Naturally, I've been looking with interest at what other people are up to these days. It seems that after decades of neglect by many artists -- who have generally preferred the conceptual approach to anything as hands-on as paper and pencil -- drawing seems to be having a bit of a revival (hey, call me Mr. Zeitgeist...). Though the conceptualists have inevitably complicated the picture: "So why shouldn't pouring a cup of tea over a magazine count as drawing? Do you have a problem with my practice?"
I found a really useful compendium of contemporary approaches to drawing, Walk the Line : the Art of Drawing, compiled by Marc Valli and Ana Ibarra (Laurence King, 2013). Its 300 or so pages cover the range from the sublime to the ridiculous, with the balance tipping a little towards the latter; the reach:grasp ratio of so many young artists seems truly lamentable to me. * The urge to have something to say clearly overwhelms the urge to acquire the means to show, not tell. However, I'm always on the alert for that Hendrix Moment, so I don't rush to judgement (30 seconds or so usually does the trick, though).
But, to save you the trouble of finding a copy, you can get a decent sense of the wild variety of "practice" and competence out there by checking out the Drawing Room's Drawing Biennial 2015. All the works are on A4 paper, and donated by invited artists as a fund-raiser, which may explain the variable standard, but there are some BIG NAMES in there (Kapoor, Emin, Creed, etc.), and you can bid to buy any of the works on show until 30th April (minimum bid £250). Inexplicably, nearly all of the few items I rated highly are so far marked "no bid". Not entirely incidentally, did you know Tracey Emin is now Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy? No, seriously. I really, really don't know what to make of that. Is it them, or is it me? If it's me, I am beyond beyond help.
Of course, the best part of this renewed enthusiasm is browsing the online catalogues of art materials suppliers, and getting up to speed with all the new pencils (yes, there are new pencils), erasers (did you know you can get battery-driven erasers?), papers, sketchbooks, pencil cases... It's all way cheaper than camera gear, and somehow more enticing, and much less like researching a new toaster. But then I've always been a fool for stationery porn.
Woman reading, by José Sobral de Almada Negreiros
* "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what's a heaven for?" (Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto -- one of the greatest poems by one of the greatest poets, and quite relevant to this post).