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Tom Toles
Posted at 07:15 AM ET, 04/30/2013

Thingyness

I went to an exhibit of Durer drawings over the weekend. Here’s what I thought! I’ve always been “drawn” toward the work of Durer, because linework was more his thing than painting. I’m not going to try to sell you on the superiority of line drawing over painting, because it doesn’t matter anymore, and more on that in a minute.

First I want to tell you what I thought, looking at his work. Really talented guy! That’s number one. Great eye, and great hand. An effective combination! But you can’t help but wonder, looking at his nudes, whether or not people were more strangely shaped in those days. There were some peculiar undulations and angularities that I have not encountered in my admittedly limited experience with naked strangers. You’re not supposed to have thoughts like this in an art gallery, and that’s one of the reasons people avoid art galleries. They turned into secular churches at some point, and with the same result on attendance. That was one reason I didn’t spend a lot of time studying his “Praying Hands.” Yes, he’s the one that drew that.  But my thread of thought keeps wandering.

Speaking of thread, Line drawings, made of little thread-like marks, are interesting, because they need to deconstruct the visual world to portray it, and this happened long before impressionism and cubism. Outlines, which don’t really occur in nature, need to be constructed, but more importantly, the intermediate shades of gray need to be reconfigured into some pattern of solid lines. This forces decisions on the artist on how to array these lines, and little universes of eddying penmanship combine into a coherent image. It’s exciting to look in there and see it. Like looking through a microscope.

But my main thought, coming away, was feeling a bit bad that solid art and material lines on physical surfaces are being so radically decimated by the digital. I don’t usually say this kind of thing, because the world goes where it goes, and changes the way it changes, and it’s very hard to separate value from mere nostalgia. But I will say that it was a real pleasure to look at real ink, applied by a real hand, with a sense of well, actual thingyness that even the best digital images doesn’t give me. I liked that. A lot.

By  |  07:15 AM ET, 04/30/2013

 
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