissioned, interactive work which took place in the Frame Gallery where, for a whole week the gallery was ensconced in paper and visitors drew with, on, and in spite of Holyoak, and vice versa.  The symposium, especially through Sillman’s lecture, catalyzed discussions about contemporary art, gave access to internationally acclaimed artists such as Nicole Eisenman (Carnegie International 2013 prize winner) and Shahzia Sikander and tackled the difficult charge of surveying a craft – the act of drawing - that has adapted and grown with changing technology and social systems.
Throughout the symposium, many of the lectures were free to the community whereas workshops were not and therefore the diversity of the audience varied greatly throughout the weekend.  Access to the arts, especially industry specific training, can be expensive and therefore prohibitive. My perception of the crowd who purchased access to the symposium was widely arts educators looking to re-engage with the academic art world, and this symposium was the perfect opportunity.  
While some participants bemoaned the heavy academic speech proffered by the lecturers, others wished for more depth of context and theory in their workshops, which posed an interesting dichotomy of the day: Why pay for full access to the symposium if the meatiest events were free?


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