A Drawing vs. a drawing

Michael Farris

There is a difference between a Drawing and a drawing. Yes, I’m talking about the difference between a capital “D” Drawing and a lowercase “d” drawing. When we create a Drawing, it should not be a doodle. It should not be a sketch. Nor should it be an illustration. There should be beads of sweat on the artist’s upper lip, slight rings under their eyes, and early onset arthritis from the sheer force they have transferred onto the page. Drawings convey a sense of urgency. One should be able to quickly understand the emotional distress that the artist is trying to convey with a Drawing. Sketches, on the other hand, are drawings (with a lowercase d). They are fast. They inform us about relationships, composition, and value. A drawing should be made over cup of coffee and croissant with a fellow artist who already knows the breadth and scope of your work.

Francis Alys pushed a block of ice for 9 hours until it melted, leaving a slight trace of water before it evaporated in the hot Mexican sun. Is this a Drawing? The work, titled Paradox of Praxis I (Something Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997, has always left me with more questions than answers. Relating to Alys’ physical struggle, Amy Silman connects Drawing to puberty, that  strange time in everyone’s life, where we struggle to come to terms with ourselves. Silman gives us a wide range of possible and plausible actions that constitute a Drawing. First, Drawing does not have to be functional. Drawing can be done to end an urge, to end a thought, or to start a thought. Silman mentioned in an ICA Boston interview that she often sends work to galleries with the intention that it’s done, but only to realize it was far from it; she would send it back to the studio to keep working on it—that’s a Drawing.

I often evaluate drawings by the level of struggle an artist displayed while making it. If there is no charcoal under your nails nor in your ears, are you really Drawing? Perhaps not. In my colleague’s sketchbooks, I often see drawings delineated by course, drawings on top of notes, drawings on top of calendars, a drawing for every day of the week, and drawings on top of other drawings, but I never see any Drawings. Drawings are hard to come by in sketchbooks because of scale. You simply can’t fit a Drawing in a sketchbook because it lacks the opportunit for serendipity. A Drawing must find space to voice its desired outcome. Fabriano’s predetermined scale can’t constrict it. Edgar Degas did not conform to the size of the paper when Dancer with a Bouquet had more to say, he simply added more paper. It’s hard to add paper to a drawing.

Most importantly, a drawing is not a Drawing because it lacks external judgment. A sketchbook is hidden from the public eye, and is therefore immune to opinion-making. When someone looks at you strangely or sits next to you, wreaking of body odor, you can close your sketchbook and move on to something more pleasurable. With a Drawing, you don’t have that luxury. A Drawing has to react to the environment. When your neighbor smells like onions, your charcoal should cut deeper into the Bristol paper, making distinguishable marks of tension and discomfort.

It’s ignorant to say that we make Drawings for ourselves. All Drawings come from personal experiences, but once our mark touches the page, it is open for debate. Artists do not learn by producing drawings that fit a standard dimension, they learn by making Drawings that have more to say. 

↥ Illustration by Courtney McCracken (MFA IL 2024)

Michael is a multifaceted, holistic problem-solver who sees greater opportunity for serendipity when methods and techniques collide rather than being stuck in silos. He also believes that more creators deserve a seat at the table.