Ideas on Paper 1970-1976

Dennis Adrian, 1976

Text from the exhibition brochure:

In the past fifteen years drawing, like sculpture (and to a lesser extent painting) appears to have been drastically redefined as one of the major categories of fine art. While the other types of drawing such as the finished independent, the developed compositional sketch and the form study or study from life still flourish and persist, many apparently new sorts of works on paper (and other supports) pour forth from artists’ studios in increasing numbers.

A good many of these newer sorts of drawings are in actuality not novel at all when considered only as systems of markings or notational groups on paper—they are similar to what one might expect to see in the notebooks of industrial and product designers, technical workers, artisans and landscape architects. We are, however, asked to look at these graphic objects differently from such things produced somewhat outside the fluctuating perimeters of artistic effort proper.

In reality then there is no “new” drawing. Instead there is a more inclusive definition of drawing as art, taking in increasingly varied kinds of graphic notation including writing (no novelty in the East), the photograph and various mechanically reproductive processes sometimes difficult to differentiate from the print. After all, something of the sort occurred in previous centuries, especially the 17th and 18th, when the sketches and plans, ideas and projects of earlier artist, hitherto mostly regarded only as the notational residue of studio processes and projects, more and more came to be looked at as aesthetic objects in and of themselves.

Recent interest in what is called “conceptual” art is largely responsible for the present inclusive tendencies in thinking about drawings. An art whose nature is understood to be primarily an internal formulation, and ideational construct, a “concept” in fact, requires some sort of work that suggests or specifies the particulars of such an internal entity. Whenever this kind of artistic conception can or will not be given actuality in any further physical sense, such an anticipation or projection is absolutely essential in order to apprehend it at all.

Perhaps this is always the case when painting, sculpture or other kinds of art become, to a high degree, “ideal.” In fact any highly ideal art (such as the megalomaniac fancies of Ledoux and other late 18th century French architects) depends quite a bit on the very degree of its unrealizable nature for its influence and even interest. Because of this somewhat quixotic situation with ideal art, drawings, descriptions and models gradually and inevitably become the primary objects of artistic expression and such “ideal” art will come to be understood for what it is—a variety of fantasy which equates impossibility with inventiveness.

Despite the wide range of types, media and functions of modern drawing, their enjoyment and meaning still depend upon appreciating liveliness of hand, certainty of stroke, compositional strength and the artist’s understanding and utilization of materials, all in the service of a specific personal vision. These have always been the keys to an understanding of fine drawing and they are the same for Mantegna and for Robert Morris. Contemporary draughtsmen ask us to extend the scope of what sort of drawing we are willing to consider as an artistic statement of central importance, but they do not ask us to depart radically from established approaches of connoisseurship.