I was on Radio 4 this week. Just for a moment, but I was there. I was interviewed at the Royal Drawing School for a programme called Why do we Draw?. It was a pleasant surprise to hear it, because the actual interview happened so long ago that I’d completely forgotten about it. But you can listen to it here – My voice is about halfway through, muttering briefly about drawing being about communication.
It’s a shame the whole programme isn’t longer though, because there’s a lot of interesting things to add. When I was being asked, I felt that the interviewer had this impression that drawing is really about expressing emotion and feelings, and that artists draw because they’re so overwhelmed with passion that they have no other way of expressing it. This might be true in some cases, but to ask the question as though drawing has a determinable function is to miss the point.
Drawing, as I muttered into the microphone, is a form of communication: everyone starts off drawing (indeed, a lot of caring grandmothers of artist will say “oh, you always used to draw, even when you were only three!”, but of course all three-year-olds draw, it’s just that it’s not relevant to bring it up when reminiscing about the childhood of a brain surgeon or whatever). If you continue to develop it into your adult life, drawing and seeing become fundamental activities, like talking or reading or writing. To an extent then, drawing becomes a way of expressing emotions; but to the same extent you can draw to express any sort of concrete or abstract idea. If you’re feeling cerebral, you can draw to explore the nature of drawing itself, though I can’t help but think that it’s even more important to draw to have fun.
Essentially, drawing is an activity by which we understand our world and communicate that understanding. It would feel futile to ask “Why do we talk, write or think?”, because the acts of talking, writing or thinking underpin our ability to ask at all. With that in mind, I would argue that it’s futile to try to pin down Why do we Draw?, because drawing is another of the ways we ask the “Why” of anything.