When the Philadelphia Museum of Art made sketchbooks available to visitors going through ‘Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano’ last year, the exercise proved very popular. Visitors paused before floral compositions on gilded screens and paintings of Mt. Fuji, drawing what they saw. Some tore out the sheets and pocketed them; others left their sketches in the notebooks for the next person to leaf through. Whether by accomplished draftsmen and beginners, the sketches were traces of time spent looking and translating to the hand how the brain processed images registered in the eye.
Through the end of this week, the National Gallery of Art in DC is offering a variation on this theme. Building off the popularity of its Drawing Salon, it is giving out sketchpads, pencils and pointers in the information room off the Rotunda in the West Wing. The NGA came up with its Sketching is Seeing program to celebrate the museum’s 75th anniversary. By many accounts, the program has been successful, particularly in its first ten days or so. I have no training or talent in drawing, but even I see better when I reproduce the ‘gist’ of what is before me, whether it is the lines of a figure’s pose, the orchestrated chaos of a crowd scene, or a detail that catches my eye — an upturned nose, the outline of a spire, the curling tendril in a still life.