VISION IV: the pictorial imagination

Pictorial quality is an element that grows organically into the design of a drawing or painting until it appears complete in the finished work.


As Graham Collier writes in, Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1963, "A painter usually pursues a direction that evolves from the first shape and the first color that appears on the canvas.  He moves intuitively, identifying himself with the painting as it takes on a life of its own and carries him through  a complex progression of stages to completion.   The previous experiment revealed the authority of significant arrangements of form and color and the subconscious way they consume the artist, dictating what should happen next.  Pictorial quality suggests the independent authority of form and color over the artist, irrespective of subject matter or absence of it, affecting the painter while he is actually working on the painting."


“Aesthetic recognition as part of pictorial imagination might be described as a capacity for heightened perception, which is one aspect of what we have called ‘vision.’ Not all artists possess a pictorial imagination.  Many are illustrators or recorders of events, the counterparts of journalists in the literary arts.


THE EXPERIMENT:  You will need a piece of string about 45cm (18”), and a sheet of white drawing paper at least 56cm x 38cm (22”x15”).  Make a solution of black drawing ink in a shallow bowl.  Protect your floor with newspaper, immerse the string thoroughly in the black ink; tap it lightly to remove surplus ink, and then throw it down on the sheet of white drawing paper.


When the string strikes the paper, it will recoil and twist and make a distinctive line or mark.  Different types of string will make different kinds of lines and the manner in which the sting is used will affect the mark produced.  If the string is dropped rather than thrown, or if it is held at one end rather than rolled up in the hand, a different marking of the paper will result.


Once the first marks are on the paper, you might think that the second throwing should be more deliberate, in such a way that it will create a certain relationship with the first mark.  For the purposes of this experiment, a series of random tosses of the string can be just as effective.  When it is apparent that there are sufficient black lines and marks on the paper, that to add any more would confuse the ‘string drawing,’ then it is time to stop.



Devote some time to scrutinize and contemplate this complex pattern.  Leave the ‘drawing’ and return to it later, for too intense a scrutiny at one time will deaden rather than enliven your perception.  It is necessary to have a relaxed and passive communion with the image.  After a while, definite shapes will emerge from the jumble of lines, shapes which stir feelings and ideas, suggesting new and more eloquent mental image.  As you turn the paper around and upside down, you will see a variety of emerging forms, already partially set in a design or composition.  The pictorial imagination must now take over.  The goal is to realize these new images.  Using a drawing pen and black ink, draw over and into the significant shapes that emerged from their background as you contemplated the string markings.  Consciously exploit and pull out, through drawing, the new image your imagination has projected into them.  Give some interrelationship to the forms in the drawing and for the design to have an overall spatial organization.  The completed drawing should be a homogeneous figure, since all the forms are developed from a common ancestry—the tracery of string marks.


Conclusions:  Manipulating a string is no serious substitute for the personal act of drawing.  It is a way of producing images for a direct stimulus to the pictorial imagination; and once experienced, stimulation will more readily occur in future situations.  The capacity for vision, even of this elementary order, is a sine qua non for the artist.  Without it he is merely a human camera.  As Picasso has said, “A palm tree can become a horse…”


Art operates on two levels:  the genuinely creative and the merely derivative. The first tends to be a product of vision, and the second is a matter of reproducing an object or scene.  The magic is in the artist’s capacity for imaginative reaches of vision, and the hope that the rest of us will understand.  As William Blake wrote, “He who does not imagine in stronger and better lineaments and in stronger and better light, than his perishing moral eye can see, does not imagine at all.”


[More art blogs here.]

[Graham Collier's study begins here.]

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    yamabuki zhou (Tuesday, 09 November 2010 05:31)

    Random bits of string and ink
    Transformed into weird words
    Do they need to make sense
    Or can senseless sense
    Be an opening of different vistas

    As Picasso has said,
    “A palm tree
    can become a horse…”

    Who is this Picasso:
    Papa to an art
    Icy blue green eyes
    Changing in our view
    Art drifting through thought
    Shade framing the light
    Shifting viewpoints tremble
    Opening up to visions of life

    Pure guesswork I know
    Broken words turning corners
    But I never knew his essence
    Nor understood his soul
    My words here lay broken
    Like wood chips
    Strewn on the ground

    In the end I see only darkness
    Like a tunnel taking me back
    Changing with the winds
    Into the Golden white light
    That tells me for sure
    That home is just around the bend