The Last Word

By Scott Sherk
Professor of Art
Head of Department


Last year, the studio art faculty gathered to discuss the fundamental element of our art and their program—drawing. We noticed that more of us were teaching an increasing number of students the art of drawing, and wanted to take stock in what we were teaching and how. Each of the five-member studio art faculty teaches drawing in different ways ultimately directed toward the same goal— to investigate the visual world through careful observation of what we see and how we see it. The importance of this simple thing— vision— to education and the arts is enormous.

An artist controls vision in the manner in which a musician controls sound. Developing the eye to see in a sensitive and lucid manner is like a musician developing his or her ear to hear pitch and tone. Ideas, concepts and personal expression aside, if one can’t play in tune, then the music won’t sing. Similarly, to make art that is visually musical, one must develop a sensitive and disciplined manner of seeing.

When first beginning to draw, one is struck by how differently the visual world is from what one assumes. Drawing requires a breaking down of visual assumptions and a rebuilding through careful observation and confirmation. Drawing teaches us that the world is not always what it seems, and that all things exist in relationship to one another. Observing the world changes it, bringing a deeper understanding of our role in our perceptions and understanding our world. Drawing encapsulates the liberal arts as a process for learning and as an attitude towards life.

With this in mind, the art department has begun to concentrate on drawing as our central activity. Last fall, we began a series of Special Topics courses in drawing to be offered each fall. The first was Special Topics: Drawing from the Figure. Designed for introductory and advanced students, this studio concentrated on the human figure — a subject that dates back to the beginning of art. Next fall, we will offer Special Topics: Drawing from Art. This course will be our first joint venture with the Allentown Art Museum. We will shuttle students to the AAM’s downtown galleries to draw directly from the masters, old and new. Students will have the opportunity to interpret art as they study the techniques of chiaroscuro, perspective and proportion.

Given our renewed interest in drawing, the art department has made efforts to bring drawing into the Martin Art Gallery. This fall, in coordination with The Birds of Armenia exhibition of drawings and illustrations for biology professor Dr. Dan Klem’s book, we built a bird-blind in the galleria and populated it with stuffed birds from the College’s collection. Students, families, staff and faculty were found sitting at the blind with binoculars, drawing the birds.

Additionally, Kevin Tuttle, lecturer in art, and I were invited to exhibit in the Martin Art Gallery this winter. Together, we decided to take the unusual step of exhibiting our drawings and studies along with new work. Mixing figure drawings with abstract sculptures and paintings, we demonstrated the importance of vision as a subject in our research and art. Having made art for several decades, we both return often to drawing and vision.

Muhlenberg College has a terrific collection of prints, drawings and graphic materials, known as the Tonner Collection. This collection includes masterworks by Rembrandt, Durer, Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Goya and Edward Hopper among its more than 1500 works of art. The art department is working with the gallery to make these works more accessible to students and scholars. What better experience for a student of drawing than to hold a Rembrandt master etching in one’s own hands to inspect closely?


Tom Wargacki '06 contemplates his work in a drawing class.

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