Opening Up the Space of Drawing: Lines and the Locus of Creation in Architectural Design, #1.

Mr Nemo
7 min readJun 17, 2024

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By Otto Paans

“Architectural sketches” (Author, 2022)

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Introduction: Opening Up the Space of Drawing Again

2. Structure and Argument

3. The Representational Paradigm: Three Basic Assumptions About Drawing by Hand

4. Entering the Space of Drawing: The Performative Paradigm

4.1 From neutral surface to inhabited topos

4.2. From traces to situated figurations

4.3. From lines-as-marks to lines-as-processes

5. Conclusion: The Locus of Creation Explored

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The essay that follows will be published in six installments; this, the first installment, contains section 1.

But you can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text of this essay, including the REFERENCES, by scrolling down to the bottom of this post and clicking on the Download tab.

An earlier version of this essay was previously published as (Paans, 2024a), except for the Introduction, which was written specifically for APP.

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Opening Up the Space of Drawing: Lines and the Locus of Creation in Architectural Design

One of the most destructive effects of the mechanistic worldview (see, e.g., Hanna and Paans, 2020), is that our thinking about cultural activities and techniques has been reduced to scientific, materialist explanations. Art, myth, tradition, animism, and imagination have been reduced to topics that require an explanation in empirical, reductionist, materialist/physicalist, and functional terms. The development of the modern sciences from the late 18th century onward provided us with a worldview in which the unexplained is regarded as a territory that grows smaller by the day, and that contains all the myths, superstitions, naïve beliefs, wild fantasies, and unexamined fallacies that the light of mechanistic Reason would dispel and explain away. The sleep of Reason may breed monsters, but the exacting omnipresence of mechanistic Reason flattens out the world, diminishing its lived and experiential aspects.

And so, the science of mind, including the study of consciousness, became cognitive neuroscience; the science of mental health became psychopathology; the arts became psychological aesthetics; and questions of existential meaning and morality became the province of ethics boards. Imagination was cast as “the manipulation of mental imagery,” creativity became “problem-solving,” and communication became “exchanging information,” while finding our way around in the world became “decision theory.”

There is something deeply wrong with this reductionist, functionalist picture. Simply put, it amounts to superimposing a scientistic research agenda on the fullness of human life itself, thereby constraining the range of thoughts, feelings, and actions that are deemed acceptable to make sense of the situations we encounter. However, the situations we encounter in science, arts, politics, and culture grow more complex by the day, and so the mechanistic worldview has to do more and more explanatory work, a task to which it is as yet spectacularly ill-equipped. The reason for this failure is that the sciences have their proper place in the rational human condition, but they cannot be used, without disaster, to be “the measure of all things,” and to dominate all other frameworks of thought.

Moreover, we inherited a certain conception of what it means to do science: it amounts to believing in a deeply materialist/physicalist world-picture and the mechanistic worldview. But anyone who compares the range of scientific ideas and theories from the late 19th and early 20th century with those from a hundred years later can only conclude that our scientific understanding has narrowed and has become increasingly less imaginative. Yes, we have digital technology now; yes, we now know more about quantum mechanics than we did; yes, there have been advances in medicine. But the foundations for these advances were all laid over a century ago. And so have the tenets of the accompanying mechanistic worldview. Fundamentally, we are just building on foundations that have been in place for a long time without asking whether we are actually constructing the right type of building.

We could raise a similar point when it comes to the discipline of psychology. If one takes a look at the late 19th century theories regarding human development, the mind, and the life of the mind as well as its relationship to existentialist questions, we find that these theories were far more variegated and generalist than the conceptual frameworks that we use now. Gestalt psychology, anthroposophy, early psychoanalysis, Husserlian phenomenology, Lebensphilosophie, and Martin Buber’s mystical theory of person-to-person relationality all dealt with the life of the mind in broader and far more imaginative terms than we’re currently using. Granted, not all of these theories were true, or even useful — some of them were even outright fraudulent. But the tapestry of discourse was much thicker, much richer, much more generalist, and much less reductive.

The notorious case of psychoanalysis and the plethora of misguided ideas that it spawned is often held up as a deterrent: do not leave the secure path of empirical psychology, for there be dragons! But when these complaints come from practitioners working in a discipline that faces such a serious replication crisis, we would do well to take these admonitions with a grain of salt. Psychology today is busy prescribing drugs to deal with any number of mental health issues that its impoverished, reductive framework cannot deal with. Indeed, Ritalin, painkillers, and antidepressants are some of the best-selling prescription drugs. Do these modern treatment protocols aid our understanding of the human mind? Not at all. We identified a number of buttons to push when we would like to make changes, but our fundamental understanding remains ultimately shallow.

Another area in which rampant reductionism and flat-footed functionalism have taken over is in the realm of cultural practices (Kulturpraktiken). Examples are handicrafts, food traditions, and annual festivals like Carnival, but equally practices that we nowadays categorize as “fine arts,” like drawing, painting, sculpting, or dancing. While there is much interesting work that investigates the role of these artistic techniques in therapeutic settings, the professional academic discourse about them is often caught up in the conceptual frameworks that emerged after the Second World War, and that once again betray their mechanistic tendencies.

A particularly poignant case that I’ll focus on here, is the practice of hand drawing in the design disciplines. What I will call “the representational paradigm” is in fact an attempt reductively to explain away what happens when we draw. The terms used to make sense of the drawing process are so one-sidedly taken from the Logical Positivist or Empiricist tradition and its expository ideal of communicative clarity, that any interesting contribution that could potentially be made by such an approach is prevented from the get-go. Instead, the design sciences took a tortuous detour through the “cold bath of scientization” before emerging as an autonomous discipline that had to be understood on its own terms (Bonsiepe, 2003). If hand drawing is just visual representation, then why is it so important for creative thinking, especially in the design disciplines and the fine and applied arts? And if it uses the imagination rather than linguistic structures, how do we make sense of this process on its own terms? What is the relation between bodily movement and the development of thought? Such questions were long pushed to the cognitive periphery, because they sat uncomfortably within the prevailing mechanistic paradigm, and therefore were difficult or even impossible to investigate within that paradigm.

Correspondingly, in this essay I propose retracing our steps and opening up the discursive field again. The first task when thinking about hand drawing (or any cultural practice, for that matter) is to step out of the mechanistic cage in which the modern sciences have maneuvered us. We require different terms to think and speak about cultural practices, broadening our referential horizon. In doing so, we must learn to appreciate a radically different viewpoint than the one we’re used to, and which we’re conditioned to regard as true-by-stipulation. Doing so means overcoming and replacing the thought-shapers that pre-structure the discourse of what it means to make sense of cognitive processes in the first place (see, e.g., Hanna and Paans, 2021). In order to do this, I will make three claims that seems rather strange from our modern scientific and reductionist way of thinking about creativity. First, a drawing surface is a topos or habitat of ideas. Second, we do not draw representations, but figurations; Third, lines are not marks but processes. Jointly, these claims represent an organicist and processual approach toward hand drawing practices. It allows for thinking about hand drawing as an essentially embodied cognitive process but does so in terms that supplements and situates the mechanistic paradigm. I do not wish to belittle the progress that has been achieved by using empirical studies, or the advances that it made in trying to explain certain creative or cultural phenomena. As such, the challenge is not to remove the mechanistic worldview, but instead to situate it properly in organic fundamental reality. This means that the mechanistic worldview cannot play the role of dominant root metaphor any longer but has instead to content itself with a limited explanatory role against a fully organicist background. As all mechanist explanations are just systematic abstractions from an essentially richer reality, these explanations cannot be regarded as ultimate grounds. They provide a “principle of sufficient reason,” but that is where their role stops. The resulting hybrid picture will — I believe — be more comprehensive, more imaginative, and ultimately more appreciative of our fully human capacities. It will situate the mechanistic framework of thinking into a richer biotope of thought and will allow it to play the role it is designed and suited to fulfil.

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.