Students working with the British Museum's drawing collection
Drawing Is Back in Fashion as British Museum Offer Pencils and Paper for New Blockbuster Exhibition byHannah Furness, arts correspondent
It was once the staple of every artist’s practice, before falling out of fashion at the hands of conceptual art, formaldehyde cows, and unmade beds.
But drawing is officially back, according to the British Museum, as it plans to offer pencils and sketchbooks at a major exhibition for the first time.
Staff at the museum said they had noticed a significant increase in art students and members of the public wanting to draw in its galleries, despite the proliferation of mobile phone cameras.
As such, they are to provide pencils, paper, rubbers and smudging clothes at its new blockbuster Rodin exhibition, inspired by the artist’s own visits to draw in its galleries in the late 19th century.
Curators hope to encourage the visiting public to look more closely at its objects, swapping a quick photograph, often uploaded onto social media, with the time it takes to sketch by hand.
In 2016, the V&A found itself facing criticism after banning drawing at a major temporary exhibition due to “loan restrictions.”
The British Museum will now ensure its examination of Rodin and the art of Ancient Greece sees objects given more space, allowing visitors to stand around them for longer to draw without impeding on others.
It has previously taken steps to revive the art form, sending its most important drawings on a tour in 2016, after learning modern art students are “more likely to have a blog than a sketchbook.”
Sarah Jaffray, who has been running a drawing project at the museum, said there had been a “huge surge” in art students wanting to study sketching, as a new generation rebelled against the last.
In years gone by, she suggested, the skill of drawing had fallen out of fashion and considered secondary to “concept,” so famously associated with Marcel Duchamp and his urinal “Fountain” and celebrated by the Young British Artists.
Even curators are now getting in on the revival, with after-hours drawing classes for themselves.
The Rodin drawing project was created by Melany Rose and Rebecca Penrose, who were in turn inspired by stories of the artist himself crediting sketching as the key to his sculpture.
Rodin is known to have visited the museum in 1881, with evidence of his sketches on notepaper taken from the nearby Thackeray Hotel where he stayed.
An activity pack, designed especially for families and provided free for visitors, includes a sketchbook, pencil, stencils, smudging cloth, rubber, activity sheet and artistic beret for inspiration.
Ms. Penrose said the exhibition was designed with more space around the objects than usual, with the Parthenon sculptures placed on lower plinths to allow visitors to see their detail more clearly.
Large windows will be left uncovered to allow the sculptures to be viewed in natural daylight, making it “an ideal exhibition for sketching.”
“We hope that people who want to draw in the exhibition will feel empowered, especially as Rodin was himself so passionate about drawing,” she said.
Sarah Jaffray, project officer for the Bridget Riley Art Foundation, said that when she started in 2014, drawing was “not a central part” of art students’ work.
“We found a lot of resistance to the idea that drawing was something that was interesting still,” she said.
“It's something that a lot of students do at sixth form, and then they want to reject it when they get to university. But there’s something in the air: students are becoming more and more interested in drawing and its diversity as a medium.
“There has been a huge surge of interest in drawing, in terms of artistic practice. There's a greater interested in how they can bring drawing back into what they do.”
Asked why attitudes had changed, she pointed to a generation of artists who had rejected traditional artistic training, including drawing, in favor of conceptual art.
Now, she suggested, a new generation is rebelling with a return to the artistic process, adding: “There’s a desire to get back into making, to getting your hands dirty.”
“It's the most basic form of art," she said. "The hope is that once people start to do it, they see how expressive and complex it can be and appreciate what other artists have done.”
Benedict Leigh, curator in the Middle East department, has created an after-hours drawing class for staff, to give them greater insight into their collection, with the Royal Drawing School coming in to run special courses.
“The premise was that before photography, curators would have had to draw things for display. Drawing is a really important way of really looking and learning about the objects.
“All museums are wanting to get people really looking at objects on display. From my perspective, I feel like you dwell on an object a lot more if you have a paper and pencil before you.
“It’s something which is growing. You go into galleries, and you see a lot more people drawing.”
The exhibition, Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, runs from April 26 to July 29.