Learning from drawing. A summer school in Siena

di Maria Chiara Ciaccheri

Pamela Lawton and Deborah Lutz are visual artists. They teach regularly at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where they have created an innovative approach to drawing called “Seeing Through Drawing”. In August of 2015 they will lead a process oriented and perceptually based drawing course called “Drawing As Seeing” at the Siena Art Institute that draws upon methods from their own work and their work as educators. Though not affiliated with the course at the museum, this course is, in part, inspired by it.
We interviewed them to better understand what is “Drawing As Seeing” in relation to museum accessibility.
Further information at and here.

[Qui la proposta per i residenti italiani]

1. You’re both artists and educators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where you have created Drawing as Seeing approach. How drawing is important in your personal and professional development? There’s still a need to learn from drawing?

DL: Making drawings, for me, is no longer about making preparatory studies for another work, but rather as works of art in themselves. Drawings have the immediacy, vigor and thoughtfulness of the moment in which they are created, while also having the potential for additional processes and additive measures with which to develop them further. Paper is part of drawing, but exploring other ground surfaces is predicated on what exploration of medium and expression will be challenged by making a particular drawing. There is a great range of flexibility in making a drawing, that when translated into other mediums, such as paint, or stone, or metal, becomes a more ‘burdensome’ process because of the possibility of over-thinking.
There is still a need to learn from drawing – it can be the most subtle and retiring of the approaches to learning or art making, or it can be a fluid, loud, and dynamic additive/subtractive approach. Drawing can be a method of learning and working out new skills, or it can be the skill and expression itself. For me, it is the indisputable source of all other work.

PL: For me, drawing is an essential daily activity. I use drawing to see, interact with, and understand my own world. When I draw, I am completely in the moment, I am calm, centered, and connected. When I was in high school, I drew during classes, and discovered that this helped me to pay MORE attention to my teachers, not less. I draw while traveling on the New York City subway, during meetings, and on my studio walls. The largest drawing I’ve made is 8 feet high, but I would like to make much larger drawings. The 8 feet high drawings I made were in the old World Trade Center, pre-911, of a reflection of one building in another. They were gridded abstractions, towering drawings inspired by towers. I am attaching two here. I sincerely believe that drawing is something that, if everyone did it, the world would be a better place.

2. Which are the main strengths of the method you are teaching in Siena?

We are very responsive with regard to the materials selected for each drawing. And the material selection is very much in response to the original source from which we choose to draw: responsiveness is key to creating drawings in our course in Siena – responding to the things at hand; the area we find ourselves in; the atmosphere; temperature; sounds; light qualities; available materials; surrounding nature, history, and architecture. It is the individual artist’s response as they experience these elements and create their drawings rooted in their perceptions.
We bring them to these ‘sources’ equipped with responsive materials, and then we are guides in their perceptual experience about the source from which they create. In other words, we describe the ‘sources’ as needed based on vision level, and they create their drawings in response to their perceptual responses as artists.

PL: The main strengths of our method lie in both in the actual experience of being in Siena and through the skills people will take away when they leave which can continue to enrich their daily lives. We are providing people with the opportunity for deep engagement in a rich cultural arena, that of interacting with the art and architecture of Siena, through tactile learning and simultaneous kinesthetic responding to objects, places, and surfaces. This method can then be taken back to their daily lives. Quite opposite to the idea that drawing is less interesting for people with visual impairments than other people, I actually believe that it could be just as or even more useful,  rewarding and powerful for people with low or no vision. It has a great ability to help people connect with and feel connected to their environment and to provide an outlet for creative expression. Participants’ in Drawing As Seeing’s drawings can be seen both as a process, as an end unto itself,  and a product.      

3. Could Drawing as Seeing be considered an accessible approach to drawing and museums themselves? Why?

DL: Objects, sounds, crowds, history, way finding, conversation, lighting, proximity of one object to another – all of these are influenced by the nature of a particular museum and will, when drawing in a museum, vary from day to day.  All of these aspects are native and particular to each museum and become part of the artist’s working perceptions. These will find their way into the art created within the museum.
The participant in Drawing as Seeing accesses these ‘museum aspects’ only in a museum, in part, due to the weight of history and the relationships between a multitude of objects. Any drawing participant in a museum will also be influenced by being in the presence of other visitors who are fascinated with art. Perhaps, unbeknownst to the visitor, they are influenced about the artworks simply by being within the architecture of a museum; drawing in the museum engages that influence all the more.
Making art objects in a museum, in this case drawings by participants with low or no vision, brings the perception of intentional space into the mix of how one experiences art in a museum. It allows for a certain level of focus to occur and for a deep memory about the object drawn from to take shape. I cannot think of another modality that offers quite this specific a point of access, either to works of art, or to museums in particular.

PL: Absolutely, this drawing process we are offering in Siena can definitely be used in museums, as an accessibility tool, and in general, as an accessible approach. All of the methods we are offering – especially simultaneous drawing through touch, and through verbal description- can provide a lens or tool for anyone with low or no vision to connect with their surroundings, be it in a museum or in their daily life, at home of on their own. Recently, at the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, there was an exhibit entitled “Tools: Extending Our Reach”. Drawing is a tool for enhancing the senses. Drawing extends our reach into our surroundings.

4. To whom the course is addressed and why it deserves to be followed?

DL: This course is addressed to anyone who wants to explore drawing perceptually through touch, sound, light, exploration of materials, and abandonment of biased self-expectations about how one makes art, how one experiences museums, and how one perceives art, and how one perceives the world around them. It will also encompass the self observation of one’s own perception as a maker of art and what it means to explore one’s own senses in a non-traditional way as a conduit for art and art making.

PL: This approach, which we are now taking to Siena as Drawing as Seeing but was originally designed for the Metropolitan Museum’s Education Department’s “Seeing Through Drawing” class, was originally designed for people with low or no vision and their family members and friends, whomever their support people happened to be. We found that the support people gained much from the class by fully participating when they were able. We have found that our approaches work very well for fully-sighted people who desire a fresh approach to drawing that challenges what they know and think about their perceptual worlds. We also find that having a mixed group of people with low and no vision and fully sighted people in the same class has proven to be very successful, everyone helping and inspiring one another.



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