Thursday, January 8, 2009

The importance of Figure Drawing in the Practice of Architecture

There was a time when drawing and figure drawing were considered prerequisites for not only artists but architects and engineers. I go into the subject as it was practiced at Dartmouth College in How Harry Cook Learned to Draw - Free Drawing - Dartmouth College - 1897- 98 - By Harry Irving Cook - And Lessons from Chapman's American Drawing Book.

At Dartmouth free-hand drawing was considered an essential part of the curriculum. In 1851 Professor John Smith Woodman took over the chair in the School of Mathematics, later he was assigned to the Chandler Scientific School. He left briefly to practices law, then returned and established a course of study which emphasized the importance he placed on drawing as part of the learning experience and a way to improve the thought process. He published a book on free-hand drawing which was edited and illustrated by Dwinel French Thompson. There is a more extensive essay on the teachng of free-hand drawing in the book. The book combines the actual drawings of Harry Cook, a student at Dartmouth, which were evidently made as a final project. They are copies of engraved drawings in Chapman's American Drawing Book. Evidently after much practice, the final journal was executed in ink without ant preliminary sketching.

I learned the other day of an art exhibit that took place a few years ago on the establishment of the Albert A. Anderson, Jr. and Evelynn Ellis Art Education Collection at Pennsylvania State University.

The exhibit was at the Grolier Club in New York City and was called Teaching America to Draw: Instructional Manuals & Ephemera, 1794 to 1925

New York Times articleabout the exhibit: An Exhibition About Drawing Conjures a Time When Amateurs Roamed the Earth

Here's a quote from the article:

An image from the Progressive Drawing Book - 1827 that was in the exhibit. The illustration shows how to apply a grid to a drawing for the purpose of enlarging it.

"From 1820 to 1860, more than 145,000 drawing manuals circulated, now souvenirs of our bygone cultural aspirations. Not many of these manuals are still intact because they were so heavily used, worn down like church relics, which supplicants rubbed smooth from caressing."

"We’re addicted to convenience today. Cellphone cameras are handy, but they’re also the equivalent of fast-food meals. Their ubiquity has multiplied our distance from drawing as a measure of self-worth and a practical tool. Before box cameras became universal a century or so ago, people drew for pleasure but also because it was the best way to preserve a cherished sight, a memory, just as people played an instrument or sang if they wanted to hear music at home because there were no record players or radios. Amateurism was a virtue, and the time and effort entailed in learning to draw, as with playing the piano, enhanced its desirability."

"Drawing promoted meditation and stillness. “A sustained act of will is essential to drawing,” Paul Valéry put it. 'Nothing could be more opposed to reverie, since the requisite concentration must be continually diverting the natural course of physical movements, on its guard against any seductive curve asserting itself.'"
"A century ago it was possible for a Philadelphia educator named J. Liberty Tadd to instruct young women to stand in pigsties to learn to draw animals directly from nature. There’s an illustration in the show from Tadd’s “New Methods in Education” of a girl in a long, improbably immaculate dress sketching pigs on a blackboard."

In 1870 Massachusetts Lawmakers mandated the drawing be taught as a subject: The Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870

To show how important figure drawing was once regarded, here is a a section of testimony before the British House of Commons A Report by a Commission to Study and Report on the Position of The Royal Academy of Art.

The Chairman of the Commission examines George Gilbert Scott, Esq., R.A.
Victoria and Albert Museum page on George Gilbert Scott

2152. (Chairman.) In what year did you become an Associate, and in what year did you become a Royal Academician ?
—In 1855 I was if, Mar. 1863. elected an Associate, and in 1860 a Royal Academician.

2153. How many architects besides yourself are members of the Academy ?—Now there are only two others who are acting Academicians, Mr. Smirke and Mr. Hardwick, but Mr. Cockerell did remains nominally an Academician ; he is an honorary retired Academician, so that there are four of us, including him....

2174. Do you consider that the Institute of British Architects may be regarded not as in any degree antagonistic to the Academy, but rather as a useful adjunct and assistant to it ?
—Yes, decidedly ; in fact, the objects of the Institute are very different from those of the Academy.

2175. Do you believe that non-antagonistic feeling which you have just described to be that which in general pervades the Institute of British Architects ?
—I have not myself noticed anything ; but a few years ago there was an expression of feeling, I believe, which was a little antagonistic. I was not present at the time, and do not exactly know the grounds of it.

2176. You have noticed nothing of the kind yourself?
—No ; I suppose I should have done so if I had happened to have attended more regularly than I have done. There was a kind of address or memorial to the Academy I think. I do not know whether it was before I was elected an Associate or not ; but I think it was subsequently.

2177. (Sir E. Head.) With regard to what you have said as to the teaching of the architectural students of the Academy, are you of opinion that it would be useful for the architectural students to be educated up to a certain point in drawing and modelling ?
—Exactly ; that is precisely what I wished to have suggested.

2178. You think that a more intimate union of the three arts ought to be attained somewhat in that way ; that the feeling of a student for the other branches of painting and sculpture should be educated and brought up to a certain point before he devoted himself specially to architecture ?
—Yes, I do ; I think that the Royal Academy could promote the studies of students in architecture to a very great extent by educating them in those parts of the sister arts which border closely upon architecture. For instance, we none of us as a general rule are taught figure drawing systematically ; if we know anything of it, it is by accident. Now, figure drawing is essential to the highest branches of architectural decoration ; no one can really design architectural decoration in its highest form without being able to draw figures and animals. I think that the Royal Academy could supply that want—that they could have a class of architectural students who should be systematically instructed in figure and animal drawing as applicable to architecture.

2179. You would continue that instruction up to a certain point hefore the student was handed over to the special department of architecture ?
—Yes ; at the commencement of his course he ought to be taught those branches, and not only in drawing but in modelling.

2180. Do you think that the want of that has a good deal to do with those deficiencies in the decorative character of our modern buildings which have been observed in this country ?
—I do strongly think so.

2181. You think that those deficiencies would have a better chance of being supplied if architectural students were educated in the way you have suggested ?
—I think so most strongly.

2182. (Viscount Hardinge.) Do young men who intend to become architects generally go through the schools of the Royal Academy as a sort of probationary course ?
—A very small proportion of those who are brought up as architects become students of the Royal Academy, but there are a certain number who do.

2183. I take it that you would be in favour of having, as a branch school in the Royal Academy, a special school for teaching architecture generally, which would include instruction in figure drawing and animal drawing ?
—Yes ; I should not care so very much about architecture

Here is an additional argument for drawing from Architectural Record - An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of architecture and the Allied Arts and Crafts.

The article is Training for the Practice of Architecture by Charles H. Moore in the January 1921 Issue.

The free-hand drawing differs in different schools, but in hardly any of them is it what it ought to be. The great use of drawing for students of architecture lies in the quickening of the sense of form and proportion. In many of the schools of architecture drawing is taught on the lines of the modern schools of painting—the chief model being the nude human figure. The wisdom of this is very questionable. For the human body, under present conditions, is hardly ever normal ; and to habituate the eye to its manifold imperfections is an injury to the artistic sense. On this account it would be better, I think, to confine the study of the human figure to casts and photographs from ancient sculptures— which supply all that is required. But among these there is need for discrimination in the choice of models. The quality of ancient sculptures is very unequal. In the older European schools, the least excellent examples were used as models, and the same models have been largely retained to the present time, both in Europe and America. They are the later Greek and Greco-Roman works, and have the artificial graces and extravagancies as well as the petty naturalisms of decadent art. These were the only antiques that were known when the older schools were started, and they suited the tastes of those times. The only ancient sculptures that are worthy of unqualified admiration are those of the Greek- carvers of the fifth century В. C., by whom the human form was represented with perfection in its normal beauty and grandeur—as in the reliefs and pediment figures of the Parthenon. These are monumental and nobly ideal works, and have every quality to be desired in models for drawing. In them we have nature corrected by nature herself, and presented naturally with unexaggerated grace of posture and movement, in terms of the proper conventions of art.
...The benefits of drawing are not limited to what concerns the carved ornamentation of buildings; they extend to everything that the architect has to do.- The sense of proportion and all the amenities of the art are dependent on tin- training of mind and eye that drawing tends to give.

Some places still consider figure drawing important for Architects, here is a link to
DRAWING AT WORK - Life Drawing For Architects & Engineers and another to Lehrer Architects.

Drawing and Perceiving: Life Drawing for Students of Architecture and Design, 3rd Edition

Another related book: An Elementary Course in Free Hand Geometrical Drawing.

At about the same time as Harry Cook was learning to draw Anson Kent Cross was publishing books including a manual on free-hand drawing. Here are some of the books he wrote.

Free-hand drawing, light and shade and free-hand perspective for the use of art students and teachers - Anson Kent Cross.

Free-hand drawing, light and shade and free-hand perspective for the use of art students and teachers - another copy on the web.

From Anson Kent Cross' Free-hand Drawing - The student is using Cross' Transparent Drawing Slate.

From Who's Who in New England, 1909:
CROSS, Anson Kent, art educator: b. at Lawrence. Mass., Dec. 6, 1862; ...Taught free haud and mech, drawing, evening drawing schs. Lawrence, Mass., 1881-3; mem. faculty Normal Art Sch. since 1883; Instr. evening drawing schs., Boston, 1883-6: prin. same, 1896-1900. Instr. In Art Mus. Sch. of Drawing and Painting since 1891. ... Author: Freehand Drawing, Light and Shade, and Free-hand Perspective, 1892 A7; Drawing In Public Schools, 1893 Л7; Mechanical Drawing, 1896 Gl; Color Study, 1896 Gl; Free-hand Drawing, 1896 Gl; Primary Lessons, 1896 Gl; Grammar Lessons, 1896 Gl: National Drawing Cards, 1896 Gl; National Draw- Ing Books, 1896 Gl; Light and Shade, 1897 Gl.

Free-hand Drawing: A Manual For Teachers And Students

Freehand Drawing: A Manual For Teachers And Students (1898)

Color Study: A Manual For Teachers And Students (1895)

Drawing and painting self-taught

Light and Shade with Chapters on Charcoal, Pencil, and Brush Drawing

Learning to Draw: Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art

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