Drawing Ambiguity (2015) Introduction

— this was one of the recommendations from the last tutorial and I have been reading the Introduction along with a couple of other chapters so far. The introduction stands out for me for a number of reasons, here are some of my excerpted notes on it (the page numbers do not refer to the printed book but a manuscript on academia.edu).

a. the ubiquity of drawing gestures: what in this is accidental, what purposeful, but in particular what is the status of a drawing: part working out, part worked out; part private, part public.

b. the relationship between drawing marks and writing

c. immediacy and mediation take place at once and rely on each other; similarly: it always involves bodily gestures (however these are mediated)

d. the emphasis of the production of knowledge in the process of drawing: of working things out, of seeking agency (see in relation to the gap between digital/analog, it also being a gap concerning agency)

e. the discussion of how this alters, shifts, remains in the context of networked images: the role of the screen as interface (and again: what is mediating, what is being mediated)


Horton, D. (2015). Drawing Ambiguity: Introduction. In R. Marshall & P. Sawdon (Eds.), Drawing Ambiguity (IB Taurus Press, pp. 1–11). London.

Notes: p.2: The very fact that we all draw opens up another ambiguous space, that between the private and the public; between the intimate actions of reflection and ‘working out’ and the calculated production of images made to be seen. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.2: And even when drawings are made to be seen, there can be something about the directness and private nature of the act of drawing that allows artists to give free reign to fantasy, or give vent to unspoken desires, or simply to reveal other more innocent or mundane thought processes, that makes us feel that we are looking over their shoulders, privy to their intimate thoughts. We have been invited in to another’s world, given room to make our own sense of what is going on in it. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p. 2: And in another twist of the ambiguous relationship between language and the visual, when the articulation or expression takes place through writing, we are back to drawing again – because, in the form of drawing we call writing, words are never independent of gesture.2”

Footnote 2: At least since synthetic cubism introduced fragments of type into the picture plane, it has been commonplace for written language to function as a compositional element in art works. By the 1960’s it was not uncommon for language to be the subject matter of art, and indeed its matter – the material from which it might solely be made. Language as art had to wait for the twentieth century, but as drawing it is as old as the earliest writing. To write by hand is, unavoidably, to draw. The conceptual separation between the two grows with our familiarity with any given written language, but all we have all experienced ‘drawing’ writing when we first learn to lay down the strokes of an unfamiliar form, whether as a child first writing ‘a, b, c’, or, for example, as an unfamiliar adult learning to write Arabic or Chinese characters. Capturing or reproducing a letter-form with a line is arguably no different to capturing or reproducing any other form with a line. The arbitrary connection between the shape of a line and a vocal sound is culturally defined and becomes fixed only up to a point, leaving room for considerable variations in spelling and pronunciation. Similarly, the meaning we attach to other kinds of line that function for their makers (the ‘drawers’ of the lines) as approximations of their visual experiences of the world around them (or even as attempts to create new visual experiences in the world) leave an ambiguous space in which new meanings are made.

>> this also speaks and relates back to Kittler’s argument how the typewriter radically alter our understanding of writing as set in blocks rather than in handwritten form.

p.3: My focus here is on a viewer’s interpretation of, for example, a drawing, and the meaning that might be made of its relation to the wider world — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.3: Another perspective might emphasise the reflexiveness or otherwise of the maker of the drawing in relation to her intention (or lack of one), and the extent to which the making is considered, planned or known. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

<< examining different perspectives and engagements with the drawing.

p.3: [Leszek] Kolakowski suggests that inconsistency is, ‘an awareness of the contradictions in this world’, and, ‘a consciously sustained reserve of uncertainty’.3 — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

<< this quote references similar Marxist arguments about being contradictory in a contradictory world (not sure: Benjamin, Adorno, Brecht?)

p.3: But by impelling us to interpret situations for ourselves, — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.4: encouraging us to grapple conceptually with ideas, systems and contexts, it can be intriguing and rewarding, allowing us a deeper and more personal relationship with the meaningsoffered by exactly those ideas and systems and their contexts. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.4: Drawing combines the effect of immediacy (in a reciprocal relation of hand and eye) with the fact of its mediation (the use of the hand, or its disembodied digital equivalent, to materialise an image). — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.4: What might it mean to draw in the Internet age? — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.4: Avant-garde impulses of the last century, such as fragmentation, collage and chance procedures, have been fused with the technologies of the present, resulting in an expanded field for twenty-first-century drawing. Not bound exclusively to the surface of a substrate, it continually morphs from the manual to the digitised, from printed page to web page, from studio and gallery to screen and street, from private to published, and from social space to virtual space. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.5: Whether in the digital context referred to already, or in its older and more obviously manual manifestations, drawing exists at an interface: the interface of an idea and its representation; of the hand and the trace of its action; and of the image and its viewer. This interface is a place with its own autonomy, its own ability to generate new results and consequences, essentially an area in which choices are made, not a simple and transparent site, but a fertile nexus, ripe with ambiguities. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

<< that is where the drawing is productive; it is also open, vulnerable. What questions does this raise for the idea of ‘success’? what is the role of experimentation, rejection, refinement?

p.6: The idea that the window is transparent but passive (you merely need to look through it to see the information contained in the space behind it), whereas the door is opaque and requires you to be active (it conceals the information in the space behind it until you open the door to access it), is really useful for understanding those differences. The idea of the screen adds another dimension to this, perhaps, through its double meaning involving both visibility and invisibility – a screen is a thing behind which something might be concealed, but also a thing that you can project something onto. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

From the DIC essay on public/private, here Dewdney (2012) on the role of the TV screen:

For Dewdney (2012, 100) the key change of the status of the networked photographic image lies in its relationship to the TV monitor, notably,‘[u]p until this moment the ontology of photography, largely taken to be discrete and technical, has been the guarantor of the coherence of the individual subject, whilst the ontology of television has been the guarantor of the coherence of the existence of public space. It is the distinction between public and private, interior and exterior, held in place by the general representational system, which is now in a crisis produced by networked behaviours, globalized modes of production and transcultural subjects.’If the biggest change lies in the circulation of images and less so its modes of production, we need to ask how such anticipated circulation along re-configured public/private boundaries already impacts on the intent and procedures of conceptualising images (and thus becomes effective long before the image then circulates). I will do so by outlining a series of implications as they relate to the relational triangle of the networked image.

p.6: The relationship between the visual and conceptual interface of the screen (the interface of eye and mind with the visual information projected on it and the digital data hidden behind it) and the physical or manual interface of the keyboard and mouse or the touch-screen (the interface of the body with the mechanical manipulation required to activate and access digital information) demonstrates that the body is always central to the process  — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.6: sfumato was one of the four canonical drawing and painting modes of the Renaissance (the other three being cangiante, chiaroscuro and unione). Sfumato comes from the Italian sfumare, ‘to tone down’ or literally, ‘to evaporate like smoke’. — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.7: To return to the notion of the interface, further layers of ambiguity are uncovered if we reflect on the relationship between the surface on which these drawn marks are made and the succession of other surfaces that might in turn support it. Georges Perec reflects metaphorically on this in his Species of Spaces when he muses: I put a picture up on a wall. Then I forget there is a wall. … The wall is no longer what delimits and defines the place where I live, that which separates it from the other places where other people live. It is nothing more than a support for the picture. But I also forget the picture. I no longer look at it. I no longer know how to look at it. I have put the picture on the wall so as to forget there was a wall, but in forgetting the wall, I forget the picture too. There are pictures because there are walls. We have to be able to forget there are walls, and have found no better way to do that than pictures. Pictures efface walls. But walls kill pictures.8 — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

<< such excellent section about what Perec’s work can do in the context of what I am doing; also: in relation to interior spaces!

p.8: This blur, as a visual metaphor for ambiguity, is also central to the long history of argument about art and science — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018

p.8: As all these examples suggest, looking at the role of ambiguity across different disciplines is therefore a way of considering the relationship between them. Meaning is seldom revealed explicitly — Highlighted 22 Jun 2018