May 28, 2024

Andrew Marr on drawing and strokes at @foyles

Andrew Marr on drawing? Isn’t he the political journalist?

Like thousands of people Andrew Marr draws. Unlike thousands of people Marr is a BBC journalist and writer with several successful books and TV programmes behind him. No doubt that helped when pitching ‘A short book about drawing’ to publishers, as he is not and does not claim to be a professional artist or critic. But as he said in a talk at Foyles bookshop, ordinary people have drawn for years. From the first cave-women’s drawings on rock to the doodle in the exercise book we have all drawn. Our world currently celebrates baking and gardening, and he feels that drawing should receive some of this adulation. Why should there be a coterie of art world insiders who are the only people who can talk about art?

Since suffering a stroke in early 2013 Marr walks with a stick and has difficulty with the left side of his body. It was drawing that helped him recover and rediscover his identity. His school art teacher ‘Arty Baxter’ encouraged him to apply to Edinburgh Art College and not having done so appears to be something of a regret. Nevertheless he has always drawn, and it was returning to this essential part of himself, which he regards in the same way as others may see ‘prayer or music-making’ that he found happiness.

Having survived a stroke Marr is more aware than most of ‘the happy miracle of being alive’.  Drawing allows him to study the world with total concentration, and he believes it provides something of the praise that he misses out on as an atheist.

Marr points out two legitimate issues with the art world. It has become corrupted by money and mimics religion. Many people appear more awed and quiet in galleries than cathedrals. It has its own high priests who welcome people in – and if you’re not in their club then you are merely a ‘crass amateur’. Bryan Sewell called his book an ‘impertinence’, but it has had a better review from the head of drawing at the RCA who praised it as ‘not full of the same boring old shit.’

Marr hopes to encourage people to draw, and to realise that no matter what society says ‘we are not what we buy or where we shop’. He admits his own work is mainly ‘conventionally pretty views,’ usually of the English landscape. Asked how the stroke had affected his drawing he mused on a quote from his friend David Hockney, who told him ‘Painting is an old man’s game’. Many painters’ best work is done as they age, which cannot be said for novelists and poets. Linking this to the physicality of art, he had noticed that as each mark was physically harder to make, he was more sparing, more thoughtful since his own mobility had decreased.

Like Hockney he has also experimented with drawing on iPads. But he had a warning. ‘Backup!’ He had forgotten his password and lost over 500 drawings when forced to return the device to factory settings. Email them to yourself if necessary, just get them off the iPad.

Art therapy was an important part of Marr’s recovery. He believes that everyone draws, until they go to school and are told they are no good. No one told the Victorians they couldn’t draw and some of them drew superbly. Maybe that talent is still latent within the population. If so Marr wants to bring it to the fore.

I think there might be a TV series coming…

Buy A short book about drawing

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