Learning to Draw:
Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art

Ann Bermingham

Publicaton Date
May 2000
Standard Number
Yale University Press
316 pages

As early as the sixteenth century, drawing in England came to be seen as something more than an activity exclusive to artists; it became a polite and useful art, a practice of everyday life. This generously illustrated book explores the social and cultural processes that enabled drawing to emerge as an amateur pastime, as well as the meanings that drawing had for people who were not artists. Ann Bermingham shows how the history of drawing in England, from the age of Elizabeth I to the era of early photography, mirrored changes in society, politics, the practical world, and notions of self. The book examines how drawing intersected with a wide range of social phenomena, from political absolutism, writing, empirical science, and Enlightenment pedagogy to nationalism, industrialism, tourism, bourgeois gentility, and religious instruction. Bermingham discusses the central role of drawing and the visual arts in Renaissance debates about government and self-government, then considers the relations between seventeenth-century drawing, natural science, and the masculine ideal of the honest gentleman. She also investigates landscape drawing in the context of eighteenth-century views on sensibility; the emergence of the amateur draftsman and the accomplished woman; and the commercialisation of amateur drawing in the nineteenth century. The book concludes with a discussion of the impact of photography on the social practice of drawing.