The benefits of copying

July 25 2022

Image of The benefits of copying

Picture: The Times

The Times' new chief art critic, Laura Freeman, has written about the benefits of not just looking at art, but copying it, even with a simple pencil drawing. She went to meet one of the National Gallery's art handlers, Tom Hemming, who sketches the Gallery's masterpieces in his lunch break:

Copying used to be the foundation stone of an artistic education. Pupils copied busts, plaster casts and the works of men who came before. The 20th century put a premium on creativity, self-expression and originality and the copy fell from favour. Derivative, slavish, stale? Not necessarily. The National Gallery’s exhibition Picasso Ingres: Face to Face shows just how inventive a copy can be. Picasso’s Woman with a Book is an outrageous reworking of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Madame Moitessier. (“Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal,” said the quip master Picasso.)

Hemming describes the teaching at Byam Shaw as “quite . . . conceptual”. Many graduates from art school in the last 50 years would say the same. What then does copying give an artist? “Basic drawing skills,” Hemming says, “but probably even more, looking. It’s quite hard to sit for long enough in front of a painting to look as intently as you’d want to look to gain everything you’d want to gain without working through it. Drawing allows you to do that.”

More here.


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