The act of drawing takes many forms and shapes. It is the most versatile of all traditional art media because of its broad definitions and the fact that a drawing can be anything from a series of abstract or free-form lines to a complex and detailed composition. Physical movement that sometimes, but does not always involve permanent marks on paper, such as dance (ex. the conceptual art of William Forsythe and Yves Klein. See: Harvey, 2016) and walking (ex. the conceptual art of Richard Long. See: Barker, 2015) is also categorized within the realm of drawing.
In addition to the kinetic aspects, other sensory qualities are honed while drawing. These include sight, sound and sensory memory. One example of drawings multisensory engagement is Two Stage Transfer Drawing, a 1971 collaboration between conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim and his son Erik. In addition to utilizing cognitive and physical elements, Oppenheim’s collaborative project exemplifies how drawing can be a great learning experience and a way of strengthening our communication and interpersonal relationships.
The artwork was performed in two steps. In the first act Erik drew with a pen on his father’s back, while Dennis tried to transfer what he sensed onto a board. Without seeing his son’s mark making, he was able to closely mimic or re-represent what Erik was drawing due to the gestural sensations from the pen moving across his skin.
The elder Oppenheim explains the process and conceptual intent: “As Erik runs a marker along my back, I attempt to duplicate the movement on the wall. His activity stimulates a kinetic response from my sensory system. He is, therefore, drawing through me. Sensory retardation or disorientation makes up the discrepancy between the two drawings, and could be seen as elements that are activated during this procedure. Because Erik is my offspring, and we share similar biological ingredients, my back (as surface) can be seen as a mature version of his own…in a sense, he contacts his own future state.”
Afterwards, the pair switched places and repeated the action. Regarding this latter endeavor, Oppenheim states: “As I run a marker along Erik’s back, he attempts to duplicate the movement on the wall. My activity stimulates a kinetic response from his memory system. I am, therefore, drawing through him. Sensory retardation or disorientation makes up the discrepancy between the two drawings and could be seen as elements that are activated during this procedure. Because Erik is my offspring, and we share similar biological ingredients, his back (as surface) can be seen as an immature version of my own….in a sense, I make contact with a past state.”
The outcome of the Oppenheim’s collaboration was twofold. At large, it demonstrates how mark making is a profound social, emotional and cognitive activity. The gesture drawings connected Dennis and Erik through highlighting their multifaceted identities as artists and relatives. It is also a pedagogical example of nature and nurture, whereby drawing is both an intrinsic and learned response to observing, experiencing and interpreting stimuli.
Oppenheim repeated this drawing activity throughout the 1970s with each of his children. Thereby in addition to creating actual physical line drawings, the Oppenheim family drew and expressed details of their lineage.
References, Notes, Suggested Reading:
Barker, Gary. “Walking and Drawing,” Drawing, 25 January 2015. https://fineartdrawinglca.blogspot.com/2015/01/walking-and-drawing.html
Harvey, Auriea. “Dancing and Drawing,” foam, 4 January 2016. https://fo.am/blog/2016/01/04/dancing-and-drawing/