Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Word - About a Word

"A hasty or undetailed drawing or painting often made as a preliminary study.

(Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) a rapid drawing or painting, often a study for subsequent elaboration

(Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) to make a rough drawing (of)

[from Dutch schets, via Italian from Latin schedius hastily made, from Greek skhedios unprepared]

Noun1.sketch - preliminary drawing for later elaboration; "he made several studies before starting to paint"

a rough plan, drawing or painting He made several sketches before starting the portrait.

sketch - describe roughly or briefly or give the main points."

A word or two today about a word - Sketch.

In a series of recent comments on the current work on my drawing board, the word 'sketch' was mentioned with reference to the image posted, followed by several comments alluding to a perceived misuse of that word with regard to the work at hand. So, I dug around on the net this morning and found a few examples of definitions for that word, including some derivational history, and felt I might want to make a few comments regarding all this.

First off, let me say that this is not in any way intended to belittle a comment or to take to task anyone's use of that word in a less than appropriately defined manner, nor do I mean any of what is to follow to single out any individual for an unintended misuse of the word. I simply wanted to make a few comments on how I, as an artist, feel about that word.

As noted in the spotlighted definitions above, I've always, personally, used the word 'sketch' in the manner defined: to connote something in a rough, preliminary stage or a starting point; a plan; a conceptual idea simply worked out quickly with no intention of it representing a final, finished work. As an artist myself, I guess I have always just understood the true meaning of the word but at the same time, have a realization that anyone not intimately involved in creative endeavors or with a more encompassing knowledge base, might not share that same understanding of the meaning of the word. There are indeed, many words that have association with other professions or uniquely connected situations that I have a less than complete understanding of and have found myself, from time to time, misusing or inappropriately referring to them. It's all relative.

I stopped counting the number of times in the past, when I would hear someone comment to me at an art show or large exhibition event just how sincerely they had an appreciation for my 'pencil sketches' and knowing that it must have taken me hours and hours of hard work. I suppose there was a time, back when I first started to show work in a professional setting with other artists, that sort of remark made a little dent in my skin, but I always understood in the back of my mind that the remark was never intended as a put down or a way of diminishing my work and that person's sincere respect for it. They just did not have a fuller understanding of the appropriate terminology for a finished drawing on paper. It's a bit easier to look at a painting and be able to refer to it as a 'painting', no matter what the paint medium might be - oil, watercolor, gouache, acrylic - with a full understanding that it is a finished work of art even if you are not an artist yourself. It's easier to look at a photograph and have a complete understanding that what you are looking at is a 'photograph', again no matter whether it be a black and white, a sepia tone, or color image.

A finished drawing on the other hand, for many, may not be understood to command a similar quality of completeness since the historic, general understanding in many people's minds is that of a 'drawing' as being rough in comparison to a painted work. The casual art viewer, leafing through a quality book of art reproductions, might come across a drawn out study for a painting or a page from a famous artist's sketch book showing simple line/shadow/gestural notations and make a connection between those pencil works and the simplicity that a study entails and then, naturally, bring that information forward and define, in their own minds, all pencil work to be of a study nature; a 'sketch' unrelated to what might be a fuller, more involved and complete work.

To my way of thinking, there is nothing 'wrong' with someone going through that informational process and making connections between what is seen and what might be understood, as long as there is an openness to a fuller and more accurate line of knowledge down the road. As an artist then, I feel it is part of my responsibility to guide and inform and impart the knowledge that I have to anyone who asks or seems the least bit interested in having a more appropriate knowledge. Those same individuals who might refer to my 'pencil sketches' with appreciation will often follow up that comment by apologizing for maybe not knowing the appropriate way of describing my work or asking if that is what I call my work. There's always that teachable moment, that instance when a correction can be offered and explained. I've never felt I had a situation like that, after politely and respectfully defining my work as a finished drawing rather than a simple sketch, when a person then, walked away feeling like they had been put in their place or felt like they'd just been belittled. They generally thank me for clarification and leave with, I hope, an increased knowledge that will come to mind the next time they encounter a work of art that might not be of total familiarity from a medium standpoint or technical style, and perhaps they will not fear showing a lack of knowledge and ask again for guidance.

So, does hearing my work described as being a 'sketch' bother me? Not totally. I understand what is being implied by the comment and can simply and respectfully insert a redefinition of it as being . . . a finished drawing!


Clive Meredith said...

terry i think youv'e very succinctly and very diplomatically explained a circumstance many of us pencil artists will be familiar with.i,like you,have tried on occasion not to let the 'sketch' word get under my skin but at times have felt that the medium itself is somehow being regarded as inferior to others by some(although by all means not all)using that particular word.i couldn't agree more with the sentiments youve expressed here and would add that on many occasions the hours spent by the artist creating a finished drawing far exceed those spent by many an oil painter creating an image and so having your work described as a sketch can be a little hard to take.

Anna Schoolderman said...

After spending many hours working on a drawing it can be slightly discouraging to hear a member of the public describe it as a "sketch", or, in my experience "oh! Its only charcoal!" As artists we appreciate the level of technical skill, not to mention time, that goes into the creation of such a work. The challenge is to educate the public to appreciate this. I congratulate you on your well written and sensitive handling of this issue.

Jim Bortz said...

Thoughtful and well-said Terry... as always.

Anonymous said...

Thanks all for weighing in on this minor, but major issue. I think it is interesting that each of you have touched on not only the innocence of the 'uneducated perception of some as to what to call a drawing, but to the general lack of appreciation or respect of drawing as a viable player in the arena of art. Terry, I know you tried to explain it with the general description and purpose of sketches. I agree that throughout all of published art history, it is very possible to see more preliminary sketches and studies than actual paintings. An education of the process of art in itself. But why does it have to be that drawing remains in the cellar, the minor or development leagues, riding the bench while an inferior painting steps up to the plate? That's where my sensitivities are riled. I have consulted with fellow artists from time to time (who happen to be painters) just for general critique and marketing advice. It is common for them to say, "there is nothing for me to coach here, you really have it!! If you painted, you could easily make a handsome living." --therefore, leaving more discouraged than consoled. I'm not supposing that there is a philosophical or even a magic solution or conclusion here. Just an opportunity to vent. I do pledge to hang in there with you all and with inspiration from incredible artists like yourselves, do my very best to remain in this never ending battle. Keep up the good work and show your very best.

Judith Angell Meyer said...

I'm just reading this "A Word - About a Word." Very interesting and I'm glad you addressed the problem. I am a watercolor and graphite artist. Watercolors and just as devalued next to an oil. As for my pencil work, I call completed work my graphite paintings. I think the jump above "drawing" (verbally), helps set the information. My 2¢ ...