Why drawing is the perfect digital detox

Drawing is arguably the most ancient form of visual art – whether on the body or on stone. The earliest known drawing by a human was discovered in 2021 at the Blombos Cave, South Africa: some 73,000 years ago, a human hand took an ochre crayon and carved a cross-hatch design on a silcrete stone flake. The medium of drawing is engrained in us all. It’s our first means of expression and creativity, says Julia Balchin, principal of the Royal Drawing School, London: “As a child, before you can even talk, or walk or read, you can draw. So it’s often our first way of expressing ourselves.”

Drawing has always been vital to every artist’s practice, dating from the Renaissance – when drawing flourished, and Leonardo da Vinci created detailed anatomical studies of the human body – to today, when artists such as William Kentridge’s powerful films created with drawings to Tracey Emin’s drawings expressing her personal grief and loneliness.

Though drawing’s popularity has “ebbed and flowed for centuries”, Balchin identifies a deep ebb in the 1970s, when the academic art world saw it as “very unfashionable” – especially life drawing – and schools such as the Slade and the Royal Academy stopped teaching it. The Royal Drawing School (RDS) was set up in 2000 to address this, and be “a place where artists and people who wanted to draw could come to draw.”

Drawing is enjoying popularity again – appreciated for its therapeutic qualities and the sense of “flow” it engenders, especially since the lockdowns during the pandemic. Student intake (online) at the RDS, doubled in 2020 from 1,000 students a week, and has grown steadily to 3,000 today, with life drawing accounting for more than half of its four modules: “I think that showed there was a real longing for human touch and contact,” says Balchin. “If people couldn’t be around other humans, they were drawing them instead.” Students confirmed it helped mental wellbeing. “Many came purely for that… to slow the pace of life.”

Picking up a pencil or charcoal and mindfully making marks connects us to our haptic skills, or sense of touch, and offers a respite or rest from the relentless digital drain, which is important for mental health. In the UK, art therapy can even be experienced by some via the NHS.   

When artist Emily Haworth-Booth became ill with ME, she was unable to work. Trying to read or write sent her “into a spin”, she relates in Ways of Drawing (a 2019 book by RDS). She found mindful drawing “became a kind of anchor I could drop to ground myself, to reassure myself… I was ‘here’, reality was solid”. Drawing “noticeably reduced my anxiety, and slowed down my breathing”. This allowed “healing to take place”, she says. After a drawing session she felt “the relief and endorphin rush I’ve experienced after, say, a yoga class or very useful psychotherapy session”.      

Claire Gilman, chief curator at the Drawing Center in New York, has also seen a passion for drawing surge in lockdown, and continue growing since: “At that time artists were returning to drawing for many reasons – including being shut out of their studios”, but acknowledges the “desire to pick up a pen or pencil, and immediately translate your feelings on to paper”, especially in “trying moments”, has a universal appeal.

Source : BBC News

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