A Manifesto for Drawing / by Jeannine Cook

I cannot resist reverting to the wonderful book, "The Hare with Amber Eyes" by Edmund deWaal. Not only was it a delight because of the story, the history of the Ephrussi family and the netsuke that now belong to the author, but because of the comments about art in general, and about drawing in particular.

Edmund deWaal's ancestor, Charles Ephrussi, who acquired the netsuke collection in Paris, was himself an author on Albrecht Durer's artwork and a noted art connoisseur.

The image is the famed silverpoint drawing the 13 year old  Dürer did of himself in 1484 – silverpoint is fiendishly obdurate in not allowing changes or erasures. This makes the drawing all the more amazing for this young artist to have achieved.

Self Portrait at 13, silverpoint, Albrecht Dürer (Image courtesy of the Albertina Vienna)

Self Portrait at 13, silverpoint, Albrecht Dürer (Image courtesy of the Albertina Vienna)

Charles Ephrussi's expertise in drawings led him to write about the intimate dialogue that a viewer has with them. Viewing a drawing allows us to "catch the thought of the art in all its freshness, at the very moment of manifestation, with perhaps even more truth and sincerity than in the works that require arduous hours of labour, with the defiant patience of the genius."

As Edmund deWaal noted, this is a marvellous "manifesto for drawing. It celebrates the moment of apprehension (my emphasis) and the fugitive moment of response - a few traces of ink or a few strokes of the pencil." As a very successful artist (potter) himself, he knows of this almost visceral moment of launching oneself onto the blank page, making marks that are instinctive, questing – without any real knowledge of what the ultimate results will be.

Edmund deWaal continued with a very important observation about Charles Ephrussi's book about Dürer. He talked about this study, written at a time when the Impressionists were launching their bold new way of seeing the world pictorially, as being Charles' way to remind people that art from different times can be mutually enriching. A Dürer drawing could "talk" in a very meaningful fashion to a drawing done by Edgar Degas. How true that is! Artists are constantly in conscious or subconscious dialogue with others' work; we cannot happily operate in a vacuum for too long. That is why art museums, art books, galleries and exhibitions are vital fare for us all, but especially for anyone who is a practising artist.

A final insight Edmund deWaal gives us, courtesy of Charles Ephrussi, is about  Gustave Moreau's painting. He cites him as describing Moreau's work as having "the tonalities of an ideal dream" and goes on to describe such a dream as being one where "you are held in a state of weightless reverie and lose the boundaries of your self." That is the magical state that each of us can experience when, for instance, you visit a museum and see works of art that take your breath away. Suddenly the world falls away, you are captured by a multiplicity of emotions and you stand in front of a painting or drawing, oblivious of anyone or anything else. In other words, a state of grace, in my book. These are the moments that feed one as an artist, that allow art to transcend time and place and enrich us all.

In the same way, this book, "The Hare with Amber Eyes" is enriching. It is already on my list of gifts for friends.