The Difference Between Drawings and Paintings
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The Difference Between Drawings and Paintings

A complex relationship exists between drawings and paintings. They share many fundamental similarities, but have developed along very different lines, especially with regards to realism versus abstraction. However, the rise of digital media has once again blurred the boundaries between them.

A complex relationship exists between drawings and paintings. They share many fundamental similarities, but have developed along very different lines, especially with regards to realism versus abstraction. However, the rise of digital media has once again blurred the boundaries between them.

They both involve using an instrument to make marks on flat surfaces. However, in the case of drawings, the marking instrument is the stylus/pencil/etc. itself. In the case of paintings, the mark comes from the pigment which is applied via the brush/fingers/etc. Therefore, it is no wonder that some techniques and criteria are common to both art forms.

In Chinese art, the distinction between drawings and paintings can be said to be even blurrier than in Western art due to the particular circumstances under which Chinese painting developed. This is because, in China, the same brush, ink and paper used in writing and sketching are also the basic tools of a painter. It is true that the painter has many different kinds of brushes at his disposal. However, the Western distinction that separates painting and drawing by virtue of the tools used in each art form does not exist.

A good painter and a good draughtsman will have much in common. Both must be able to break the desired image they wish to convey into component marks, and then have sufficient control of their tools in order to translate those marks onto a flat medium. They both benefit from understanding principles of composition, light and balance—even if their personal vision is based on the deliberate violation of these principles.

However, we may say that paintings and drawings have developed along starkly different lines, especially over the past two centuries. Paintings appear to have drawn further and further away from representation or portrayal of concrete objects and figures, while drawings (or their kindred art forms like engravings and cartoons) remain firmly grounded in realism. In other words, there are many famous abstract paintings, but it is very difficult to name an abstract drawing, or even picture how one might look like.

One notices something held in common by the Impressionists, Pointillists, Fauvists and other artists who gradually helped pry painting away from strict realism: their paintings rely largely on effects unique to the medium of paint. This is particularly true of the paintings of Jackson Pollock, whose works exemplify full-blown abstraction. In his works, paint is thrown, splattered and poured onto the canvas. One simply cannot do such things with pencil lead, silverpoint or other tools used for drawings. We can almost say that the colors and consistency of paint suit it for works in which form itself conveys meaning, without specific reference to the “real world.” Drawings, for a variety of reasons, have taken a very different path and remained almost entirely representative.

So far, we have talked of drawing and painting as separable art forms. However, the emergence of digital art is making it more difficult to draw strict distinctions between drawings and paintings, or even drawings and (virtual) sculptures. An artist with 3-D software can scan drawings into his/her computer—or draw directly into the computer using a mouse or tablet—then turn the drawing into a virtual two-or-three-dimensional object or figure. These ever-shifting boundaries introduce exciting new possibilities for categorizing, exhibiting and appreciating art.

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