Drawing for Sport

Drawing: Research, Theory, Practice. Publisher: Intellect, Ulster University, UK. 2016.

Art and sports are located at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum and do not easily mingle, but artists and athletes have more in common than we may think. There are parallels between the disciplines of drawing and athletic performance that can enhance our understanding of how attention and perception function in both sports and drawing. This article shares an approach to a hybrid art practice that merges drawing traditions with the discipline of athletics, and suggests that athletic drawings can shed new light on the body’s role in shaping the processes of observation and perception. This exploration has taken various forms over the past decade including studio drawings, live performance and the participation of others. This art practice refigures prevailing ideas of observational drawing by extending the concept of observation beyond the primacy of the visual. Performing athletic drawings creates a state of heightened bodily awareness in which observation is a complex corporeal phenomenon. In addition to visualizing bodily limits in time and space, athletic drawings also reveal the psychic boundaries we draw between our environment and ourselves, providing a different lens through which we may understand our physical relationship with the world.

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Where the Pencil Meets the Road

Manifest International Drawing Annual 10. Publisher: Manifest Creative Research and Drawing Center, Cincinnati, OH. 2016.

Engaging the body as a multisensory whole in active relation to one’s environment is a fundamental element in athletic training and performance. And as in drawing, sensitivity of touch is given special privilege. There are precise forms for doing any exercise--whether stretching a hamstring, placing your feet at the optimum angles to change direction, or properly coordinating movement with breathing. In the athletic sensorium, these forms are primarily felt: the firmness of the ground under one’s foot, the nuanced grip of the hand, the hip check of an opponent. Kinesthetic perception is incorporated with visual, spatial, auditory, olfactory, proprioceptive, and even emotive sensations into a synaesthetic body of knowledge that is used and understood by its practitioners—a corporeal consciousness. This heightened bodily awareness is an immersive condition in which the distinction between self and other disappears, and mind and body lose their separateness. In drawing, the focused attention and expanded awareness of the drawer mirrors the consciousness of the athlete. For both drawer and athlete, the body is an actively engaged conduit. This meditative, body-dwelling state is called being in the zone.
The activity of drawing is a physical relationship between body and environment. Drawings define the site of perception, where the self and the world physically touch, and record points of contact between body and environment. As the self marks the world, the world marks the individual in return, and manifests reciprocally in the physical work one does. In this sense, drawing is not something that one does to a surface, space or environment, but an outcome of a negotiation between a material body, with a material set of tools, in a material space. When a body moves across a surface or through a space, it makes a mark: a cut in damp sod from digging in a cleat; a swimmer’s wake; an arc traced by the body in motion. Whether or not a body makes a conventionally graphic or even visible mark is beside the point. The drawing may exist as a vestigial flicker on the retina, a line of sound traced through space, or a pattern of movement inscribed into muscle memory for future use.

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