PART 1. Project 1, Exercise 2, What is Art?

What is art? This is a huge question and the answer has to be really subjective. Is it just anything that is made by a human? But then why aren’t manufactured goods art? Does it then become about context? The piece in the previous exercise, Fountain, is a urinal that was manufactured. Does it become art because the artist says its art?

Duchamp said he wanted ‘to put art back in the service of the mind’. I think perhaps the ‘artwork’ in that case is no longer the piece of porcelain in front of the viewer; it’s the thoughts that they are having about that object and any discussions they then have with others.

My current personal view is that art should require some kind of skill from the artist, whether that’s technical skill or vision or design. I’m often not entirely comfortable with somebody just calling a found object art when it then becomes the words around the object that make it art – those words often sound entirely false and pretentious to me. I feel like I’m being conned or given the ‘hard sell’. Does this mean I like to be spoon-fed? Or not challenged?

‘Does art need to move you emotionally?’ I’m not sure what that question really means. We have an emotional response to everything we perceive, even indifference is an emotional response. Is the question about the strength of response? If so, then this still cannot be a measure of whether something is art because everyone has a different responses.

‘Does art have to be unique?’ I don’t think so. This question can be interpreted in more than one way: just one original? Print-makers may object! An entirely new idea? That would mean that no cover version of a song could ever be called art.

PART 1. Project 1, Exercise 1, Fountain

MD Fountain

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1950 (replica of 1917 original)

My First Response…..

I don’t like it, I don’t tend to like much ‘found’ art. Why did the artist designate this ‘art’? What does it mean? Who is ‘R. Mutt’? Is it anything to do with WWI? Is the orientation significant?


Exercise 1: What I want to gain from Higher Education?

I wish to add a level of personal growth to practices I am exploring anyway, and to broaden my experience through exposure to other artists’ work and interactions with fellow students. I have a stressful job in Finance and the creative process helps me manage that pressure; it may seem counter-intuitive to add pressure into that area of my life by studying formally, but I am more productive and motivated with a deadline.

Time management is a significant issue for me. My professional life is somewhat cyclical in terms of workload, but also frequently has an ad hoc element to it and it will be a challenge to fit my studies in around this. As well as time, there is inclination to consider. I have to be ‘in the mood’ to study in order to enjoy it (and I do want to enjoy it!) and my energy levels and mood are impacted by work. To mitigate this, I will need to plan well and give myself sufficient time to work through the course.

Exercise 2: Set up Learning Log

I plan to use this online blog as my learning log, and will include within it photos of any supplementary materials I produce.

Exercise 3: Analysing and Learning

Nude (Study), Sad Young Man on a Train

By Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) – Guggenheim, PD-US,

What I see – Many, predominantly vertical, marks in graded shades of brown, palest in the centre creating the impression of close proximity. At a glance, it looks like a queue of people. On closer inspection, one sees details that imply it could be the same figure (cane, pipe, physical build, posture).

What I think – I like this piece, I’m interested in how artists portray movement. It is over a century old but it seems modern to me. The use of colour suggests situation in the tunnel and creates a marked sense of perspective. I think it is clever and effective.

I found the constraints of a low word-count added an interesting element to this exercise, driving the selection of the most important points to highlight. Just looking briefly at Duchamp’s body of work makes me interested to track his development over decades and learn more about his interactions with other well-known artists and movements.


Exercise 4: Managing Time

(covered above)


Exercise 5: Setting up your space

In terms of resources, I’m fairly sure I have everything I will need.

I am very fortunate to live next to water, surrounded by a nature reserve with very few neighbours. My house is a tranquil place to be and, whilst I have a dedicated north-facing room for art (not yet unpacked from the move), I tend to spend most of my time in the upper south-facing rooms because of the view, and I can work at the kitchen table.


Exercise 6: Say hello to fellow students

There seem to not be many students on this module at the moment. About 15 of us have communicated via the email group. In addition to this, I have set up an unofficial closed Facebook Group for us where we can share our blogs, chat, critique and share interesting posts. This is in place for Drawing 1 as many people find it difficult to navigate through numerous email trails. I found it to be a really valuable resource so I suggested it for this group as well. There are three of us who are admins to build resilience for when people complete the unit and move on. So far we have just introduced ourselves with our backgrounds, which are very varied in terms of location, age, family circumstances, experience. All women so far, strangely.

ASSIGNMENT 5 – Final piece

I used A1 watercolour paper in an attempt to allow the ink to flow further away from the figure as it had in my tests with wider margins of water. I didn’t use quite enough ink to achieve this, and was being slightly cautious. The wash dried lighter than it looked when wet in my tests, and even more so on this paper I bought for the final piece. Whilst the ink marks are not as striking as I intended, I still think they are effective in enhancing the feeling of movement of the figure.

Using charcoal on this paper with such a strong tooth necessitated an unforeseen change in technique that I had to break off and test before continuing. In addition I was doing this in very hot weather and didn’t want the oils from my skin to influence the charcoal. I used a tortillon to blend the charcoal instead of my finger, which gives an almost pointillist effect in some areas.

I’m pleased with the final drawing. I think using the ‘potential energy’ of a pose to capture movement is effective and works well in this piece.

The abstract suggestion of movement with ink, as an augmentation to the movement proposed by the pose itself, works well with the absence of background. The feeling of uncontrolled falling is very like isolation, which I found was accentuated by an absence of background in my final piece for Assignment 4. I’m happy to have been able to use this as an active element of the drawing once again.

Progress shots:



On the advice of my tutor I tried to draw moving figures by watching gymnastics videos. I want to (loosely) follow the idea of using the potential energy of a figure to portray movement but my sketches of moving figures are too brief to develop. Apparently capturing quickly moving figures is as yet beyond me but I will keep trying.

In the meantime, I found a series on of a model throwing himself backwards from standing into a beanbag and have used a side view of the ‘action shot’.

I want to somehow augment the figure so that I can portray movement whilst being able to employ my favoured absence of background.

I think this pose will work well but I need to develop the augmentation idea.

Final considerations of overall composition, after other investigative work:

Multimedia tests

I want to try to use ink and water to suggest movement in an abstract way. Dropping ink into an area of water allows it to spread out in an uncontrolled, organic way. I hope to use gravity to influence the direction in which these ‘movement marks’ spread in order to achieve the effect I am seeking.

My idea is to create this area of a piece first then add a detailed charcoal drawing to it, thus creating contrast between the subject and the space they have just passed through both with media and method.

Tests of ink and water; various relative amounts, orders and methods of application:

Similar tests, including pencil and charcoal. Test 5 is closest to what I want to achieve, and the area around the knee in test 2 is also on the right track:

Larger scale, A2. I was unable to give the ink a wide enough margin of water to achieve the desired effect without buckling the paper:

Watercolour paper, A3. This is almost the effect I want. I need to source some larger paper to give me a larger area in which to influence the movement of the ink. I especially like the hands and feet. (I wonder if the impact of the area around the hands will be lost once populated with charcoal detail? Perhaps I should use coloured ink):

Checks with wider margins of water:

(Top to bottom)

– water first, ink applied with stick next to top edge

– water first, ink applied within water

– ink first, water pushed against it with a wide brush

The top one is the effect I want to achieve.

Tests to check I can still achieve a good finish with charcoal on Watercolour paper:

The surface of the watercolour paper has a deep tooth. Using the technique I employed for my final piece in Part 4 does not achieve a fine enough finish (top sketch). A slightly different method is required; several layers of charcoal worked into each other with a paper stump to achieve depth of tone (bottom sketch). I found that the result is somehow richer than on smooth paper.

Another impact of the deeper tooth is that the charcoal crumbs leave much darker marks on the paper as they roll down it:

In part four I enjoyed this effect and left the marks in place but for this piece they are contrary to the effect I’m trying to achieve. To minimise it I thought perhaps I might turn the piece on its side and let the trails go over the ink wash…

… but having tested it quickly on a dry inkwash, I’m glad I didn’t just ‘wing it’; the two types of mark are incongruous and absolutely don’t work together.

How to portray movement?

I’ve looked at many artists’ methods of portraying movement. I initially thought I’d like to try multiple layered images such as the method used by Marcel Duchamp for his various Nudes Descending Staircases, but the more I look at, the more cluttered they feel, which is not what I want to explore.

I wondered about a more subtle variation on this idea but my first study of this put me off completely because of its cartoon quality:

I also tried the same study but with blurred lines on ‘trailing’ surfaces. This also seems crude but could be developed:

Another way to portray movement is by portraying a subject with stored potential energy.

“An object can store energy as the result of its position. For example, the heavy ball of a demolition machine is storing energy when it is held at an elevated position. This stored energy of position is referred to as potential energy” (

What I mean in this visual context is that the eye and brain recognise that this stored energy has been established by movement and also must be released by further movement; ‘what goes up must come down’. Therefore the image is perceived as movement in progress. The most striking, and beautiful, example I came across was a body of work by Karolina Szymkiewicz portraying a Japanese dancer:

I find this idea very intriguing.

References (accessed 11/05/18) (accessed 11/05/18) (accessed 27/06/18)

Impact of type of mark upon portrayal of movement

Picasso: Demoiselles d’Avignon

Looking at the various studies for this piece, I was struck by how different they are and note that by using different marks and media, an artist can give versions of the same idea completely different dynamics. The simple line sketch is static and flat with mainly vertical lines. The painted study makes the subjects indistinct, giving the impression that they are restlessly moving, there are no strong directional aspects to the composition. The third study below is full of angular, diagonal strokes that evoke a lot of movement.

As I’m thinking about my final piece, I keep coming back to the notion that I’d like to use charcoal for a detailed figure again as I’m getting a better result each time I do that and I really enjoy it. However, I want to somehow at the same time find a way to make the figure seem to be in motion. Perhaps this means venturing into multimedia territory again.