CMREP Lecture: ‘On Drawing’ by Andrew Benjamin

This was the third of the CMREP philosophy lectures I have been to. I wrote about the first one here; the second one, by Prof Catherine Malabou on Spinoza and Symbolic Necessity, I can’t write about as I simply did not understand a single sentence. I had high hopes of this third one given its subject.

The speaker, Prof Andrew Benjamin from Kingston University, was certainly engaging and animated but I really struggled to follow his argument. I think that one reason the first lecture was easier to follow was that the speaker gave a talk, while the other two read papers. Reading a paper that has been written in full and worked over again and again means that the content is very dense. For me, just the philosophical vocabulary, where words mean something very specific and different from their everyday use, was too dense. By the time I had grasped the meaning of a sentence, Benjamin was long gone!

He talked about the history of drawing as an account of practices that already existed. He referred to the myth of the origin of drawing involving the daughter of Boutades the potter tracing the outline of her departing lover on the wall in charcoal. Boutades then fills in this outline, creating a low relief in clay. On one argument (not sure whose) line is a gesture but on another it is a ‘form created by thought’ and then recalled to mind by the moving hand.

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He talked about Kant’s distinction between form as the basis of drawing and charm (which seemed to amount to colour) as the key characteristic of painting. But Benjamin seemed more interested in something about movement within drawing. He contrasted this drawing by Sebastiano Ricci with the Bernini sculpture on which it was based. The drawing was made in preparation for the central couple in Ricci’s painting The Rape of the Sabine Women c1700.

 

 

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He modelled them on the Bernini sculpture of 1621, The Rape of Proserpina. The sculpture has a materiality that the drawing does not, but if I understood correctly, Benjamin argued that this closed down the action, in contrast to the diffuse and indeterminate web of lines and movement in the drawing.

This all seems a long way from my experience of the practice of drawing.