Marion Richardson and the Crab's Claw

A. D. Campbell
1978, Vol. 11, No. 1,

Abstract


When Marion Richardson began her work, art teaching was suffering from the tyranny of the 'object'. In the year 1908 she gained a scholarship to Birmingham School of Art, then under the direction of R. Catterson-Smith, although some years went past before she was actually taught by him. She spent most of her time drawing crab's claws, bathroom taps, umbrellas, ivy leaves and antique casts and her future did not seem very bright. Indeed, she was faced with the prospect of taking a job in a school herself and teaching recurrent generations of children to draw crab's claws, bathroom taps, umbrellas, ivy leaves and antique casts, and all for what? The reason for all this drawing was not clear to her, and furthermore the experience of drawing in that way had little to do with her experience of art.

A letter she received from C.F.A. Voysey some years later must have summed up for her the attitude that drawing was concerned with making likenesses of dead forms, for in it he said: ";The diagrams of dissected flowers and leaves, representing their real form, such as we see in pressed leaves and petals, is the most stimulating to the creative faculty of any exercise I know";.1. The words 'their real form' should be stressed here for they suggest the presence of a belief in nature as choatic and imperfect, while somehow masking an ordered reality which can be discovered through laboratory studies. According to this view, a flower's reality can best be seen when it has been dissected, and a scientifically accurate drawing will capture this essence.

It was the 'object' that dictated what was to be drawn, and when the drawing was completed, it was the 'object' that was used to judge the success Qf' the drawing. If it had been made accurately, then this indicated that the student was a skilled draughtsman. Skill itself was seen almost as if it was something that existed outside the student, as the object did; he had to reach out and take it in to himself. The student brought very little of himself to this process. He was seen as empty, needing to be filled with skill in drawing, a skill that was acquired by diligent application to preliminary exercises concerned with umbrellas and crab claws. Even when he had acquired a degree of skill it was still as if he needed to be filled with the external object before he could put an image down onto paper.


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