I highlighted the main points through 7 books about how to teach drawing. The earliest book was 1858, Chapman’s American Drawing Book and the most recent was Drawing: A Contemporary Approach. I wanted to form my own thoughts and I created my first blog in the process. I discovered that the history of teaching basic drawing really hasn’t changed that much over the course of art education. For centuries, most artists and educators have believed everyone can draw. Chapman’s book is based on the fact that if a person can write, then they can draw. Even if an individual was not an artistic genius, Chapman, like the other authors’ books I read, believed ordinary abilities and hard work would be sufficient.
Since the beginning of history, people have created drawings. But how did they learn? More than likely they were taught to “copy”. Copying was the most common method in teaching drawing in everything I read. Copying was crucial to scribes during Ancient Egyptian times. Since before the Renaissance, young artists worked as apprentices under the instruction of accomplished artists. Fast forward to the beginning of the nineteenth century and apprenticeship was basically lost to drawing being taught in school. However, the techniques of copying continued. Art students had to learn how earlier artists mastered the human figure by copying their work, plaster models and then live models.
In contrast to Chapman and others who taught drawing through copying, Mary Ann Dwight joined those who opposed it. Dwight believed copying resulted in superficial skills and a lack of necessary understanding of artistic principles. Walter Smith’s approach involved drawing instruction of lines, geometric shapes, and line drawings of copied objects. However, vocabulary and verbal description was extremely important in Smith’s teaching. Like Dwight, scientific principles and rules of drawing became more important than just appealing drawings. Dictation drawing was a unique oral method Smith used in order to gain student interest and excitement.
The 1870 Massachusetts Drawing Act required schools to include art as a required subject. It is believed that this law helped aid the economy because of the production of engineers. The best technologies of the day were slate blackboards mounted to the wall. Students copied the teacher’s drawing lessons on smaller slates.
Louis Prang developed a book series including three categories of drawing. Constructive, representational, and decorative. Constructive drawing mirrored Smith’s style of teaching industrial drawing through diagrams, plans, and machine parts. Although constructive drawing was considered most important, representational drawing was the most popular among teachers. This was probably true because most art teachers were women who had not been taught industrial drawing. Representational drawing involved training students in how to see by copying objects, nature, lettering, and simple perspective.
The 1941 book The Natural Way to Draw by Nicolaides emphasizes constant effort, patience, and daily practice. Correct observation through contour and gesture drawing is the first function presented by Nicolaides. Observation is stressed as not just seeing with the eyes, but learning to see correctly with other senses such as hearing, taste, smell, and touch. As in earlier teaching techniques, the human figure, human anatomy, and specific facial features; drapery, light and shade, and color are also subjects studied. A unique method Nicolaides uses is memory drawing. He claims all drawings are memory drawings in that the artist uses varying intervals of time to look at the model and then the drawing—memorizing what was seen.
From the 1950’s to current day, a graphic explosion of visual imagery has expanded the classification of drawing. Drawing has advanced from cave walls, to chalk boards and paper, to computer-generated devices. Drawings can be categorized in a broad sense as either subjective; emphasizing the artist’s feelings, or objective; conveying information, but not emotions. Copying what is seen from life or copying from other drawings and pictures continues to be a successful method of teaching drawing. These copying methods vary in techniques in order to learn to see and develop hand-eye coordination—the very basics of drawing.
Research of the brain inspired the educational work of Betty Edwards. Visual and perceptual thinking is mainly located in the right hemisphere while verbal and analytic is established in the left. In order to tap into the right hemisphere, one must “present the brain with a job that the verbal, analytical L-mode will turn down”. Exercises called Vases and Faces and Upside Down drawing are popular in Edwards’ book Drawing on the Right side of the Brain. Edwards claims through her R-mode teaching--a person can learn to draw in a very short time.
In Drawing with Children, Mona Brookes, like many other teachers, uses basic techniques to enhance drawing and creativity. Brookes claims drawing is much like speaking—a natural human response. Her approach includes teaching children an alphabet of five elements of shape and how to recognize those basic shapes in objects. The curriculum insists on an enjoyable, noncompetitive and nonjudgmental environment that gives kids the freedom to create their own unique artwork. Visual perception warm-ups and eye relaxation technique is a unique method Brookes uses. Much like Edwards, Brookes first gives drawing assignments without instruction. Students find a huge boost in confidence after comparing their drawings after training. The book also provides simple lines and shapes for copying.
In conclusion, over the course of history teaching drawing has been very similar in that copying from images, the work of other artists, actual objects, and live models has been the most popular method. Gesture and contour drawings of these subjects have been the most typical approach. There seems to be a consensus of drawing being a natural skill developed through hand-eye coordination. Drawing through the use of a set of rules and principles have typically been addressed but not usually until the student achieves success through copying what they see. Typical drawing materials have been pencil, eraser, chalk, pastel, crayon, and ink.