Drawing as a Method of Inquiry

“My engagement with touch is not an exploration of something I could strictly define as sensing per se but an encounter with the atypical expressions of a sensing body in movement.” (Manning, 2007:xv)

Laura Trafi Prats led a session this week on drawing as a method of inquiry. This methodological approach connects with Laura’s current research with young people in Manchester, asking;

  • What does it mean to do research on the senses?
  • How can we empirically research the senses within processes of art making?
  • How do the senses relate to expression?
  • How/when does instructional guidance in artmaking function as enabling constraints?

Laura is also interested in habit, and the role of habit in how we come to understand the body. For the first drawing exercise, we were asked to take off our shoe in order to draw it. Many people automatically placed their shoe in front of them, next to a sheet of paper, ready to draw. Laura pointed out this was a habit which we had acquired, one which indexed specific assumptions about drawing, the senses and the body, and implies that drawing is exclusively based on looking and using our eyes as a principal means of gathering information.

The drawing exercises included one drawing of an everyday object with an ‘extended arm’ (pencil on the end of a long stick). This aimed to unsettle our familiarity with picking up and holding pencils , and enable the chanceful discovery of unknown possibilities for mark-making. The second drawing was led by a sense of touch rather than sight . This involved focusing on our hand as we explored the textures and shapes of our chosen object, whilst the other hand responded to these sensations by drawing onto the paper using a continuous line. Laura offered the possibility of closing the eyes as we drew feeling our object to better reconcile drawing with touching.

Discussions after the drawing exercises were rich. Conceptualisations about drawing and what it means to draw reference specific ideas about the body and senses. The idea that drawing has to begin and end at a certain point, and to represent what can be seen, belongs to a specifically Cartesian notion of the body. Drawing on touch in particular in researching drawing can be generative because touch is a sensorial realm that seems to relate particularly to relationality. For many of us participating in the session, moving from what can be seen to what can be sensed through touch enabled particular kinds of attunement, that perhaps unsettled habitual assumptions we might hold about the body and drawing as a methodology.

From Arts Based Methods at MMU.

References used in the session:

Manning, E. (2007). Politics of touch: Sense, movement and sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Manning, E. (2012). Relationscapes. Movement, art, philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Maslen, M. & Southern, J. (2011). Drawing Projects: An exploration of the language of drawing.  London: Black Dog Publishing.

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