Though drawing is an important subject in itself we tend at times to think of it as a subsidiary art. Yet all artists learn how to draw and to many it is the basis of their art. Drawing is a separate field of creative expression and includes various media and types of work. It may be spontaneous, unaffected and casual or precise and calculated. It may be entirely imaginary or may have a research or enquiring quality. Some kinds of drawing such as calligraphy show great virtuosity and have highly independent abstract values. If the scientist explores through experiment the artist explores through drawing which becomes the foundation for his knowledge of forms. The very tentativeness of drawing is its virtue, its technical simplicity allows the artist to feel free, as well as to feel his way to new areas of expression. Through drawing the painter and sculptor try out a new language and indeed it is a very personal one, for like other aspects of style the artist is known by his drawing which carries his signature in its every nuance.
Among the elements which constitute drawing, line may be said to be the chief, for lines bring to life the figures enclosed, describe objects, span spaces and even dance independently of form. Line constitutes the essential element in delineation, the particular quality of the line and its expressive effect depending on the nature of the person drawing, the instrument producing it and the surface on which the drawing is made. Thus the line may vary from cool and scientifically precise lines to doodles or nervous and agitated markings. It may be sensitive in feeling contours as in describing the human body or it may be casual and playful. It may be interested in texture, or in the creation of tonal areas of dark and light. Yet again it may be decorative devising pattern rather than recording reality.
In modern times the potential of drawing has been to some extent rediscovered, its horizons have been immeasurably increased by the work of such artists as Matisse, Picasso and Klee. Paul Klee's drawings have by themselves explored and conquered spaces and psychological depths, feelings and experiences never recorded by any one artist before.
In ancient times there was no clear demarcation between drawing and painting, this is apparent in primitive art. Drawing was either monochrome or polychrome and the emphasis was on a conceptual delineation of forms. Drawings were often done with the brush and this practice is continued by traditional artists in the Far East even today. Ancient drawing was concerned with ideas and symbols, it portrayed the most recognisable view of an object and this was often represented in silhouette, as in Egyptian murals and Greek vase painting. But from classical times drawing has grown more and more complex moving away from concepts to describe knowledge and then vision. Also if it was earlier a part of the craftsmanship of painting, it later became a mode of independent expression. Special media facilitated its independence and many of the masterpieces of the past are in crayon, water colour or in pen and ink. Pastels for instance are a medium which seem to stand halfway between drawing and painting, the coloured lines making coloured areas. If ancient art revolved round a specific subject matter, real or imaginary, modern art has abandoned the subject matter as such. The theme of modern drawings is one invented by the artist himself, who reserves the right to name what he has created 'art'.
Though drawing can be divided into many categories according to treatment the major kinds I suggest are only two. In the first, which can be termed `classical' can be included structural and scientific drawings, that is those based on contour, which are cool, controlled and objective. Though they tell us something about the artist's attitude, they are essentially documentary records of things, or of moments or of landscapes. The subject matter is treated descriptively ranging from a minimal kind of line, (Modigliani, Klee) to a sumptuous delineation of fact (Ingres). This kind of drawing can be called objective because it owes much to the theme.
In a second category we can put together expressionist or subjective drawings. These through their treatment reveal the temperament of the artist and how he feels about something. The drawing is emotional and even romantic. For instance, the artist's delight in his subject may be sensuous, ironic or whimsical. He may record in his drawing his feeling about a place or person and lovingly portray delicate details. In such a work the style is important in telling us what the artist wishes to communicate. An extreme kind of romanticism is fantasy or surrealism. Here the guide is the artist's unconscious. He refers to some source deep within himself from which spring images and dreams of which perhaps he was unaware. The artist becomes an intuitive instrument in setting down the forms and ideas which dwell within him.
Separated from the kinds of drawing described above is design or ornament, though design can perhaps be said to be objective. Pure design is often stylised, it is made by the artist to take particular forms which do not exist in nature but which perhaps he finds more beautiful. He attenuates or distorts or idealises forms to create ornament. Ornamental design may be planned for a three dimensional object, but mostly it is flat or two dimensional. It is created not to exist by itself but to be applied to surfaces of metal, paper or even masonry. Ornament is generally not an end in itself but used to embellish things, therefore all varieties of applied art from floor design to advertising are a kind of ornament. Though such designs take their origin from life they are generally removed from it becoming abstract and intellectual rather than emotional.
The sources of drawing are therefore two-fold-nature and the imagination of man. Each artist is unique in his style and his language belongs inevitably only to him; while an artist may learn from nature and from art, drawing more clearly than other finished art forms demonstrates that ultimately an artist can be only himself. Copying for example is a form of learning and does not take away originality from the true artist any more than the poet is lost because he has studied the poetry of the past.
Indian art has always given a dace ace of importance to drawing. For we see that even in the great classical murals or the more lyrical and intimate miniature, it is the line which delineates form its sensitive contours describing each figure and each detail with sympathetic understanding. Very few Indian drawings have survived from the ancient past, though happily we have large numbers of drawings of miniatures. Using these as a basis we may consider how Indian drawing differs from that of the West.
Indian drawing is highly conceptual in character, for the art as a whole was concerned to express ideas and emotions rather than facts. Thus Indian drawing is characteristically brief, it wishes to make a statement with the minimum delay. Drawing here is not an end in itself but a means to an end, the creation of rasa. Therefore, traditional drawing never concerned itself with light and shadow, with accidents of reporting or with meticulous anatomical detail. On the contrary it drew its images from memory, from known and observed themes; the subject matter whether sacred or secular was depicted in terms of everyday life imbued with a certain poetry. We do not find objective drawings prior to Mughal art, for traditional drawing was concerned primarily with feeling and expression. Art was not separated from belief, philosophy and poetry. The themes of this art were already well-known, and as in music the artist was an exponent, innovating and describing lyric themes within the limits of a tradition. There was little emphasis on originality and even less on personal ambition.
Besides drawing in ancient times was considered, part of the craftsmanship of painting and therefore very few examples of drawing survive from the past. What we would call finished drawings are seen in Persia and in a few Persian influenced Indian works of the Mughal period.
The great break in the art history of our country occurs with the impact and importation of Western drawing. With the establishment of the art schools in the middle of the 19th century we were confronted for the first time with an alien tradition, a tradition that stemmed from the Renaissance and Western Antiquity, where drawing was based on the artist' viewpoint (perspective) and on the study of anatomy. The new academic drawing of the second half of the century while it had competent practitioners did not produce any great artists.
A fresh synthesis had to be made and this was what occurred in fact with the rise of the Bengal School. I will not go into a description of the sources of this school, instead we can notice briefly the drawing of a few of its major artists.
The drawings of Abanindranath Tagore are rather unusual. Abanindranath favoured a sensitive wispy contour which enclosed silhouettes. Also in his sketches we see that his treatment is really colouristic with dark and light tonal areas built up by hatching. This type of delicate drawing was characteristic of his temperament and was influenced by his training in Western art. Well-known examples are the small sketches, Debendranath addressing a Gathering and Rabindranath in a Deck Chair. Abanindranath's most important disciple, Nandalal Bose, initiated new directions which were more plastic and structural. Nandalal trained himself by studies from nature and life. He also studied ancient sculpture and had a deep understanding of ornament. His drawings are of different kinds; sometimes as in his iconic compositions his figures are enclosed in long even lines for example Veena Player or Ardhanarisvara. Sometimes he used the brush in a calligraphic way rather related to Far Eastern brushwork. Nandalal has left a very large body of drawing; he practised drawing as assiduously and regularly as musicians practise music. However, he did not draw from posed models but made sketches from everyday life. A number of his drawings are devoted to ornamental design, he studied particular motifs like flowers and animals, analysing and recombining their parts in variations. Binode Behari Mukherjee who is a later artist of this school continued some of these methods effectively. He also did brush sketches very freely, sometimes on a wet porous paper as in his Banaras studies, he evolved a fine calligraphic brushwork, very crisp and cursive with which he sometimes finished his pictures (See Sunflowers). Ramkinker's drawings though related to the Santiniketan School are more expressionistic and combine tone and sharp incisive finishing lines. These artists led the art of this period towards modern phases. Their work is both exploratory and structural. There were however other contemporaneous artists, for example Mukul Dey, who continued the drawing Abanindranath had used. Others adopted and refashioned in personal ways the long even lines of Nandalal. Khsitindranath Majumdar and Chughtai can be cited as artists who perpetuated a romantic manner. The drawing in their work is of great importance, as it tended to dominate and even overpower other pictorial elements. The line here is comparatively even and attenuated, its repetitions and display remind one of art nouveau linearity in Europe.
Two kinds of drawing are carried forward into the next generation. Firstly the emphasis on rhythm and line was continued by artists of the transition such as Hebbar and Chavda. Their sketches both from life and art, for example drawings of dancers or ancient sculpture are basically linear and are full of movement and grace and essentially decorative. A quite different textural treatment is seen in the work of the two colourists Sailoz Mookherjea and Gopal Ghose. Their drawing shows a different range and in spite of recognisable subject-matter becomes a brocade of woven tones. Further these artists often use lines like brushstrokes. In their later years they seem to reach a kind of abstract expressionism for there is a wild freedom in their work (hatching and doodling) reminiscent of action painting.
In the years that followed, abstraction was adopted as a method of painting and as a theme. K. G. Subramanian though a descendant of the Santiniketan School made studies in colour areas with overlapping, and with connecting and enclosing lines. The aim here is first of all to make a picture. Ram Kumar, a painter of the same age group creates drawings which are tonal studies based on landscape. Though in both these artists there is a tenuous link with reality the drawings come to be ends in themselves rather than descriptions of facts or places.
In recent years we notice a great increase in the interest in drawing for its own sake. This interest however is sometimes a display of virtuosity; at others the result is predominantly decorative. Again we find some artists producing surrealistic or sensual and morbid drawings. In short these new directions tend to extremes being highly imaginative and subjective rather than related to nature and life. A healthier trend and one which might result in more powerful works is to relate drawing again to the everyday world because drawing depends not only on imagination but also on experience. It is only from knowledge of the known that memory derives; it is only in opposition to the known that fantasy is created. In recent years a number of young artists have been arranging shows consisting entirely of drawings. Among them mention should be made of Adimoolam, Suriyamoorthy, Arnawaz Driver, Ramanujam and others from Madras, Sunil Das and Nikhil Biswas of Calcutta, Laxma Goud in Hyderabad Jatin Das, Himmat Shah, Barwe and Ambadas of Bombay. In the North, Jeevan Adalja, Rameshwar Broota, Jyoti Swarup, Ramachandran and others have been seen. These names are from a developing generation, the contribution of the older artists is already well-known.
The two trends which appear to be dominant in current production are firstly a decorative style, concerned with textures and space-filling lines. Here the lines are freed from figurative art or sometimes locked in with motifs, they often form an all-over pattern and are occasionally made complex by the use of collage. The second type is closely connected to figurative art; the theme is the body of man in its permutations and combinations. These latter drawings are expressionist in tendency, some of them quite saturated with a tragic sense and others supernatural and organic.
To sum up one may say that drawing as a medium is now being re-discovered and re-employed. A number of younger artists are devoting a good part of their output to it. The body of work if not entirely new is very considerable and holds promise of fresh innovations. Drawing being the least inhibiting of media, it finds a happy and spontaneous use in all kinds of imagery, from the surrealistic to the mundane. Its practice is never wasted for it has to be considered among the basic skills of the artist. Drawing however has its own discipline and limits, for while the artist may be virtuoso and 'free' he cannot be so free as to lose himself in uncoordinated doodles lacking the pulse of life. We can only call those works drawings, which have the essential spirit which is the sine qua non of true works of art.
Lalit Kala Contemporary, Volume 9, September 1968