Ph.D.: Realising the Full Potential of Drawing

Ph.D.: Realising the Full Potential of Drawing

Drawing is a language in its own right that holds a large potential for idea development, says Anette Højlund, who defended her PhD dissertation on drawing and creation on 13 April 2012. In the dissertation she examines what she calls the dialogue between the drawing and the person drawing. In this conversation with Mind Design she concludes that the potential of drawing could be utilised far better, for example in visualising issues that reach across disciplinary boundaries.

By Hans Emborg Bünemann, MindDesign #  49, 2012 


Many of us feel the urge to draw an outline with a finger when we see a fogged-up window or spill a little milk on a vinyl-coated tablecloth. This urge should be exploited and developed, says Anette Højlund, who is a lecturer at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design. In her PhD project Mind the gap! Om tegning og tilblivelse. Udkast til en tegnefilosofi (Mind the gap! About drawing and creation. Drafts for a philosophy of drawing) she has explored the potential of drawing, among other issues. As a whole, the PhD dissertation contributes to a discussion of the concept of drawing and of how to develop a language to speak about drawing.

We are Animals that Draw

As a discipline, drawing should have a higher priority in Danish design education programmes – that would benefit both the designers and society at large, says Anette Højlund.
“Compared with other forms of expression, drawing is unique because we are animals that draw; we are equipped with an index finger that can’t hardly resist drawing,” she says and continues,
“We should do far more to exploit this temptation to draw and realise the creative potential of drawing, both in design education and in the labour market.”

Drawing is a Language in Its Own Right

In explaining this unique potential, Anette Højlund emphasises that drawing is not just a means of communicating meaning that might otherwise have been expressed in words.
“Drawing is a language, a bearer of meaning, in its own right. And when one expresses oneself through drawing, one is not bound by vocabulary or syntax, as one is in a verbal language. Drawing lets us express or state meaning that cannot be expressed in words,” she explains.

It is this particular potential that makes drawing so well suited for cross-disciplinary cooperation, as a drawing does not necessarily refer to words or concepts from the verbal world but carries meaning in itself.
“A drawing can visualise an issue or a proposed solution in a way that lets specialists from different fields arrive at a shared understanding that is independent of the specific terminologies of the individual disciplines. This capacity to convey meaning through visualisation – the designer’s unique expertise – is not offered by any other language,” Anette Højlund points out.

The Dialogue Between the Drawing and the Person Drawing

Anette Højlund has focused especially on free drawing where the goal is not to arrive at a specific image. She sees drawing as a process where the drawing engages in dialogue with the person drawing. While drawing, one does not think, she says:
“While you work with the material elements – the pen and the paper – your mind does not control or constrain the process. Therefore, something unexpected can emerge on the paper. You may wind up with something that you did not expect, an idea or a vision that you could not have arrived at in an intellectual process.”

MD#49-Udnyt_tegningens_potentiale-tegneoevelse-608x336.jpg
Abstraction. As part of her project Anette Højlund instructed design students to draw without giving them a specific assignment. The goal was to stimulate their capacity for abstraction and their ability to deviate from familiar forms of drawing.
Photo: Anette Højlund

The Queen of Concept Development: The Yellow Post-it Note

Anette Højlund describes drawing as a constant rhythmic exchange between action and deliberation. That is the source of the dialogue between the drawing and the person drawing. This process releases creative energies and holds both an artistic potential and a potential for idea and concept development that is not sufficiently recognised.
“Drawing has a capacity that the queen of concept development, the yellow Post-it note, lacks,” she says and emphasises the importance of interacting with the physical materials and preserving free experimentation.
“We live in a time where we think that we can think up concepts without consulting with matter. When we think this way, we forget to take advantage of the potential of drawing. Any drawing is a free experiment that contains an evocative power. Drawing is a tool for developing form, and we fail to use this tool properly if we only use it to draw icons to accompany concept words, such as a light bulb to symbolise a bright idea.”

A Better Grasp of the Conditions of the Material

Since the computer-based drawing programs became widespread in the 1990s, analogue drawing, that is, drawing using materials such as pencil and paper, has been put on the defensive, both in design education and in design firms. But lately, Anette Højlund has noticed a growing awareness of the drawbacks of ignoring the material altogether.
“Through drawing, design students can experience creation in a very hands-on way, and at the same time they also develop a better grasp of the substance and conditions of the artistic material,” she explains.

That does not mean, however, that she dismisses the potentials of the digital medium.
“It’s not a matter of choosing between analogue and digital. The two supplement each other. My research project is in no way a rejection of the computer. I am simply examining drawing on analogue conditions,” she says.

PhD Defence

Anette Højlund defended her PhD dissertation Mind the gap! Om tegning og tilblivelse. Udkast til en tegnefilosofi (Mind the gap! About drawing and creation. Drafts for a philosophy of drawing) on 13 April 2012 at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design. She completed her PhD project under the so-called Teacher PhD arrangement, where the PhD scholar has four years to complete the project instead of three and in return is required to teach for eighteen months instead of six. After earning her PhD, Anette Højlund has stayed on in her position at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design, where she teaches image formation, design processes and illustration.

Read summary of the dissertation.

MD#49-Udnyt_tegningens_potentiale-opslag-203x187.jpg

Photo: Anette Højlund

Evaluation Committee

  • Carsten Juhl, associate professor, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Visual Art, Denmark
  • Lars Kiel Bertelsen, associate professor, Aarhus University, Denmark
  • Kirsten Marie Raahauge, associate professor, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design, Denmark (chairwoman of the evaluation committee)

Supervisors

  • Troels Degn Johansson, associate professor, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design
  • Jan Bäcklund, associate professor, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Visual Art

Additional information

Anette Højlund wrote and illustrated the book Træ. Tåge. Tegning. (Tree. Mist. Drawing.). Umbau, 2011.

See the article Break the Habits with Art about the artistic element in design research and the design process, Mind Design #39, May 2011.

You can also read about Anette Højlund’s PhD dissertation in the article Tegningen får det bedste frem (Drawing brings out the best) at videnskab.dk (in Danish only).

Source: Mind Design #49, 2012

Research at the School of Design

Read about the research at The School of Design

Interviews (in Danish)

Interview at Videnskab.dk
Interview at Weekendavisen
Interview at MindDesign - Netmagasin for Designforskning #49

FInd "Mind the Gap" at the Library

 

 

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