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The Scribble in Contemporary Art

7 Dec

I began writing this article with regards to Dryden Goodwin’s recent exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery (before it moved), which mainly consisted of snapshots of passengers on passing buses and some more posed portraits, onto which he has scrawled with either a pen or the digital equivalent.  He appears to bring out the features of the people photographed, almost like a three dimensional representation made of a geometric polyhedron of paper folded into shapes around where Goodwin has drawn.  However, besides this, Goodwin has done little more than scribble over a snapshot with little more art than a toddler might if it got hold of a photo album.

Drawing is a traditional part of art, sketching from nature and preparatory planning for more major works, but this is part of a process of development, striving towards perfection of composition.  This is entirely opposite to the scribble, which is very much like a through away remark in its immediacy and temporality.


David Shrigley’s scribbles function as a cartoon, a bit of fun in a corner of a newspaper, Tate email, etc, but when did this get shifted up into gallery worthy art?  Perhaps this addresses elitism and pop art.  I suppose Roy Litchenstein is to blame on that count, bringing the cartoon into the art system, but the quality has been dubbed down a bit since then.  However I suppose that accounts for him scrawling in corners of gallery walls, politically situating his work in hidden corners like the cartoon in a newspaper.  Writing directly onto the Hayward Gallery walls (amongst others) is also quite an activist action, akin with graffiti, but he doesn’t quite go as far as Mike Nelson who cut a room up for “To The Memory of H.P. Lovecraft, 1999, 2008”, it’s more of a cheeky intervention.

There is testing the water with what the art world will accept, rebelling against traditions, but are such scribbles not a step too far?  Perhaps not as all these examples are highly acclaimed.  I guess the art world is still very much open to attack and plurality of anything new.

Whilst writing this I found myself scribbling ‘Free’ on the covers of catalogues for the Free Art Fair whilst invigilating the exhibition.  In this sense my scribble is a small gift of personalisation, contact with the artist’s hand.  What makes a scribble valuable and desired?  What is it in our society that makes a doodle desirable?  Perhaps scribbles are welcomed into the art world because little work does have this personal touch anymore with Duchamp’s readymades (although he did scribble a signature on them) and Warhol’s factory, et al., and this is important to traditionalists.  However, it seems celebrity culture has a roll to play in this.  Anything that has been touched by Rubens, Turner, Picasso, Warhol, Hirst, famous musicians, actors, etc. becomes valuable because of their celebrity status.  Martin Creed, who has also worked with scribbles, has sold sheets of paper he screwed into balls, Peter Harris presented an “A4 piece of paper touched by Damien Hirst and signed by Peter Harris” at the Free Art Fair and Turner’s palette has been presented pretty much as an artwork at Tate Britain.  But how does someone become famous for scribbling?


Having thought about this for some time I’ve come to consider that not all “scribbles” may repulse me.  Perhaps there is a fine line between pure minimalism and the scribble.  I came across photographic artist Jennah on MySpace, whose works consist of simple circular drawings made with a light direct onto film, but I feel their simple minimalism makes them beautiful.  Is there really that much between say Kasimir Malevich’s suprematist paintings and Henri Matisse’s figurative line drawings?

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