We have had our first drawing workshop here at Medical Museion.
Three staff members — Anni, Camilla and Nanna — participated in a group drawing workshop. The specimen we drew is an example of bones of the middle ear mounted in a magnifying glass and placed on a small wooden plinth. It comes from the Ibsen-Mackesprangske collection made between 1824 and 1836 and was taken from a collection made of inner ear bones of 55 deaf people at the Danish Deaf Institute. This object forms part of the collection chosen for the ‘6 ting og sager’ exhibition, which opened last Friday (see presentation in Danish here).
The object was placed in the centre of the table. Anni and Camilla sat on one side and Nanna and I sat opposite. All three drew more than two or three drawings on one piece of paper. All found that the object was complicated but the more they looked the more they were able to visually unravel it. It became apparent that the intricate network of bones were not the only focal point. Although all three participants presumed that the ear bones would be the main thing they observed, all began to also draw the magnifying glass in which thery are mounted. The mount and stand that contain the bones became of equal importance and a key part of the object and their experience of it. Initially it was overlooked through the activity of drawing it they soon realised it was a relevant part of the artefact.
Nanna became the most frustrated as she realized after some time she had not observed the object in front of her. Having already spent so much time with the object in the context of conserving it, she thought she already knew everything about it. But she admitted she was ’drawing from a photograph of it in her head’. This is a common occurrance where people draw what they think an object looks like rather than how it actually appears to them when they are looking at it. Assumptions are made and the specificity of each object and each person’s experience of that object become replaced by memories of what they think it looks like.
Having spent a great deal of time with her head bowed in concentration drawing a detailed remembered representation of the object, Nanna moved positions and spent time looking at the object and drawing again from a different angle. Then she saw the object she knew so well with ’fresh eyes’ and was amazed by the new detail and insight she saw. Her drawing demonstrates how she saw the whole object and experienced it as a new artefact rather than in the fragments she pieced together from her remembered past experiences.
Time spent drawing and looking also benefitted Anni and Camilla. Anni’s alterations to her lines reveal her journey of seeing and understanding what she sees and Camilla’s three drawings demonstrate her understanding as she became more aware of the shape of the handle and the reflections on the glass.
Once they forgot to concern themselves so much with how the drawing looked and spent time looking at the object and tried to visually understand it, they made drawings that showed detail and clearer understanding and apprectiation of the object.
Feelings about the resulting drawings were varied but the view that all who participated appreciated the object, learned new things about it and gained respect for something that could have been overlooked.