Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Drawing the walk

Following on from my last post, one of the basic similarities among certain non-western drawing traditions, children's drawings, and cartographic mapping, is the idea of contour. Instead of drawing what the subject looks like, the drawer traces an outline of the subject. This can be the cast shadow of a silhouette, the decorated outline of a dream animal in aboriginal bark painting, the most basic outline of a child's drawing, or the bounding of a political or other territory.

The biggest difference between this mode of drawing and "visual drawing" whether that be from a Chinese, European, or other tradition, is that the drawer is not drawing what he or she sees, but is interpreting from that view-field picking out discrete objects, recognizing and repeating their tactile contour. Certainly there are visual clues of overlap and especially of stereoscopic perspective, but the visual field itself is all about light and shadow, saturation, hue, and so forth. This other kind of drawing is about the tactile reality of the thing itself.

A map of a territory, then, is not a drawing of what we see, it is a record of a measurement. As a silhouette traces the profile of a face, as the chalk mark at a crime scene traces the contour of a body, so a drawn boundary is at root record of the land as it is walked across. A map is a drawing not of the seen, but of the traversed.

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