Form Poems, Autodidactic Drawings, Useless Drawings

“The great gift of architecture is its ability to create worlds. We value architecture’s utility, but we prize its ability to astonish. These drawings are a means of creating architecture. They have several names, for not one title describes them: Form Poems, autodidactic drawings, useless drawings. They are useless in that they have no immediate utility in the making of a building; they are autodidactic in that they are a means of self teaching; and they are poems in their desire to express, and seek to express an ineffable quality.

Every poem, it is said, should inculcate a moral; and by this moral is the poetical merit of the work to be adjudged… We have taken into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem’s sake, and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in true Poetic dignity and force: – but the simple fact is, that, would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls, we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified – more supremely noble than this very poem – this poem per se – this poem which is a poem and nothing more – this poem written solely for the poem’s sake.”
-Edgar Allen Poe

How are these drawings practice? As admittedly “useless” drawings, they have no utility in the making of buildings. Their object pointedly eschews any form of problem solving. They are selfish and personal. Yet as autodidactic drawings, they function to self-educate. They are generators of an architectural language that ultimately influence built work and teaching. But as Poe indicates above, these drawings, as Form Poems, do not seek to achieve a larger social good (unless, of course, we allow that the making of beautiful things is a social good). They are, for the most part, made solely for the drawing’s sake.

“In my own case, the process is more or less unvarying. I begin with the glimpse of a form, a kind of remote island, which will eventually be a story or a poem. I see the end and I see the beginning, but not what is in between. That is gradually revealed to me, when the stars or chance are propitious. More than once, I have to retrace my steps by way of the shadows. I try to interfere as little as possible in the evolution of the work. I do not want it to be distorted by my opinions, which are the most trivial things about us. The notion of art as compromise is a simplification, for no one knows entirely what he is doing.”
-Jorge Luis Borges

Borges describes a process that is recognizable to most that make. We have ideas that form in the mind that must be hammered out through testing using the tools at our disposal. In the case of the work collected here, it is drawing. The process involves becoming lost and discovering. The process requires erasure, iteration, labor. The process involves luck. The process of making as Borges describes it, and as I see it, is much like the surrealist practice of automatic drawing. Though logical rules for the making of form are employed, often there is no rational motivation for a form’s presence. The movement of the pencil, the presence of a figure are the result of intuition and conjecture.

There is a habit to making. The drawings herein are the product of a daily practice. The titles are the dates upon which they were drawn (year month day). As such they are akin to diary entries. There are gaps in the sequences as daily life overwhelms the creative discipline. Even so, there are close to 300 drawings produced over the last 2 years. The work contained herein constitutes a focus to explore, exploit, and potentially exhaust a single medium. The format is a 6” square of paper and graphite. Recent experiments have been in other media in an attempt to challenge habit, but the core focus is simple. When asked why he didn’t explore color in his photographs, my brother replied “I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of black and white.” Centuries of graphite drawings indicate that this work barely begins to exhaust the possibilities.

The word “poem” has its origins in ancient Greek as a term for something made, but usually in relation to words: a fiction. The relationship, therefore, between the poet and the architect in terms of what they do is a strong one. A poet is a “maker.” The architect makes. Both use a language (the poet: words; the architect: lines, tones, models, pixels) to call into existence that which is not there.

“There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language.”
-Edgar Allen Poe

What is there to say? When the drawings are at their best, there is nothing to say.

(Originally posted on 2009-02-09)

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