Anderson, Gemma. (2019) Drawing as a Way of Knowing in Art and Science. Bristol/Chicago: Intellect.<>


The title of the publication is on point; especially if the term “drawing” is not only perceived as a verb but also as a noun. Artist researcher Gemma Anderson interrogates drawing as representation, as process, and as communication. She emphasizes that, on one hand, knowledge as well as insights become manifest in the outcome of drawing as a graphic representation, but on the other hand they also unfold during the process of drawing. In the introduction, the author underlines the value of drawing as a research tool by providing an overview of historical and current positions in exhibitions, projects, and books. The focus is on drawing as an observing and recording medium to make the invisible visible or to explore the unknown. For it, the guiding thread is the understanding of drawing as an epistemological tool. One of the researcher’s approach is to investigate how an artistic practice reacts or relates to its scientific context.

The book is based on extensive research, reflections, and practice—which is vividly presented and described. In the course of her research process, the author aimed at enabling a deeper understanding of drawing processes, which was essentially facilitated by various collaborations and exchanges with scientists and curators at the Natural History Museum London and the collaboration with the Department of Mathematics at the Royal College London. In this work, the artist and researcher enables an unusual yet manifold view into a practice that otherwise often remains covert. Thus, both her research and her findings could also be described as explorations within drawing, through drawing, with drawing, or in drawing. Natural sciences, mathematics and the arts play a vital role herein. Subsequently, they all interrelate with the objects and the reflection on the epistemological value of both the composed image and the action of drawing itself.

Furthermore, the author refers to the different functions and representations of drawing(s), as well as to different methods. She claims that precise observation of details and its documentation can lead into findings that are otherwise hardly discernible, revealing other components, which usually remain covert. Therefore, establishing transparent conditions for her investigations enrichened the project. The author writes about the institutional conditions as well as the difficulties and limitations she encountered through collaboration with others, but at the same time stresses the fruitful aspect thereof. She thus refrains from evaluating the feedback as quantitative evidence, rather summarizing it as a form of qualitative reflection.

Anderson introduces various methods of classification that can be applied in and through drawing. Some of these are morphology, isomorphology and isomorphogenesis. These approaches can link art and science, for instance, to order objects according to their visual similarity or to arrange them by resemblance in form. Thus, drawing can initiate ordering principles, possibly resulting in an increased focus on the structures of visual resemblances. Based on The Order of Things by Foucault, Anderson describes the various possibilities of resemblances taken from principles such as convenience, emulation, analogy or sympathy. Additionally, she gives insights into unusual and alternative possibilities of classification, also linking these to her own practice. According to the author, understanding drawing as a tool of research can be an approach or method that is fundamental for artistic as well as for scientific research, exploration, and investigation. Readers are invited to examine the various angles of drawing processes and multifarious ways of communication and exchange arising through drawing, eventually arriving at the conclusion that each act of drawing sharpens one’s individual observation skills.

Undoubtedly, this imposed variation is a challenging task. Given that drawing as graphic representation and as process yields the possibility of transmitting knowledge, the question arises whether and how this insight can be transferred into a verbal description. This also raises the question of the general legibility of graphic representations. In order to meet this challenge, Anderson elaborates on her considerations by exemplifying specific procedures, such as the differences between the process of drawing through an apparatus with a camera lucida and drawing without such a mechanism. Here, however, she refers to morphological studies by Linnaeus and Goethe, but also essentially to her own practice, in order to be able to fully observe and reflect on this process. With the camera lucida, more precise and even more reproducible results can possibly be achieved in morphological terms. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily approximate what constitutes the most important question in terms of taxonomy.

Zoological specimen, but also plants and minerals, are key objects of Anderson's investigations. On this basis, she examines for example the differences between the representation of drawing and the images of the scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Drawing has often a greater morphological sharpness of detail, but it sometimes creates inadequate representations of surfaces. Thus, the two media cannot replace one another but instead complement each other. This becomes explicit when considering that alternatively, such information would stem from the DNA, which again provides a completely different form of representation. What is inherent in artistic and scientific drawing is the movement from observing perception to recording or drawing, and finally to understanding. Therefore, another peripheral movement then takes place throughout drawing: individual perceptions and experiences are stored and reproduced, eventually serving as a memory aid. Thus, the author describes the materialized drawing as an embodied knowledge that makes invisible experiences visible. In addition, the author refers to the implicit knowledge gained by drawing. The conveyance of this knowledge is based on experience and requires a specific and shared context.

The investigation of the function of drawing in mathematics also holds a crucial position. Since mathematical graphics do not require an external object of representation—at least no material objects—,the comparison of drawing in the natural sciences with mathematics is essential. In mathematics, the visualisation of imaginary mental objects without materiality plays a pivotal role. One could therefore assume that drawings from the context of the natural sciences would be closer to the arts. As far as the conceptual and methodological approach is concerned and as vague ideas and intuitive approaches can be developed through the drawing process, the arts and mathematics are closely linked. In the context of mathematics, Anderson also points out why drawing or even quick sketching, however inaccurate it may be, has a different potential than computer-generated drawings. She emphasizes the act of doing—of drawing—, which itself possibly leads into a deeper understanding.

A central part of the research is the conception of the morphologies of Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Paul Klee and the two in relation to each other. To fully engage with Goethe's morphology, the author has carried out a practice-based six-stage method, also considering Isis Brook's interpretation on Goethean methodology. Anderson shows an analytical procedure gradually applied by various actions essential in the investigation and exploration by drawing. Here, observing by disregarding previous knowledge plays an important role. Another step is to remove the previously observed and drawn object from one’s vision and instead draw from memory. These are examples of a different approach and gaze, opening up possibilities on how to enter into the essence of things.

The author's detailed investigation and comparison of Goethe's and Klee's morphologies shows how relevant these approaches can be in a contemporary discourse; as epistemological tools and as methods. Goethe and Klee share the position of the dynamic form, which could be described as a concept of the process of formation. This process is essential in nature, in the observation of nature, as well as in Goethe’s and Klee’s artistic-scientific positions. Therein, it is more about the essence of things than about their external appearance. Additionally, Anderson emphasizes the dynamic component inherent to the method of isomorphogenesis. Essentially, it deals less with recording a state than with understanding the biological principles of change and, consequently, applying them in the drawing. From this argument, a typology of the process can be derived.

The reference and transferability to current methods of artistic research is quite obvious. In order to render tangible a specific thing, various approaches emerge from different parts of the publication. These could be suggested as observing, contemplating, drawing, focusing, dissecting, analysing, speculating, imagining, recombining or recreating.

The book allows a very close look into the artist's practice and the practice of collaborating scientists. Drawing procedures, such as the decision-making in the process of drawing, can be extremely interesting and fruitful for artists and scientists, but also for people from other disciplines. Another interesting aspect is that, although the author explicitly refers to the medium of drawing as a research tool, the accuracy with which she describes the various methodological approaches enables the processes to be possibly transferred to other media as well as other fields of application. In order to investigate the value of drawing as an epistemological tool, she organized workshops to reflect more deeply on her own practice and method. As a result, the author shows how this practice can also be a playful and explorative practice in the context of education, in the arts as well as in other fields, and finally as a method of learning and unlearning. Key moments that are rarely ever in focus when talking about drawing are emphasized as vital ones, such as the gaining of knowledge through mimetic processes, the period of time in which a drawing is created or how drawing changes the way of seeing the world. Thus, the author’s project can be described in the very best sense as practice-based, but also as artistic research; eventually, it opens up a fantastic intellectual and artistic universe beyond that.



Barbara Graf (b. 1963, Winterthur-Switzerland) studied Painting and Experimental Art at the University of Applied Arts Vienna under Maria Lassing. She is an artist and a lecturer at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Institute of Art Sciences and Art Education, Textile Department. In her work she investigates body representations and develops flexible sculptures as a second skin. The main media are drawing, sculpture, photography and film. Since 2004 she has been working in artistic research projects dealing with medical issues. She is currently developing her PhD in artistic research Stitches and Sutures on the visualization of body perception.