An abstract process exploring line and contour.

In the construction of a drawing, a line may be thought of as a record of both spatial and temporal contour. The spatial contour is ultimately that of the approximated object. But having been formed linearly – that is, by a process commencing with the pencil’s first contact and concluding with its final separation – the spatial contour emerges as a temporally flattened record of whatever path was taken in this duration. In the consideration of a photograph, the temporal contour of the image’s formation is almost entirely self-evident. We know that the lines and shaded areas in a photograph were formed simultaneously, or nearly so over a duration of about a second. So much as it is relevant for short distances, we may say that the rays cast from distant objects reached the photographic emulsion some time after the rays directed by nearer objects. In photography, there is a clear record of drawing order. But this is not the case for drawing. It may easily be that some portion of a distant star was rendered before the artist turned his or her attention to a nearby tree and then back to that distant star. While the temporal contour of a drawing is not fixed to the property of distance between point and observer, it is evident from the work of da Vinci, Matisse, de Kooning and so forth that despite its eventual flattening, the temporal contour of a drawing as it is viscerally evident in an image is very much a part of the work’s expressive properties. More boldly, it is precisely that flattening – the drawing’s eventual static quality – which makes potent the temporal contour of its formation. In the work of de Kooning, the final drawing stands as a record of what seems to be an ecstatic fury of creation. For da Vinci’s perspective sketches, there is, in one sense, a temporal record of something much like a lengthened version of the photographic process. Yet, in these sketches, unlike the photograph, there is also a temporal record of the mental activity that went into the structuring of such a precise image. Since a static image seems to suggest – but does not necessarily make explicit – the process of its creation, let us consider an image’s inception as a sort of Big Bang event. Before this event, there was nothing – the blank page serves as a void, which lacks any spatial or temporal dimension. Dimensionality is applied in the act of creation. As with astrophysics, there are a variety of forensic procedures that allow us to glimpse into the moment of an artwork’s inception. But the forensic measures of an art authenticator do not fully address that visceral sense in which the temporal contour of an image’s inception determines the spatial nature of the final image. Below I have included the source code for and a sample image from a program that marks the temporality of a line’s creation. A line’s width increases as it is drawn and the line’s color alternates at regular temporal intervals so we may see the pace at which a particular segment of the line was drawn. This software offers one manner of showing the temporal contour of the work’s creation. But, there is an unfortunate trade-off for this property: the spatial contour of the image is dominated by the temporal premise. Does this negate the image? Perhaps the faint trace, the visceral sense of time in a static image is more powerful than ham-fisted self-documentation. How can we be mindful to leave a breadcrumb trail without becoming a baker?

Contour Drawing

Source Code

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)