Friday, November 11, 2011

Drawing Everything

„Alles ZEICHNEN ist gut,
ALLES zeichnen ist besser.“

Blog reader Christian Schlierkamp has helped deconstruct this quote by the great draftsman, Adolph von Menzel.

"Everything (related to) DRAWING (or drawing in general/over all) is good,
to draw EVERYTHING is (even) better."

Menzel did draw everything, from kings to commoners, all sorts of animals, landscapes, and architecture.

Because of this intense encounter with nature, his insights into human character infuse every work. In this drawing etching, notice how the woman smiles shyly as she contemplates lifting the helmet cover of the man in armor. With her other hand, she fiddles nervously with the end of her beaded necklace.
If you live near Wilmington, Delaware, I hope you can come attend the opening of the Howard Pyle exhibition, where I’ll be giving a digital slide lecture called “Composition: Pyle’s Way with Pictures.” It's free with admission, and it starts at 11:00 AM tomorrow, Saturday, November 12.


Zanne said...

I love Menzel and think he's one of the greatest pure draughtsmen of all time.

His work ethic actually reminds me alot of you, in that tireless curiosity about everything great and small and the ability to make beautiful pictures of even the most mundane subjects.

"It is reported that he would interrupt a social gathering, or the proceedings of some important meeting, by gravely fetching out his sketch-book and pencil in order to draw a carved chair, an embroidered coat, somebody's hand, or whatever else happened to strike his eye, and the proceedings sometimes came to a standstill until he had finished. If he was not always drawing, he was at least, in every sense of the word, always ready to draw, always prepared for work."

In a letter to younger artist Otto Griener who was complaining of the time he had to waste on commercial work, or "the sweet pretty-pretty", he chides him, saying...

"Here there is no other possible way but to accept once for all everything as a genuine artistic problem. You will then cease at once to consider anything unworthy of your powers ; even the 'pretty-pretty stuff' will wax interesting, instructive, and even difficult."

Quotes from "Drawings of A. von Menzel" (1910), available on which has a few excellent old books on Menzel, including his enormous 10 volume Life of Frederick the Great. Most are in German, but theyre chock full of great images.

Drawings of A. von Menzel (1910)

Nick said...

That's some great body language observation on his part. I've been reading some of Pyle's notes about 'living in the image' which this seems to show very well.

Christian Schlierkamp said...

James, what a funny coincidence: I just found a copy of Menzel's letters, published in 1914, at a second hand book shop in Berlin and am drowning in his thoughts and words right now.

Zanne, I think I found some parallels between Jim's and Menzel's work ethic as well :-D :
Menzel always said that it was necessairy to always do your best work, regardless wether there's short time or limited budgets and to never give in, calling that sort of comissions "to throw cake into water ("Kuchen ins Wasser schmeißen")"
(Menzel's father died when he was 16, after that he became responsible for his mother and siblings, working as a stone-lithograph designing greeting cards and nameplates till he got the chance to do illustrations, firstly for Goethes works followed by his big first breakthrough with the works on the life of Frederic the Great.)
And as well his view towards new technologies: Menzel was ever so fascinated with photography, more in respect of the new possibilities for artists. He remained sceptical on using photographs as only reference for paintings though (e.G. for his coronation scene of William II he had to do a few portraits based on photoreference only because the portrayees couldn't come to Berlin, after he'd met one of them later he insisted to redo his portrait stating that the impression he got from him vis à vis was totally different then what he got from the photo).

All the best to you and Jeanette for the lecture!! Wish I could just "jump over" ;-)
best wishes!

Vainamoinen said...

The presentation of Menzel's comment is a bit confusing for the German Native speaker.

The quote should be: "Alles Zeichnen ist gut, alles zeichnen ist besser".

The first "Zeichnen" is written with a capital letter, signifying that it is a noun instead of a verb. Translation and explanation of the quote are absolutely correct, though. ;)

James Gurney said...

Zanne and Christian, thanks for these additional insights about Menzel. I can really imagine him "fetching out the sketchbook" or sitting unobserved in the shadows sketching workers and such. I remember reading that he was almost run over an injured when he was working in the iron rolling mill.

Thanks for the link to the book, Zanne. I'll read it. And Christian, I would love to feature more of Menzel's ideas, opinions, and methods on the blog if you feel like translating some nuggests. I love the "cake in the water" quote.

Christian Schlierkamp said...

Sure! Nothing I'd love more to do, James!!;-)

Christian Schlierkamp said...

One mistake I did in the comment: It's the coronation scene of William the I, not the II.

And thanks, Vainamoinen for pointing that out: I did try to explain the shift of the pronounciation, which shifts from "Zeichnen" ("drawing") to "alles" ("everything")by writing the pronounced words in capital letters, the way you wrote it is the correct quote. :-)