The Art Perspective

A friend of mine got an advanced copy of a book on comics that will be coming out this summer. I’d prefer not to identify it by name here, but it had a great paragraph summarizing what I would call a driving viewpoint of the “Art Perspective”:

“The fact that drawing style is the most immediate aspect of comics means that what you see when you look at a comic book is a particular, personal vision of its artist’s vision—not what the artist’s eye sees, but the way the artist’s mind interprets sight. That’s not unique to comics of course: it’s true of any artist… Since comics are cartooned instead of conventionally drawn, though, they’re more obviously distorted by the artist’s vision.”

Despite expressing that my interest in the Art vs. Language perspectives regarding drawing are only analytical, I have been accused of deriding the Art Perspective. I am “descriptive” insofar as I am not actively “advocating” the practice of one belief set over the other. People are free to do whatever they want in practice (and certainly, as a product of my culture, my own graphic development took the Art perspective).

However, I am most certainly condemning the Art Perspective as an ineffective paradigm for thinking about graphic creation. Here’s why…

I don’t believe that drawing has anything to do with “someone’s vision of the world.” I think drawing has to do entirely with formulating a mental storage of “structures of drawing” (i.e. “Photological” structures) that are actively outputted when the context arises.

It works just like the sounds of language. You take in the graphic patterns, store them cognitively (creating a stock of basic schemas), and output them as necessary. If you’re taking in only visual perception, you’re not providing your mental structures with the building blocks it needs—you have to create them on the fly, which is far harder — especially given that human’s (and especially children’s) minds/brains are “pattern seeking machines.” The main difference is that the structures in speech are symbolic sounds, while those of drawing often resemble what they mean.

Indeed, the belief that children naturally grow their graphic “personal vision” from some pure innateness is ridiculous if you consider a perspective that compares it to other aspects of child development. While the ability to draw is innate, it’s maturation is not. This “pure development” stops around puberty for most cultures, Japan being the most notable exception. What seems to be going on here? This is the apex of a learning period, like many other developmental learning periods (the most prominent being language).

Why do Japanese children overcome this drop-off in ability (and seem to have a higher proficiency at drawing than other cultures)? As I discuss in my book, I suspect it’s because they 1) read a lot of comics (i.e. have mass exposure to the visual language in manga) and 2) are consisitently drawing in this visual language by imitating it. This is not “talent” or something special about Japanese people — it’s purely about stimulus-response.

This is just like any other language: if you have exposure, imitate to learn, and put in the time for learning, you develop naturally. If it’s just left up to “nature” to run its course without outside influence and/or consistent practice, you get marginal results.


  • Sounds like a quote right out of Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics (which I read recently). Wolk certainly doesn’t go very far into the theory of comics, much more about history and plot/theme.

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