Monday, March 21, 2011

Artistic Anatomy vs. Form

Some people say "study anatomy"… while others say "study surface forms". But I think it's a false alternative. Firstly, there's nothing that says you can't just study both. But secondly (an more fundamentally), I think it confuses the nature of anatomy vs. form.

Anatomical knowledge is not form-awareness. Anatomical knowledge is really just abstract knowledge about the relations of the parts of the body. Although it can be made visual in the form of photos and line art, it does not by itself allow an artist to successfully draw the body, because a successful drawing should be made up of form-awareness. Anatomy is not form-awareness... it is a conceptual understanding of the relation of parts. But "parts" are not forms... a form is an actual, visual abstractions.

Nothing about the anatomy of the zygomatic bone is a block-shape, and no anatomy book (that dealt strictly with anatomy) would ever say that.  The blocky-ness of the zygomatic bone is a visual conception used by the artist to aid in the perception of that part of the body.

On the other hand, form-awareness is not anatomical knowledge. Conceiving of the zygomatic bone as a block does not inform one of the nature or function of the arch, or of anything else. The nature and function of what these forms represent is the domain of anatomy.

I have to conclude that anatomical study is good because it makes one aware of the nature of the various parts, and in that way it can guide the focus of the artist as they consider the body. But this abstract anatomical focus (without form conceptions) will yield rationalized drawings (all knowledge, no reality)... and is hardly more useful than a purely perceptual approach. Perceptual approaches, in fact, will yield a reality based drawing, but will fall down badly on presenting understanding. And so that seems like a pretty harsh mind/body dichotomy... and one to be avoided.

I guess these distinctions seem pretty obvious, but I have to say I had been confused on it. I also suppose that the field of "artistic anatomy" makes these distinctions clear... but if they did, I must have missed it, or not appreciated the distinction. This distinction hit home just now as I started to draw a skull, and said to myself.. "My knowledge of skull anatomy allows me to draw this skull". BUT... as I drew the skull, I realized that I was simply drawing a skull contour that I had memorized from books... and it had no form. So I started to try and draw form, which required a WHOLE DIFFERENT set of ideas. I even tried to draw a zygomatic bone in 3/4 view, so as to show 3 sides... and it became very clear that there was a difference between the idea of the arch as a functional anatomical thing (anatomy), and the arch as a perceptual entity represented by a geometric abstraction (form).


Any attempt to recreate some aspect of reality requires that it be created in some form. That form will necessarily be an abstraction. And this is true of knowledge in general isn't it? All scientific knowledge must still be conceived of in the forms of abstractions, and this includes anatomy. 

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