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Learn to Draw > Line Drawings Versus Paintings

The line is in itself a considerable abstraction of immediate experience. If the child does not want just to daub, but to "paint" something definite, he first draws the outlines of the areas and then fills them in with color. The practiced painter does essentially the same thing-he can do nothing else. He must first set down the outline without which no area can emerge, and every pictorial representation is made up of areas.

When the outline has served its purpose it can be eliminated and covered over with gradual transitions of color. This is the characteristic method of painting. If the outline remains and its inner area is only shaded in or left without filling at all, the picture is called a drawing.



There is, in fact, no need to choose between the two alternatives. There is an infinite variety of intermediary stages between a pure outline drawing and a painting composed exclusively of areas of color merging and overlapping each other; hence, no clear division can be made between drawing and painting.

Pure painting, as opposed to drawing with color, did not in fact begin to develop until the discovery in the Italian Renaissance that many objects in nature cannot be separated clearly from their environment; that smoke and vapor, flickering or dappled light, cloud and darkness make areas merge inconspicuously into each other. Thus, the shapes of the areas are more felt than seen.

Later this discovery led to a closer definition and separation of the concepts of drawing and painting. Thus, to compensate for the narrowing of the term "drawing" to "line drawing" the Greek word "graphic" is sometimes used as a more general word. Its precise meaning is "written," and there is, a very close relationship between writing and drawing.

line drawing from Antwerp harbor

Writing has developed from simplified drawings of objects representing certain definite concepts. Symbols were derived from these drawings and from the symbols signs or letters, which now retain only the meaning of single sounds. Letters are made by combinations of lines. The term "graphic art''' is now applied to all kinds of representations which accept the principle of an abstracting line. This principle can be expressed in a reduction of everything visible to black and white, sometimes extended to include intermediate ranges of gray. It is still graphic art if colors are used, provided that they are kept clearly separate, either with an enclosing line or by the avoidance of any over-painting.

monet used color in ways that redefined drawings versus paintings

Thus, it is wrong to describe a picture as a painting because it is in color. It is equally wrong to make painting dependent on the brush, which can be used both for painting and drawing, as can colored pencils. The pen is the only exclusively graphic instrument, for it cannot be disassociated from the principle of the line. This explains, too, how wrong it is to use the word "painting" for those techniques which are entirely graphic in character: mosaic, stained glass pictures, batik, and sgraffito. If you examine an Egyptian wall painting you will see at once that it is not painting but graphic art.

toulouse latrec drawings done in a painterly way

There is, however, no precise boundary between graphic art and painting. The range of examples shows every gradation between them. An unceasing war can be waged by pedants for exact terminology, but it is unimportant. No one wishes to produce mongrel work in any sphere, but what is important is the effect of the picture itself, not its category. Categories can be left for the pedants, whose theorizings need not spoil our enjoyment of a picture nor impede the pleasure of trying to make one.

Next: A history of pictures





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