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Seeing More or Less: Drawing as Disposition of Perception
Lynn Imperatore

Abstract

This paper considers the practice of drawing in its capacity to apprehend and articulate from the unexpected edges of the visual field/the perceptual world. Drawing is a sleight-of-hand that registers and interprets through layers of vision - shifting regard between the perceived/percept and the imagined/image. In ordinary perception, the disposition of sight is oriented towards expectation. It is a visual regime that reinforces “what meets the eye” (or the “I”). But the view towards drawing allows for reception of other data - a perception that un-enforces to expand or distill apprehension: to allow us to see more, or less than what meets the eye.

This different disposition of perception accessed while drawing is a reconfiguration of vision itself (in-sight), and therefore a reconfiguration of thought processes - where we can come to see and to know otherwise. Drawing can open onto intervals at the peripheries of vision, onto dormant agents of perception - the subtleties of reflection, the borders of sleep and dreams, the auras and occlusions that flicker across our gaze and our imagination everyday. The observant draughtsman cultivates the ability to withhold aspects of cognition and recognition from perception, therefore purposely refusing to seek conclusion in preconception.

By tracking and recording glimpses into the ephemeral, drawing can reveal a fuller accounting of the embodied life. New views, re-presentations, accidental revelation (from unconscious or unintentional) can expand the scope of knowledge. The success of a drawing’s communication depends not on faithful construction of external reality, but on whether it chronicles the draughtsman’s journey into some otherness of perception.
Works of select artists, historical and contemporary (Antonio Lopez-Garcia, Louise Bourgeois, Paula Rego) as well as the author’s own practice - will be referenced and addressed in light of these themes.

Lynn Imperatore
Lynn Imperatore began to draw before she had time to register any doubt or self-conscious around it. This early ease in mastering a complex faculty was instigated in the combination of short-sightedness with visual disturbances peculiar to the migraine spectrum. Thus drawing presented itself as an essential means of mapping her way through perceptual experience. Lynn is currently involved in practice-led PhD research at UWE/Bristol. Her research focuses on certain interplays between drawing, imagination, and perceptual input from the peripheries of vision. Lynn is co-convener (with Stephanie Black) of the new HATCH drawing project within PLaCE (Place Location Context and Environment) International Research Centre, and is former Chair of Postgraduate Associates of the Advanced Centre in Drawing (ACiD) at UWE.

Previously, Lynn studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, graduated from New York University, and received her Masters of Fine Arts in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She taught university, post-graduate and adult drawing classes for a number of years in the United States, and has exhibited widely in the US and Europe.


Introduction
    Image-making begins with interrogating appearances and making marks. Every artist discovers that drawing – when it is an urgent activity - is a two-way process. To draw is not only to measure and put down, it is also to receive…like burrowing in the dark, a burrowing under the apparent. Sometimes the dialogue is swift…it is like something thrown and caught. I offer no explanation…I simply believe very few artists will deny it. It’s a professional secret. 1
    (Berger 1992: 131)
This paper addresses ongoing research around drawing – as both process and trace. My study focuses on figurative modes of transcription, as my own drawing articulates within figuration - the struggle to follow some glance of existence into greater clarity. The questions posed and juxtaposed regard other perceptual data that may reveal within or along side acts of drawing the objectively recognizable. Thus, drawing is positioned as poetic transcription, documenting not only the literally visible, but also the imaginally latent.

To draw, we deliberately alter application of vision in order to distill or expand understanding of selected objects of attention. We suspend our cognition of the known, take the sensory data of vision apart and put it back together - but differently, re-imagined and reinvented. We reach through the layers of seeing; beyond culturally-acquired assumptions of representation, beyond habits and expectations that typically direct our gaze upon the world. Inspiration may be imagination’s flash against the mind’s eye, or come into the body’s eyes as stimuli from the external visual field.

Within ordinary perception we adopt an orientation of sight as function, a visual regime that reinforces “what meets the eye” (or the “I”). But the view of drawing accesses other currents of input. Drawing is its own species of living data. Even when meticulously considered and rendered – a drawing is a fabrication, an internally-invented world not unlike the dream - fanciful, incomplete, other. Gaston Bachelard notes “imagination is…considered to be the faculty of forming images. But it is rather the faculty of deforming the images offered by perception; it is especially the faculty of changing images.” Bachelard 2
(2005:19). As Berger pinpoints, drawing “is like burrowing in the dark, a burrowing under the apparent.” (1992: 131) 3

Theory
Merleau-Ponty’s Perceptual Phenomenology
    (T)he world is what we see…nonetheless, we must learn to see it – first in the sense that we must match this vision with knowledge, take possession of it, say what we and what seeing are, act therefore as if we knew nothing about it, as if here we still had everything to learn.4
    (Merleau-Ponty,1968:4)
Phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty describes an inexhaustible arena of existence, comprising unending potential for creative articulation. He challenged prevailing biases of representation in favour of expression as fundamental cognitive response to flows and overflows within perception. Expression does not negate the familiar; instead embracing then transcending the known to reveal the new. This transcendence is not transcendental - it arises and discloses in the abundance of life. Rather than defining dualistic oppositions of real and un-real, Merleau-Ponty celebrates the visible (self/others/things) and the invisible (expressive operations in language, thought, art) as experiential partners that intertwine to express fuller accounts of embodied.

Thus, drawing can also access subtle views and revelations of imaginative life within exterior descriptions. This research began as interest that oriented drawing to look at dreaming and sleeping life. I was not motivated toward psychological analysis of dream material, but instead by interest in mechanisms of image generation, and in whether such generative processes of drawing bore some semblance to that of dreaming. Even ephemeral states, like sleep itself - a mysterious, yet utterly ordinary embodied encounter - might correspond to potent intervals that echo beyond literal depiction inside fabricated worlds like drawing.

Still other subtle and transient emanations unfold along side perceptible and waking visual life - sights which do not enter the visual cortex from retinal impression. These can include aura, occlusion, and other hallucinatory inputs or conditions. Such unseen/barely seen phenomena can become discernible within drawing (in activity and resultant trace); and it is in my own initial and continual awareness of extra-visual factors through drawing that informs my practice and research. Thus, I position drawing as its own species of perception; receiving and recording various layers of visual experience.

Before addressing examples from practice, I wish to highlight further theoretical concepts in support of ideas regarding perception and expression as both vision perceived and vision imagined.

McGinn’s Mindsight
Philosopher Colin McGinn explores essentials of our visual faculty in
Mindsight: Image, Dream, Meaning (2004). Visual experience is divided into percept and image, as the two classifications of seeing. Imagery/the imaginary is understood and located in relationship to our primary notion of sight - that is, as input via the body’s eyes from an exterior object-based world. This criteria for differentiating categories of vision refutes earlier notions of image as diluted typeof percept. McGinn’s percept and image differentiate primarily in mode of discernment – in whether seeing is detected by the body’s eyes or the mind’s eye.

Lewis-William’s Mind in the Cave
Anthropologist David Lewis-Williams
(The Mind in the Cave) formulates a plausible account for the origins of image-making. Citing findings from cognitive psychology, Lewis-Williams applies these to position human perception along a spectrum of consciousness – one that tracks daily shifts in awareness spanning states between wide-awake and dreaming. Using this model, Lewis-Williams tells a story of image-making that commences as modern human beings appeared (Upper Paleolithic transition). These emergent humans were/are us, save for less or different information. He proposes that image-making (cave drawings) began in response to interior visions; visions that occur as normal alterations of consciousness within the individual nervous system. Such perceptual alterations are common still. Sometimes, we see things that do not reach the visual cortex via the retina. We rub our eyes and see patterns, we experience migraine aura. Still other times vision confounds interpretation – as in discrepancies between perception and explanation within optical illusions. Perhaps the most persistent differential within the visual experience occurs in sleep states: dreaming and hypnogogia. Lewis-Williams suggests that these first images were nothing more or less than our need to fix fleeting internal imagery externally, to contemplate such visions beyond the altering perception, and to share these visions with others. That these images were communally legible indicates the universality of such visualisation.

Drawing the Imaginal
McGinn and Lewis-Williams’ ideas contextualise this proposition of imagination/ imagery at the peripheries of attention, and explain how I came to drawing through one such perceptual anomaly. In early childhood, I had the ability to view an object before me - then cast the product of my perception onto blank paper, like a projector. I’d grab a pencil and trace my projection, even as it faded from the page. To continue drawing, I’d just repeat the process: look, project, draw. An innocent pastime - I believed it normal, but soon learned otherwise. By age eight I needed eyeglasses; by then this trick of the eyes had faded as well. Still it imbued a passion for feverishly mapping apparitions of vision, this passion for drawing. Later I understood this visual anomaly as palinopsia or after-image manifestation of migraine aura - only in adulthood would I know the accompanying headache.

Thus, I acquired drawing as an extension of vision, as knowing rather than learning. Following the strands of practice and interest in my current research, I still circle back to that initial embodied intertwining of drawing and vision. Even when unaware, my drawing practice was directed by this remote event of perceptual curiosity that first led me to pick up a pencil and converse with vision through drawing.

The anomalous
within ordinary revelations remains central to my research. What began in relating drawing to sleeping/dreaming life now extends to regard drawing as its own genus of altering state or space along a continuum of perception. I would even suggest that choices of peripheral or unseen subjects can serve to amplify perceptual sensitivities, and that drawing process can act as gateway to the imaginal. This term ‘imaginal’ (James Hillman and Henry Corbin) is useful to reclaiming and re-defining the importance of imaginative life; distinguishing it from pejorative misinterpretations that cast imaginary/imagery as mere child’s play or as false reports from outside of true experiences. The imaginal is the sensory location where our images invent themselves. It is authentic occurrence – just one evaluated by measures other than those of material physicality.

Philip Rawson wrote “drawing is the most fundamentally spiritual - i.e., completely subjective - of all visual artistic activities.” While painting and sculpture may mimic deceptively close to actual comprehension, in the field of every day sight we do not readily encounter “the lines, and the relationships between the lines, which are the raw materials of drawing. For a drawing’s basic ingredients are strokes or marks which have a symbolic relationship with experience, not a direct overall similarity with anything real” (1969:1) 5. While the imaginal finds voice through various expressions, drawing is where and how many artists grasp subtler moments of vision into a clearer view. Drawing is tactile and intimate, whether in sketch or gesture, preparatory reverie, or the accrued marks and strokes of more developed renderings. Bachelard describes “(t)his awareness of the hand at work… alive within us…it conveys images that waken. It is not the eye alone that follows the lines…for added to the visual image is the manual image that truly wakens the active element in us.” (1971: 57) 6

Praxis
Drawing Aura

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Another aura/anomaly has come to acknowledgement through drawing: a rare condition called visual snow. It manifests as persistent television-like static, as thickening of the very atmosphere of the visual field. Present in all my conscious vision, even behind closed eyes, and more acute in darkened conditions. (Curiously, the only sensory circumstance where I do not experience such occlusion is inside visuals of dreaming.) Thus without being conscious as to why, I developed a correspondent habit within drawing. First, I meticulously render a subject/object, then feel compelled to disrupt and disturb that careful surface - applying water to create an aquatint-like pixilation, or dripping/washing ink over the drawing. Only recently did I understand this as a drive to externalise this peculiarity of vision - to bring drawing closer to accurate portrayal of the world as I apprehend it. I see now any attempt to draw from observation requires projection of my gaze through this occlusive presence living in plain sight. This explains why purely representational drawing was never satisfactory. It is not reflective of the visual as I live it; I need to add other emanations of perception back in. As in Lewis-Williams account, resolution comes in my capacity to fix the fleeting externally, and then to contemplate and acknowledge anew.

Palinopsia redux

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At a gathering of art practitioner-researchers, I entered an intimate dark-lit space for a performance by one of the artists. The movements of this silent performer were slow, deliberate, attenuated such that tighter grips of time and physical space altered. In the quieting slowness, my vision altered too - into something like the posture of seeing assumed while drawing. I would have drawn then, but had neither tool nor paper at hand. Instead, what transpired was ephemeral drawing hovering within my field of vision; apparitions of after-image emerging before my eyes. The performer’s form disclosed as multiples - each body position lingering in the space as trace of light or halo - not as internal imaginings, but as externally perceived impression. The mode requisite for seeing-into-drawing, as identified by
Anton Ehrenzweig, is “essentially ‘polyphonic’… several superimposed strands at once…creativity requires a diffuse, scattered kind of attention that contradicts our normal logical habits….”(1967: xii) 7

Seeing Doubled
    “The unconscious symbolism of the art form calls forth a reaction…on a far grander scale than the secondary dream elaboration, as though the masterpiece had been a dream of the artist which we, the public, perceive with our waking imagination.” 8
    (Ehrenzweig,1965:50)
Residual power of the initial expressive activity resides within affectively realised artwork, beyond or below surface rationalities of representation. Within the curious conversation of drawing, I meet expressive presence that endure in direct encounter with masterworks - power resounding through force fields of proximity and of time. This exchange accessed through drawing, is testament to that ‘ferocious and inarticulated dialogue… like something thrown and caught,’ that Berger has described (1992: 131). 9

I visited Florence and Siena last year. Sketchbooks from this trip depict gestural responses to vivid depths and dynamics alive still in masterworks, and include records of a rather manic seven-hour session in the Uffizi. With pencil in hand, odd and isolated moments and movements exerted curious pull upon my attention, insisting upon further investigation through drawing: the lone vivid figure in the compositional crowd, the backside of an altarpiece panel, or some element of design configuration which compelled or conveyed narratives of the improbable and miraculous.

Returning home, I came across forgotten sketch journals, filled with drawings from a prior visit to these same sites in 2006. To my amazement, I discovered that my eye and hand responded not only to the same works, but even to the exact isolated, particular, peculiar details years later. Later still in the studio, I tried to develop drawings from reproductions of these works. But the drawings (along with my interest) died on the page. Reproductions lacked resonances inhabiting original works - those emanations of proximity evoking my further fervid
imaginal responses.

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Thus drawing as practice animates and amplifies in direct encounter with other imaginative embodied interpretations. Within these masterworks, qualities of the invisible articulate across centuries - whispering perceptions not immediately apparent in surface schema. Revelation is enacted in the mechanisms and mysteries of image-generation, rather than from archaic religious pedagogy. These art-historically revered tableaus fix - and constantly re-fix - fleeting pictorial imaginings of what, in fact, had never been witnessed in literal physical event. My belief is in what is conveyed, imagined and re-imagined, in the presence and pursuit of the work of art. When such vision is transposed into active expression - in
drawing or painting reaching for description of what is not physically seen - it then enters the realm of the seen. Rather than reading these as devotions to religious mythology, such endeavours can voice devotion to the imaginal life as revealed in graphic inventions that commune and communicate still.

Artists
That drawing discloses unexpected edges of the perception does not necessarily limit queries to literal precincts of peripheral vision – though artists, like Bonnard, approach such zones to access more ephemeral qualities of vision. Other artists, notably Degas and Monet, professed their unique visions despite – or even because of - perceptual results brought by defect in the physical visual faculty. And recently
Louise Bourgeois used drawing to mimic or glimpse the comforts of elusive sleeping life through her Insomnia Drawings (1994-95).

Bonnard
    ‘Bonnard visited the world in a different way…Only in the studio did Bonnard begin to assemble images, to allow memories to float in and out of his working process.’ 10
    (Burnham, 2009:72)
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Pierre Bonnard applied drawing to capture notations of fleeting perception, then divulged these fragile impressions into his layered records of visual memory. Bonnard routinely placed Marthe, his wife, inside his inventions of composition. As model and muse for fifty years, she was often revealed as vague impression, as form neither solid nor obvious at first glance. Following her death (1942), Bonnard was commissioned to make a series of gouache sketches for a Paris dealer. Inside these late interiors - in ‘Marthe entering the room’ and ‘Yellow Interior’ - she lingers at the edges of his vision. Even on the threshold of life and death – Marthe remains intermingled into his seeing of his surroundings. Thus, while her flickering presence has dissolved from the tangible (the visible), she is sought and found still; her trace (the invisible) inhabits Bonnard’s view into different imaginings of the temporal.

Lopez-Garcia
    I tried to get to the heart of the enigma…I sensed that representing subjects wasn’t enough… I didn’t know it at the time, but I had suddenly hit upon the only thing that matters: the ability to express an emotion that you must first feel, which is separate from the skill and accuracy that allow you to copy the real world. 11
    (Lopez-Garcia, 2010: 15-16)
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Antonio Lopez-Garcia works across disciplines of sculpture, painting and drawing - but it is through drawing that he engages his most deeply personal subject matter - portraits of family, the familiar and intimate spaces of his life. He spends years on a single drawing - eye and hand travelling, uncovering eerie simulacra of dream worlds, perceptions contemplated outside the familiar passage of time. Initially, these drawings look almost photographic: figures frozen, arrested out of activities of living, outside the progressive motions of aging. However, closer regard of textures and marks open additional views onto perceptual otherness. In drawing, Lopez-Garcia seeks the soul in his subject - doing so by staring straight ahead into the full spectacle of the visual, rather than in pondering the peripheries, like Bonnard. Yet both artists aim toward imaginative disclosure of the mysteries inside the ordinary and the domestic.

Paula Rego
    Paula Rego has been making images out of stories since she was a child…stories…not reproduced from life as observed or remembered, but goings-on in the camera lucida of the mind’s eye. 12
    (Warner, 2003:Tate, Issue 8)
Much has been written in recent years regarding Paula Rego’s thematic threads; analyses of meaning and politics within her graphic story-telling. The architecture of her expression - in prodigious outputs of drawing, print, pastel - is situated by the markings of drawing, in a figurative observational approach, through images built of intensive collaboration of hand and eye. What I wish to note here are aspects of her creative strategy – how she first fashions three-dimensional fantasy facsimiles as intermediate steps to imaginal goals that are only fully realized in expressive marks upon two-dimensional surfaces.

Echoing traditions of Renaissance story-telling, Rego sources inspiration and invention from story: literature and theatre, nursery rhymes and fable, as well as parable commentaries around historical or religious narratives. She draws out of imaginal source material - not to represent or replicate, but to invent new pictorial reports. Rego doubles these imaginative works as re-imagination through images - not as illustration but in overflows of expressive content.

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Her working procedure is always direct observation. As critical stage in her image-making process - she fabricates and arranges stage sets of dummies, costumes, props - not as end result - but on the way to her art. Live models populate throughout her work in repeating figurations - like devotional characters in continuous narrative painting traditions. Nevertheless, the performance of power and message, her expressive goals, become apparent only when translated through drawing - or the imaginative trace of pastel (itself applied as tactilely-direct language of drawing). The tableau vivant installations are dormant notational structures, not ultimate dwelling place of Rego’s imaginative world. That world reveals in the process of drawing, in the traces of hand upon a surface, in perceptions beyond the barriers of material prop. Rego breathes life into drawing, and from this alchemical collaboration of eye and hand the life of her vision enters the realm of the seen - only then embodying communication.

Conclusion
    “When through the water’s thickness I see the tiling at the bottom the pool, I do not see it despite the water and reflections there; I see through them and because of them...(I)f it were without this flesh that I saw…then I would cease to see it as it were and where it is…its active and living presence.” 13
    (Merleau-Ponty 1993:142)
In his last essay Eye and Mind (1961), Merleau-Ponty portrays the artist as one who leans or lends his body toward the world to perceive without preconception. Thus, a clearer view emerges as vital understanding through artistic translation - as broader vantage point upon the see-able, by looking-through-drawing and looking-into-drawing. For Merleau-Ponty, this expressive task “offers the gaze traces of vision, from the inside, in order that it may espouse them; it gives vision that which clothes it within, the imaginary texture of the real” (1993, 126) 14. Drawing is a practice of perceptual inhabitation, which - once captured - lives on in subsequent perceptual encounters with the viewer and draughtsman.

The visual disposition, requisite for transcription through drawing, enacts truer perceptions of the
subliminal (and liminal) than the rapid edit/interpretation of normal applications and operations of vision. In drawing, we step away from norms of perception - not necessarily into pathological rupture in visual capacity - but through partial suspensions and relative sublimations - where embedded associations are held in abeyance, in order to facilitate a fresh sense of what - or what else - is presence (habitation) and present (temporal) in perception.


Notes:
1 Berger, J. (1992) ‘A professional secret’ from Keeping a Rendezvous. New York: Vintage.131
2 Bachelard, G. (2005) On Poetic Imagination and Reverie. Translated from French by Colette Gaudin. Putnam,CT: Spring Publications. 19
3 Berger, J. (1992) ‘A professional secret’. 131..
4 Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968) The Visible and the Invisible. Trans, from the French by Alphonso Lingus. Edited by Claude Lefort. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press 4
5 Rawson, P. (1969) Drawing: The Appreciation of the Arts. London: Oxford University Press. 1.
6 Bachelard, G. (1971) ‘Hand vs. Matter’ from The Right to Dream. Translated from French by J.A. Underwood. New York: Viking Press. 57.
7 Ehrenzweig, A. (1967) The Hidden Order of Art: A study in the Psychology of Artist Imagination. Berkeley & Los Angelles: University of California Press. xii.
8 Ehrenzweig, A. (1965) The Psychoanalysis of Artistic Vision and Hearing: An Introduction to a Theory of Unconscious Perception. New York: Geo. Braziller. 50.
9 Berger, J. (1992) ‘A professional secret’ 131.
10 Burnham, R. (2009) ‘Intelligent seeing’ from Pierre Bonnard: Late Still Lifes and Interiors. New York & New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press. 72.
11 Lopez Garcia, A. & Calvo Serraller, F., ed. (2010) Antonio Lopez Garcia: Drawings. New York: (D.A.P.) Distributed Art Publishers. 15-16.
12 Warner, M. (2003) ‘An artist’s dream world’ Tate Magazine, Issue 8. Available from: www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/an-artists-dream-world-paula-rego [Accessed: 21/03/2013]
13 Merleau-Ponty, M. (1993) ‘Eye & Mind’, The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetic Reader: Philosophy and Painting. Galen A. Johnson, editor. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 142.
14 Merleau-Ponty, M. (1993) ‘Eye & Mind’, 126..

Bibliography:
Amory, D., ed. (2009) Pierre Bonnard: Late Still Lifes and Interiors. New York & New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press.
Bachelard, G. (2005) On Poetic Imagination and Reverie. Translated from French by Colette Gaudin. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.
Bachelard, G. (1971) The Right to Dream. Translated from French by J.A. Underwood. New York: Viking Press.
Berger, J. (1992) Keeping a rendezvous. New York: Vintage Press.
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Rawson, P. (1969) Drawing: The Appreciation of the Arts. London: Oxford University Press
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