Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Legitimacy Questions that Linger...

Joe R in Canada writes with : "Do you find that art galleries in the main stir clear of drawings? The prevalent attitude, at least in Canada, is that anything behind glass is a no-no. It is disheartening, the mindless attitude that somehow "works on paper" is less of an art form than paintings. Anyway, just some negative thoughts I can't shake."

My response at the moment it a bit skewed, as I just came in from hanging a gallery show of all drawings. The gallery owner is very open-minded and embraces multiple forms of image-making, but at the same time acknowledges that her buyers are less likely to pay the same for a drawing as for a painting (alas, the drawings going for about half of what a similarly-sized painting would sell for).

I have had the best luck showing my drawings in academic settings, versus commercial galleries (the most recent show being the first exception) - there, drawing can occupy the role of 'thought experiment on paper' and raise questions about the process of ideation and production. Selling isn't the goal, so it takes the heat off.

On a visit to New York last fall, I think it's safe to say that every 10th gallery I went into had drawings on display. Zak Smith stands out as a brilliant poster child - hundreds of his small drawings, posted right on the wall, nothing under glass, in the heart of Chelsea. I take inspiration from this, and keep doing what I do (without glass).

Other thoughts on commercial galleries' attitudes toward drawings as legitimate exhibition fare?


  1. In academia twenty years ago drawing did not have the same appreciation as it does today. When I was an undergraduate I made charcoal drawings that were ten feet by eight feet. During the summer of 1989 I participated in the Yale Summer School of Art and Music program at Norfolk. My studio practice was focused on large scale drawings that I would pin to the wall for display. When the school organized exhibitions they eliminated my drawings--and instead showed my painting studies. I felt so disappointed that they would show work that was a lot weaker for the sake of ideology--or an aesthetic object cast system.

    I think that the current reception of drawing in an academic setting is a good sign, and hopefully commercial galleries will follow. So much of the strongest work by emerging artists is in the form of drawing. There are regions in the country, like the Pacific Northwest, that have been celebrating and showing drawings in the "raw" or "unplugged" {sorry, couldn't help it} since the mid-nineties.

    August 5, 2009 5:50 PM

  2. Typo correction: Above I mean "caste system" and not "cast system." : )

  3. Although drawing is increasingly considered to be a primary activity and is recognised as a stand-alone medium by the avant-garde, here in the UK most dealers and buyers still make the distinction that ‘drawing = quick preparatory sketch for a painting’ which is reflected in the price for ‘works on paper’. However, the distinction based on the type of support has been undermined by developments in acrylic grounds that now make it possible to use oil paint on paper and dry media on canvas or aluminium. In spite of their highly finished nature my drawings are considered ‘works on paper’ and as such are always priced lower than my paintings, which is frustrating because they are equal in my mind.