This paper draws on research exploring, through drawing, relationships between the experimental tools of art and those in selected sciences. It asks whether the (often unseen and under-researched) function of the sketchbook as a tool of artistic enquiry might be explored and understood better through the paradigms of the scientific experiment.
At first glance, received ideas about the sketchpad would seem to resonate with established writing on the experiment which emphasise the subjective, aesthetic, contingent and open-ended characteristics of scientific experimentation: ‘ a generator of surprises’( Hoagland, 1990); ‘relations we seem to sense before we can clearly demonstrate them’(Rhineberger 1997); or ‘concepts in flux’ (Elkana 1970). Elsewhere, the presentation of scientists as ‘bricoleurs’ (Rheinberger, 1997) resembles recent descriptions of the activities of artist–researcher ( Stewart 2008, Petherbridge 2008).
The studio sketchpad is explored here using these frameworks appropriated from science studies, starting from the notion of the ‘epistemic thing’ (Rheinberger 1997): the provisional, the yet unimaginable. How might these apparent parallels aid understanding of what is often presented as the most honest, intimate and unseen artistic activity (e.g. Parshall 2008, Newman 2003, Cotter 2001)? What might it reveal about the sensuous knowledge, the slippage, the searching, the ‘failure’, fragmentation and resistance to resolution of sketchbook drawing? Or, are these parallels with scientific experimentation merely superficial, based more on a projected ideal than actuality? If the scientific model is insufficient for articulating the contemporary studio sketchpad, why? What might this dialogue with science reveal that otherwise slips through the net in received ideas about how sketchbooks do or should function? Ultimately, how then do we begin to address, study and articulate this elision?
These questions are explored through specific examples from a range of sources including the author’s own books generated during the research project.