The 20th annual Jerwood Drawing Prize opens later tonight. It’s the first exhibition I’ll be covering as Writer in Residence and I’m looking forward to looking at, and writing about, the work. But before we begin, a confession. I’m not a big fan of drawing.
Perhaps I should clarify. I don’t have anything against individual artists who draw, much less against drawings themselves, but the idea of drawing as a discipline – Drawing with a capital D, an institutionalised medium – makes me slightly suspicious. Traditionally the qualitative judgements in drawing are premised on verisimilitude, on the level of accuracy attained by visual facsimiles of real-world things. There’s an attendant perception of drawing as an authentic craft, something that sorts the wheat from the chaff, a litmus test of artistic skill. But skill is a boring concept. Its relevance evaporates at the horizon of capability: some people have it, others simply don’t. I also feel uneasy about reinforcing the idea of drawing as a politically ignorant medium, a species of formal purism that tends to overlook its own commodity status while producing highly desirable, decorative objects. Drawings are small and transportable; they are easy to frame and sell. Commercial gallerists love them. So does the general public: the Drawing Prize is Jerwood’s best-attended annual exhibition.
I do not air these prejudices in order to mount a pre-emptive critique of the exhibition I’ll be writing about over the coming weeks, but merely to assert a position I can’t really defend in the first place and which I hope will grow and alter over that time. It is apparent to me, though, that drawing qua drawing – a medium ring-fenced from the myriad of interchangeable genres and modes contemporary artists operate through, from sculpture to film to tumblr feeds – has an anachronistic flavour in the context of contemporary art, at odds with the post-discipline, post-internet, post-everything zeitgeist. But this may be precisely where the strength of drawing lies: its outsiderness to current forms, construed as a form of freedom. And judging from a brief glimpse at the work on display from this evening onwards, ‘drawing’ comprises a great variety of mediums, subjects approaches and tones.
You can find out a little about myself and my work at my website. Over the coming weeks I’ll talk to various artists, attempt to decipher out the narratives encoded in individual works, and think about the show as a whole, as a collective entity. I’ll also consider what place drawing has, or might have, in the wider framework of artistic and economic conditions that currently surround the Prize. Hopefully, I can lay some unexamined assumptions to rest by doing so.
One final thing: the image above. I haven’t yet worked out how to caption jpegs on this blog yet, so I’ll have to include a credit here. Plan B by Lexi Strauss. Acrylic on paper. Photography: Benjamin Cosmo Westoby