Saturday, 5 January 2013

Drawing in the British Museum

Tau-Type and Psi-Type Mycenean figures, 1300-1200BC.
The best way I know of looking at things, is to draw them. It's possible to use photography the same way, but much harder: if you don't work hard at it, it becomes a substitute for looking rather than an aid.

Museums like it if you walk around drawing the things. It is almost always welcomed, as long as you don't use any materials that might make a mess. These are from Room 12b. Mycenean terracotta female figures - Tau-Type, 1300-1250BC, and (right) Psi-Type, 1300-1200BC.

Man with two dogs, Mycenean, Cyprus, 1300-1200BC
The next picture, on a Mycenean bell krater, 1300-1200BC, is one of those paintings that (if European, at least) can only be very new or very old. It's amazingly lively and dramatic. I didn't get all of the dynamism - you can really feel him pulling at these excitable little dogs.

But if you do this in the British Museum when it's full of tourists (like on New Year's Eve), you can easily find yourself becoming part of the exhibition. People are fascinated to watch someone draw, and they really appreciate the pictures. By watching someone draw, you see the object with new eyes. A simple representational drawing can seem much more informative than a photograph, because of the way the person making it selects what seems important to them, and leaves out what doesn't. Photographers can do this too - they can use lighting, composition, and all sorts of techniques - but most of those just aren't feasible in the context of visiting a great public museum.

Spout Duck, Handle Dog, and Tourist
While I was drawing the wonderful little duck on the spout, and the dog on the handle of a Basse-Yutz Flagon of 450BC,  a very polite American gentleman wanted to take a picture of me, which I agreed to: he said that he used to see people doing the same in the Louvre, before I was born. From my guess at our relative ages, I suspect he underestimated mine by a dozen years (it's rather dark in that room). After he had gone, I continued drawing, and a very sweet young lady who might have been Japanese came up, became fascinated, and also wanted to take a picture - of me, but mainly of the drawing. She had to take her time over the English, and we were so pleased that we managed to communicate.

The lady at the bottom of the page isn't her, it's a young Chinese tourist, sitting down and reflecting in the Chinese gallery, with her tour group buzzing around her. She looked a bit tired, and I totally failed to capture her thoughtful, inward, and solemn expression, which reminded me of several Buddhist figures. I wonder what she made of it all.

There's Tibetan stuff just a bit further along. They have a fairly large brass figure of a fierce-looking deity with about sixteen arms literally effing the ineffable, displayed right at puzzled-toddler height, although I didn't stick around to hear the conversation that the actual puzzled toddler near my knee was about to start. Nor did I attempt to draw it, as it's very low down and rather complicated. It symbolises the soul's pursuit of enlightenment, according to the caption. The ineffable seems to be right into it, which is certainly better than not.

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