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2004 Drawing in its Broadest Sense

In 2004, David Hockney and Allen Jones, the organisers of that year’s Summer Exhibition, made a statement that contrived to be simultaneously deeply conservative and extraordinarily radical. They designated drawing as the overall theme of the Exhibition, and, in contravention of the established practice of mixing media promiscuously, devoted two galleries solely to drawings, a riposte to what they perceived as a marginalisation of the practice in British art school curricula. The epigraph for the commemorative publication, Royal Academy Illustrated, was Ingres’ pronouncement, “Drawing is the true test of art”.1

Explore the 2004 catalogue

Many of the nearly 160 works installed in the densely hung space of Gallery VI were unconventional in their use of media, and Hockney and Jones, strategically and controversially, showcased a significant number of works by non-professional artists. These included the fashion designers Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen, the dancer Michael Clark, the England Rugby Coach Sir Clive Woodward (who contributed a sketch mapping out team strategy for the Six Nations Italy versus England game), the film-maker Alan Parker, and the eminent cardiothoracic surgeon Francis Wells, who cites Leonardo’s anatomical drawings as a critical tool for his surgical practice. Wells’ main contribution was particularly compelling: Swab Drawing, a video made by the artist Jane Prophet recording him drawing with a scalpel with his patient’s blood while undertaking heart surgery, which accompanied a group of working drawings made with biro pen (Fig. 2).2 Wells, famously, is a passionate advocate of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings; he has used them extensively to understand the operations of the human heart, and argues for the centrality of drawing as a practice for education and research in the field of medicine. The video was ex-catalogue, however, as if to underscore the work’s outsider status even in such an eclectic and non-canonical installation. These artists’ drawings were flanked by those of professional artists, both Royal Academicians and non-RAs, including Peter Blake, Bernard Dunstan, Tracey Emin, and Gavin Turk.

Figure 2

Francis Wells and Jane Prophet, Swab Drawing, 2003, video, 2 minutes 24 seconds . Collection of Jane Prophet. (All rights reserved).

The idea of focusing on drawing seems to have been Jones’. According to the minutes of Council for October 2003, the artist referred to a “suggestion” that he had made at the Academy’s traditional “Incoming/Outgoing” Council meeting, which was not minuted, and Edith Devaney the Head of the Summer Exhibition has confirmed that the idea “very much” originated with Jones.3 Hockney, however, claimed that his contribution to the Exhibition was his proposal that the gallery walls be painted with a stone colour instead of the usual white, a novelty that stimulated much comment. Given his extraordinary skill as a draughtsman, his passionate and sustained engagement with the medium (he has said, “I’ve always drawn—what else is there to do?”),4 and his extensive investigations into the role mechanical drawing devices such as the camera lucida have played in artistic production, Hockney’s disavowal seems either excessively modest or even somewhat disingenuous.

Jones noted,

We thought we should include drawing in its broadest sense in the show, people who happen to draw as part of their creative process but who aren’t under the umbrella of fine art. I didn’t know quite how to go about it. I told the art historian Martin Kemp about it and he was very enthusiastic and really set me off by giving me names, mainly from the scientific world. Almost without exception, everyone I’ve rung up has been totally smitten with the thing. It touched a nerve. My view is that, after speaking and singing, it must have been the most ancient form of communication there is.5

The installation did indeed touch a nerve. It was received with scepticism by some critics, including the late Brian Sewell, whose excoriating Evening Standard critique was headed “Old Buffers with a Talent for Publicity”, but others, including Geraldine Bedell, recognised that the show drew attention, if inadvertently, to the lack of clarity about the Academy’s purpose and identity.6 I would argue that Jones’ (and Hockney’s) intervention was radical, an assertion of the primacy of drawing in artistic practice, its function as a tool for critical thinking, and a challenge to accepted notions of artists’ professional status that speaks to fundamental questions regarding hierarchies of media that were vigorously debated at the Academy from the institution’s inception.

In 1772, the General Assembly passed a law which stated: “That persons who only exhibit Drawings cannot be admitted as Candidates for Associates.” What constituted a “drawing” was not made explicit, but as Greg Smith has suggested, the rule was likely intended to exclude artisanal practitioners, and was initially uncontroversial, since watercolour had not yet become an established medium for artists.7 With the emergence of professional watercolourists in the 1790s, however, the exclusion of the dedicated draughtsman became contentious, compounded by the poor display conditions for drawings, and in 1804, a group of defiant watercolourists broke with the Academy by founding the Society of Painters in Watercolours. Although architectural designs, sketches, and preparatory studies were exhibited, they were typically either critiqued or ignored, raising further questions about the status and function of drawings.8 Architects’ submissions were often critiqued, provoking the perceptive pseudonymous critic “Philo-Architectus”, to argue in his review of the 1776 Exhibition that they should be evaluated not “by the excellence of the drawing, but by that design’s being or supposed to be carried into execution.”9 As Catherine Croft noted in a provocative article published in Building Design that was stimulated by the 2004 Exhibition, there continues to be lack of clarity as to whether the exhibited architects’ drawings should be evaluated as autonomous works of art or the “tools of the trade”.10 

In 1942, as a result of protracted debate, the Royal Academy Council voted to establish the category of “Draughtsman” for Academicians, and Edward Bawden was the first, admitted four years later.11 The Academy’s current rules specify that of the eighty Academicians, there must be at least fourteen sculptors, fourteen architects, and eight printmakers, but no such stipulation exists for draughtsmen, perhaps implying an inferior status for drawing. Rebecca Salter, who was elected in 2014, has noted of her practice “I’m really about drawing”, but she is always referred to as a printmaker.12

Despite the intense critical debate that Jones’ and Hockney’s exhibition generated, the outcome, institutionally, seems to have been negligible, but for me it remains a highly significant gesture, raising pressing issues regarding the central role of drawing in artistic and other professional practices, as well as questions of professional identity and the hierarchies of medium, both at the Academy and in the art world today—vital concerns with which organisers of the Summer Exhibition continue to engage productively.

  1. Allen Jones with David Hockney (eds), Royal Academy Illustrated 2004 (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2004), title page.↩︎

  2. Wells often makes instructional drawings for his students during surgeries, wielding his forceps rather than pen and blood in lieu of ink or wash, but the sketches must be destroyed after the operation is completed.↩︎

  3. I am grateful to Mark Pomeroy for supplying this information, email communication, 30 June 2016.↩︎

  4. Jonathan Brown, “Two Old Classmates and the Modern Art of Exhibitionism”, The Independent, 5 June 2004, (accessed 23 March 2017).↩︎

  5. Allen Jones and David Hockney, “Top Drawers”, The Guardian, 26 May 2004, (accessed 21 September 2016).↩︎

  6. Evening Standard, 4 June 2004, Brian Sewell, “Old Buffers with a Talent for Publicity; David Hockney and Allen Jones, Organizers of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, have been far more Concerned with Attracting Attention Than Vetting the Quality of the Art on Show”, Evening Standard, 5 June 2004, (accessed 20 September 2016); Geraldine Bedell, “What is the Point of the Royal Academy?”, The Guardian, 23 May 2004, (accessed 20 September 2016).↩︎

  7. Greg Smith, “Watercolourists and Watercolours at the Royal Academy, 1780–1836”, in David H. Solkin (ed.), Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House, 1780–1836 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 190.↩︎

  8. Richard Sha, The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania 1998).↩︎

  9. Nicholas Savage, “Exhibiting Architecture: Strategies of Representation in English Architectural Exhibition Drawings, 1760–1836”, in David H. Solkin (ed.), Art on the Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House, 1780–1836 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 201.↩︎

  10. Catherine Croft, “Drawing no Conclusions”, Building Design, 11 June 2004 (accessed 19 September 2016).↩︎

  11. Sidney C. Hutchinson, The History of the Royal Academy, 1768–1986, 2nd edn (London, Robert Royce, 1986), 182.↩︎

  12. Gillian Forrester, “From Without to Within”, in Gillian Forrester (ed.), Rebecca Salter: Into the Light of Things (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 23.↩︎

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Explore the 2004 catalogue