Iconic Bias, Part 1

I’ve tried to point out in some of my writings that there is an “Art” perspective that dominates the usage of graphic creation in our culture. Its primary emphasis is for innovation and individuality in styles in contrast to a “Language” perspective that seems communality and shared signs.

Regarding learning, the “Art” view has two emphases:

1. Developing one’s own style apart from everyone else (i.e. “don’t copy other people’s drawings”)
2. Learning to draw by imitating real life

I’d like to take aim at #2 in this post, since I think that it carries more assumptions with regard to it. #1 may be something that is emphasized, but its hard not to get influenced by other sources anyways, and the prevalence of “house styles” (Marvel house style, etc) or “cultural styles” (manga style) easily shows how group consistency does happen. Of course the assumptions under #2 motivate the “anti-style” tendencies of #1 as well.

The basic assumption underlying #2, that people should learn to draw by imitating real life, is related to what I call the “Veil of Iconicity.” This outlook treats graphic creation (drawing) as something that is not rooted conceptually. The graphic form is merely a siphon through which “real” (looking) things are represented. And, if not done directly through “life drawing,” then that mode is what should at least inform a person’s drawing “from their imagination”.

Now, several people have tried to tell me that “drawing from life” is no longer an emphasis of Art, but I’ve found these quotes recently on a variety of comic message boards:

“I hate manga/anime. You know why? They are all hacks. It doesn’t take any talent to draw round heads and big eyes. It takes a lot of skill to draw accurately proportioned figures that are anatomically correct (traditional line art).”

“Comic books, whether drawn by pinheads like Liefeld or superb artisans like Gil Kane, are a terrible training ground for drawing – even if you intend to learn how to draw comics. All you’re picking up the the graphic shorthand the artist has developed to represent figures and environments so he can draw from his imagination. It’s always a stylistic distortion, a poor substitute for life drawing or copying photos.”

“…photos will build your skills a lot better than copying someone else’s ink lines.”

This is exactly the Art perspective I’m talking about.

Again, this perspective leaves out the role of the mind in relation to drawing. Patterned ways of drawing, as stored in long-term memory (your “imagination,” as if it were a bad thing), are made to seem less valid than just rerouting perception through the graphic form. Sure, by definition an “iconic” sign “gets its meaning by resembling what it represents.” However, that doesn’t mean that such signs must exhibit this to the maximal degree, all the time (if at all), and without accepting that such signs must come from the human mind.

I’ll continue this with the next post, delving more into some of the results of this belief.


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