Drawing has seen something of a renaissance in the last twenty years in the UK. From the Campaign for Drawing to the Drawing Research Network, from the Drawing Room to the Rabley Drawing Centre, we've witnessed a proliferation of passion, effort and energy matched by increased museum exhibitions, dedicated degree courses, professors, publications and conferences.
All of the above have been established in pursuit of understanding, developing and promoting drawing, and many inside and outside the sector endure to evidence drawing as both the most sophisticated means of thinking and communicating, and an activity for all.
In the 1990s dedicated resources for drawing were much thinner on the ground. At Gloucestershire College of Art (now University) my team taught a structured programme that started with an intensive drawing course as the introduction to the underpinning systems and principles of visual language and painting in particular. The need for current exemplars was evident, more than anything to ensure the vitality of a student's application and his or her practices.
The Jerwood Drawing Prize grew in the face of this need, and developed in the wake of the Cleveland International Drawing Biennale that came to an end in 1996 after 23 years, and as the successor project for the nascent Malvern Open Drawing, founded in 1991. The project was a twin-headed opportunity: to facilitate an understanding of current drawing practice; and to provide students with professional experience as part of the curriculum to organise and understand the process of an open exhibition.
Our overarching aim was to affirm the value of drawing, and the reach of the project is more tangible than we could have imagined. We have received phenomenal support from a number of funders, champions and supporters of drawing in our establishment, joining the Jerwood Charitable Foundation family of projects in 2000 and redefining our scope as UK wide.
Having collectively raised the game and placed drawing back on the agenda – in schools, universities, in teaching and research, galleries and contemporary practices – perhaps it is time to deepen, extend and further evaluate its specific function.
Drawing remains a central and pivotal activity to the work of many artists and designers – a touchstone and tool of creative exploration that informs visual discovery. It fundamentally enables the visualisation and development of perceptions and ideas. With a history as long and intensive as the history of our culture, the act of drawing remains a fundamental means to translate, document, record and analyse the worlds we inhabit. The role of drawing in education remains critical, and not just to the creative disciplines in art and design for which it is foundational.
As a primary visual language, essential for communication and expression, drawing is as important as the development of written and verbal skills. The need to understand the world through visual means would seem more acute than ever; images transcend the barriers of language, and enhance communications in an increasingly globalised world.
Alongside a need for drawing skills for those entering employment identified by a range of industries in the creative sectors – animation, architecture, design, fashion, film, theatre, performance and the communication industries – drawing is also widely used within a range of other professions as a means to develop, document, explore, explain, interrogate and plan. This includes the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine and sport.
Surely, this should affirm drawing to be an essential part of the curriculum at all levels for all subjects, and something for which a clear commitment needs to be made. If we really want to move the STEM to STEAM agenda, drawing could be the connector at the heart of it all.
Anita Taylor is director of the Jerwood Drawing Prize and dean of Bath School of Art and Design