What is an automatic drawing?


Far be it from me to pronounce on what constitutes an 'automatic drawing' and its value as 'art', but do you think this person actually sells any? Note that she's not even selling the originals, just Epson-produced prints! Frankly, I think anyone can produce a scribble on a piece of paper and own an original straight away. Is that what some people regard as 'automatic drawing'?

An automatic drawing is the absolute antithesis of illustration, since one does not see what one is drawing until it has been drawn. It requires a practiced pen-hand and an ability to attain at will an essentially vacuous state of mind, that can be sustained for the duration of the drawing. Those who have read Austin Osman Spare will realise there is much in common between automatic drawing and sigil creation, which is why a true automatic drawing can be talismanic (Spare and Carter wrote an essay entitled Automatic drawing, and Spare's 'Book of Pleasure' expands on what he meant by 'obsessions'). Attaining vacuity seems difficult, until it is realised it is easy, again through long practice. It is the same with wuwei, it takes a long time to learn to do nothing properly. As in martial arts, it is acting from the centre.

While a piece of scribble could be called an automatic drawing, even with scribble there is ability and lack of it. Running grass-script Chinese calligraphy, for instance, has the appearance of scribble, but done by a master it has vibrancy, it has bokki. A single pen line can have that energy, but a single pen line by itself is not an automatic drawing. The line has not been 'taken for a walk', as Paul Klee put it. If you are successful you are unlikely to be drawing trees and cars and houses (at least not in any expected sense) but rather giving form to things more deeply unconscious, things that suggest but defy recognition, that are more things than one, and may even be drawn upside down, but only from one momentary fixed standpoint upon the material. The difficulty in getting a fix on what the automatic drawing actually is is what ultimately fascinates. There is an interaction with the mind that is not broken by the release of identification, since it comes from somewhere quite unreachable, and in our attempt to reach toward it it takes us off balance just slightly. Such, at least, is what I look for in an automatic drawing. (For examples of my own work see my automatic drawing journal and paintings.)