Drawing Is Thinking

by Milton Glaser

This book starts out with a 13-page interview with Milton Glaser by Peter Mayer followed by 188 pages of Glaser’s art.

A recurring theme in the short text is ambiguity. “I have always been aware of the need to provoke the mind when communicating ideas because that is the only way that you prod someone into understanding anything. That is why ambiguity is such a useful tool… Why are we unmoved by many of the skills of academic painting? Because their information is complete and unambiguous, so you have nothing to add. The philosophy of modernism suggests that the viewer completes the work.”

Seated Woman, 2000, Collage

Another recurring theme is meditation, specifically related to the act of drawing, and to the experience of the arts in general.

“Drawing can be considered a form of meditation. Meditation involves looking at the world without judgment and allowing what is in front of us to become understandable. Art, in fact, may be the best way we have to experience truth or what is real.”

“In the pursuit of meditation the fundamental objective is to clear the mind of all the stuff that occupies our waking life: our prejudices, our beliefs, our concerns, our anxieties. Our minds are filled with experiences and beliefs. My assumption is that all of these are impediments to experiencing ‘reality.’ …. When you meditate, or clear the mind, you can actually experience your own reality without all the noise that goes on… Most of our lives we spend deflecting most of the information we receive. You go out in the street and you are besieged just by what your sight, your hearing, your mind encounter. People stop paying attention; they revert to cruise control… What paintings do, and what theater does, and what poetry does, is to penetrate people’s immunity and to embrace the puzzles to be solved. That’s what I mean by the phrase ‘moving the mind.’”

Swimmer, 1982, Brush, Ink

Glaser talks about disruption and interruption in the display of art as way to make people stop and think about what they are looking at.

Mayer asked Glaser if drawing is an essential skill for a designer.

“What is most compelling to me about the act of drawing is that you become aware, or conscious of, what you’re looking at only through the mechanism of trying to draw it. When I look at something, I do not see it unless I make an internal decision to draw it. Drawing it in a state of humility provides a way for truth to emerge.”

“What is essential is the relationship between the hands and the brain. This could be encouraged by any activity where the brain and the hand are unified in an attempt to understand what is real. In my case, drawing forms a very important component of my understanding. However… carving and weaving would probably produce a similar effect. The task is to understand what you’re looking at… That’s how we learn. We learn through movement… The brain succeeds by repetition. If you do the right thing over and over, the brain gets stronger. If you do the wrong thing over and over, the brain gets weaker.”

“We learn from everything and every experience informs every other one. If I do a little piece of architecture for an interior, that becomes a part of my understanding of what I do for drawings. If I do a piece of typography, for instance, my idea of what the form is might come from the shape of the human head. Professional life is characterized by specialization. I’ve tried not to define myself narrowly.”

Flying Tortellini, 1980, Pen and Ink

On viewing or experiencing artwork, Glaser writes: “The art that we experience moves us, in the deepest and most unconscious way, towards the perception of our own reality. And when we perceive our own reality we feel liberated and expansive. Someone said that the mutability of the mind, the mind’s ability to change, is the most profound indication of human freedom.”

“The only meaningful work that anyone ever does is work that is done while you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. This also applies to trying to describe a painting. Everything in art that is profound and fundamentally important cannot be described. You can describe many things, but the core reality of experiencing art? That cannot be described.”

Drapery and Clouds, 2005, Colored Pencil on Board

Glaser explains how he selected the artwork for this book. “Basically, they are the drawings that I like… Then I put them together where I saw certain connections and threads that might not be obvious in all cases… I’m hoping that people will look at the individual pieces. But I think there is also a kinetic experience of moving through the pages and seeing the effect of each drawing in light of what precedes it and follows it. As I said earlier, it’s like a musical line. Then there are, you know, interruptions: of single pages, of individual drawings.”

The author also wrote Art Is Work, which has more emphasis on graphic design and environmental design.

Glaser, Milton. Drawing Is Thinking. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2008. Buy from Amazon.com

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