Friday, July 19, 2019

Links to the book and other related comments from readers of the book

Link to book
Jerry Saltz took an exercise from the copy I sent him and posted it on Twitter sans attribution: click on Mar 19 below to see the image he stole(he got 55 likes)

From Alix Bailey:One of the last times I visited him in his studio he showed me your book.
probably needs some fine tuning but to be on the other side is rather exciting after 10 years of writing editing gettin permissions for reproduction etc.

A thorough review from James Sundquist a painter in RI:

 This text is a great treatise on drawing and its roots in perception. I felt the book operates on many levels that makes it an accessible and useful text to many. A large portion of the book is more or less a course designed by Mr. Mugar on how to train a student's eye and how to translate that into drawing. The progression of drawing exercises is rooted in a vigorous study of perceptual theory and history, which grounds the drawing process into something concrete that anyone can learn. Drawing is not about learning how to draw, its about learning how to SEE.

For the beginner, this offers a very specific course one can follow to begin to develop and train their perceptual and consequently, their drawing faculties. For someone more advanced, or for the mature artist, it offers a great refresher on seeing and making to reintegrate into their practice. For the teacher, this offers a step-by-step course in drawing one could deploy over the course of a semester. There is also lots of interesting art historical anecdotes that relate the development of drawing and painting to parallel discoveries in the sciences.

All in all a good read and a good practical text to have in the studio or classroom.

from MIKE ANANIAN professor of art at UNC-G

This fine Sunday I have been able to smell the roses: with coffee by my side and a little time to relax, I sat and read more of your book on drawing.  Although I have only read as far as chapter 2, I just had to pause to exclaim that I'm deeply impressed with your insights about the relationship of value and line and the physiological functions of the seeing, visual cognition, etc. versus the intellectual and aesthetic.  I must confess, with my beginning students measurement by way of  line and the distinction and discernment of planes, again using line instead of value contrasts, has been my teaching method.  Your book has already challenged me to reconsider my approach not only in my teaching of drawing but also how I begin a painting in my studio.  It's a wonderful book.  I just wanted to let you know that.  When I finish it, I'll review it enthusiastically on Amazon!

Mark Stone does a nice summary of the book on twitter

here is MARKS first response:

Hi Martin - I've put together a post for your book which I plan to post on Saturday morning on Henri. I really enjoyed the reading and I think you've done a wonderful job putting together an interesting and useful "handbook" for artists! I also enjoyed your history through art and how that informed the construction of your "lessons" for artists. Good job, Martin!

My first response:

It dawned on me that in this book I have collated 30 years of teaching in 7 different academic settings. I was developing new exercises right to the end when I taught at NHTI in Concord,NH in 2007. On the one hand I am chagrined I had to move around so much on the other all that change helped to generate new ideas. What I found intriguing was the universality of visual intelligence.The community college students at NHTI, many of whom would transfer on to 4 year schools were the equals of Dartmouth or UNH students.

I added the following to the site on Amazon:

Perceptual theory as a basis for learning how to draw. The author describes his own development as an artist at Yale College and advanced studies at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and at Yale University where he acquired his MFA. He studied with William Bailey, Lester Johnson, Al Held, Erwin Hauer and Bernard Chaet the author of "The Art of Drawing".cThis book is deeply informed by readings in cognitive theory and personally discovered connections between drawing, painting and science. Moreover, it is shaped by 30 years of teaching at Dartmouth College, The University of New Hampshire, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the Art Institute of Boston, now part of Lesley University. The book uses images of student work, the work of the artist and that of his teachers in particular Al Held and Erwin Hauer. It is one of the few books available to the student and teacher that makes the work of the 20thc abstract painters teachable and not esoteric. Mugar sees a clear correlation in the evolution of artistic styles and the understanding of how the eye sees the world. The book is a practical textbook with explicit exercises but also a philosophical text on what art is at this point in History

From Svetlana Alpers who is an acquaintance of my sister Betty in NYC:

Dear Betty,
              Thanks for sending me  your brother's book.  I have now taken the time to read it  through.
             I share his interest in the relation between seeing and drawing/painting.           
               It is full of interesting points--  starting off with the review of David Marr in the NYRB  which was not only important for your brother but for myself and Michel Baxandall ( also mentioned in the text.) We both thrilled to Marr's discoveries and the opportunities they offered to think newly about seeing by painters and thru pictures ( as it were).  Studies of vision have moved fast since then and Marr seems a bit old-fashioned !!!
               Perhaps your brother makes too quick and firm a link between the knowledge we have about the eye and seeing and what artists do/have done-  the "lines" he posties in Cezanne do not convince me.   Baxandall, who was much concerned with the question of  vision and painting , thought  we did not know nearly enough to make the kinds of links claimed in this book.  
             There is a  kind of single-mindedness running through-- an anxiety to be or is it to do or make right.   Maybe writing thoughts out in a book is different from practice in the classroom.  I expect  your brother has been a fine teaches-- in fact his students' work and his own look good on these pages.

                                                                               ever ,  Svetlana and

 from a classmate  at Belmont Hill School Jay Paris:
Appreciate its readability and continuum of thinking and exploration. Makes me wonder what a life would have been like as a painter. Good work!
 from Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Hi Martin, Thank you very much for sending me your book, I enjoyed it and have a couple of people in mind who'd probably like to look at it.  All the best, Jeremy.

From another Yale classmate Dr Joe Knight who went on to study English literature at Harvard:
Dear Martin,

You book is a fascinating "tour de force" - a brilliant exposition of complex matters which displays exceedingly great erudition, an admirable command of the history of art from the Renaissance to the present, and a lifetime of experience both creating and teaching art.

Your writing also demonstrates that some artists can write as well as they can paint - your sinuous and commanding prose keeps the reader turning pages with excitement and unable to stop.  I doubt that there exists any short disquisition that explicates your subject with as much excitement and verve.  It is surely about time that you gave the world your concise contribution to their appreciation of the nuances of great art and the principles of teaching it to all promising students as well as a clear outline for art teachers of how to teach those students well.

If you truly mean what you wrote in your card - namely, that you may edit your book further in the future - I will venture a few minor suggestions for you to consider.  If not, then feel free to ignore them.

Firstly, your opposition between great artists' interest in seeing, their intuitive understanding of the effects of light on the eye, and the scientific study of the biology of the eye and the process of learning how light affects it, may be considered as a possibly unnecessary dualism which in its championship of art does injustice to science.

The study of the ocular mechanism was already far advanced in the time of Plato, and Aristotle championed against Plato the theory of intromission - ie. that light rays from outside the eye excited receptors from the optic nerve in the process of seeing - as opposed to the theory of extromission which proposed incorrectly that emanations from the brain to the eye created the light energy which we then perceive.

And it has been speculated that the phenomenon of the Camera obscura was known even to Paleolithic Man and was used by him in his cave paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci was an unusual example of a combined artist and scientist, and he, too, favored intromission and studied the structure of the retina as well as other parts of the biological structure of the eye.  The full structure of the optic mechanism was scientifically well advanced before Rembrandt, Vermeer, the Impressionists, Cezanne and Matisse made their visual experiments on how light can affect the production of great and even revolutionary paintings.  Galen studied the mechanism of seeing in the 2nd Century C.E., and Islamic scholars as early as Avicenna later made significant advances in the European Middle Ages.

Your book's apparent opposition between art and science, led me to review the famous debates between science and the arts & humanities, from Matthew Arnold and Thomas Huxley, to the "Two Cultures" set forth by Lord Charles Snow and refuted in an unfortunate ad hominem manner by Dr. F.R. Leavis.  In this regard, an essay by Lionel Trilling entitled "The Leavis-Snow Controversy" showed up the weaknesses of Snow's position and the inadequacy of Leavis's mean-spirited response.  But the finest exposition of this mistaken opposition between the two modes of knowing and learning is an essay by Isaiah Berlin called "The Divorce between the Sciences and Humanities."

On a more mundane level, I would simply remind you that sometimes when you refer to the "eye", perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to the "eyes", as the art and science of seeing depends not merely on a single eye, but on binocular vision which provides the viewer and the artist with both perspective and depth.  I know this from personal experience, as I have a lifelong amblyopia, and consequently lack depth vision, and this severely detracts from my ability to detect the fine points of much figurative art, and may also impair my appreciation of abstract art as well.

I will make only one more substantive comment on the overall thesis of your book.  Judging from the main part of its subject matter, perhaps a more accurate title than Drawing & Painting would be Teaching Drawing & Painting.  And in this regard, I might consider showing somewhat fewer of your own drawings and paintings (some readers may consider this practice somewhat "egotistic") and also somewhat fewer of your student paintings, especially the less successful ones, in favor of illustrating your teaching principles with the more illuminating art of the great Masters of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

By the way, as you mention Vermeer several times, I cannot recall if I have previously mentioned to you the very fine film illustrating the painting of one of his greatest works.  The film is on YouTube and is called "Girl with the Pearl Earring".

Finally, although your writing in general is brilliant and striking in its trenchency and cognitive excellence, there are of course quite a few minor grammatical errors.  I have far too much neuropathic pain to write all these small errors out in an email, but if you are really serious about someday revising your book to make it even better - though it is quite fine already - if you would send me another copy I will endeavor to mark the spots where a slight change in grammatical form might render some sentences more comprehensible.

Please don't take my minor quibbles with any seriousness.  It is in my nature as a habitual literary critic to pay undue attention to relatively unimportant matters of grammar and sentence structure.

Overall, I can only judge your book as a masterful guide to university teachers of art of how best to teach their most promising students to strive to make maximal use of their intrinsic talents.  And your own example makes a further significant point:  Rarely a great artist may also be a great art historian, an effective teacher, a major philosopher of conceptual, figurative and abstract art, and even a seminal prophet of what may become the next major stage in the development of culture.

I salute you.  You have attempted a difficult project and succeeded beyond any reasonable expectations.  A century from now your book will most likely still be read, and its principles practiced by most farsighted teachers of the next several generations of aspiring artists.  It was certainly worth it to wait till your book could be published rather than giving up because of the crassness of the publishing world.  

It is a triumph!

How proud I am of my college roommate.  How honored I am to be your friend.

Yours sincerely,



from Charles Giuliano at BFA

Mike Ananian will be posting this on the amazon site as a review of my book.

“Drawing and Painting” should be read by anyone who cares about the current state of art school education and its future.  Mr. Mugar’s treatise about visual perception and the role of 20th century modernist art theory in the education of painters is timely and relevant, much in the same way as Charles Hawthorne’s “Hawthorne on Painting,” Robert Henri’s “The Art Spirit,” Ben Shan’s “The Shape of Content,” and Frank Stella’s “Working Space” were during the time of their creation.

Mr. Mugar asserts the primacy of visual perception and seeing as the basis for constructing any kind of painting or drawing, be it abstract, non-objective, representational, perceptual, etc.  This challenges current thinking about art’s principal purpose as a mouthpiece for community-engaged political and social change that anyone who wants to engage in can.  He accurately concludes that the form-as-content issues of 20th century modernism originate in the perceptual experience of the visible world and in the visual/cognitive functions of the brain.  He makes a compelling argument that these ideas are still relevant and important if future generations of painters, curators, critics, etc. want to know how to look at and interpret painting and its history as visual experiences and not merely as arcane, sociopolitical artifacts.

Michael Ananian
Professor of Painting and Drawing
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

From Miles Hall 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Miles Hall who previously interviewed me on my painting has written a sympathetic appraisal of my book on drawing and painting

  Drawing and Painting: Perceptual theory as a basis for learning how to draw, by Martin G. Mugar  

 While Mugar never mentions the construction of cathedrals in Drawing and Painting, his approach got me thinking about what that might mean in one’s own art and teaching.    

  Humans are tremendously fickle creatures, and sometimes when things go out of style, we have a hard time seeing them for what they are.

   In April of 2019, while the world held its breath and Notre Dame burned, I couldn’t help but think of certain ironies concerning the near universal esteem – or even veneration - being expressed for that cathedral at the prospect of its loss. This in contrast with the ubiquitous scorn the structure was viewed with only two-and-a-half centuries before. In fact, the rise, fall, and rise again in the fortunes of its reputation – from the late Medieval period to the Enlightenment and through to the Romantic era - could be seen as a classic case study of the vagaries of stylistic perception over time.

    The Gothic style’s plunge into disrepute got me thinking about current trends in our perception of Modernism, whose once powerful cache has seen a significant drop in our lifetime. We tend to forget that Modernism wasn’t a monolithic movement or aesthetic, and neither was the Gothic. Rather, the modern period was a century of varying forms where a whole spate of conflicting definitions of art’s essential nature were proposed. Because of its general ideological fervor, our Postmodern eyes tend to see Modernism in hindsight as a highly controlled set of styles, ideas, and institutions. The paradoxical thing is that this race to delineate and limit the parameters of art came out of a desire for freedom from traditional, academic forms and constraints. The early Modernist’s initial impulse was the ambition to build something new from the ground up, not as groups or a collective society (that happened later,) but as individuals. 

     Martin Mugar’s book, Drawing and Painting, grows out of much of the same soil early Modernism did, i.e. the desire to build painting anew, one artist at a time, with individual human eyes. This book places the act of visual perception squarely at the center of both drawing and painting. It encourages the student to cultivate their own cognitive awareness in the act of seeing. Its underlying premise is that vision isn’t just an open window for plundering stylistic preferences or narrative material. It’s not merely a tool in the shaping of our aesthetic or conceptual inclinations, but a deeply significant, ongoing, experiential act, never ancillary. The “eye is always in the process of stabilizing the world” according to Mugar, and the very essence of drawing is grounded in “this ordering of perception.” 

     As I read this book, I was struck by the notion of someone still believing, in very strong and certain terms, that artists can truly innovate through persistent looking, analyzing and feeling. One senses there is still something of the same naive sophistication bouncing around in the author’s head that was present when painters like Monet, Matisse, Braque and Marquet first stepped out into the French countryside to re-discover painting via the observation of nature, or “nature seen through a temperament,” as Zola put it, though I’m guessing Martin might be prone to replace Zola’s use of the subjective term “temperament” with language more firmly grounded in visual function. This is because 150 years later, Mugar’s book is backed up with more cognitive and art historical data, which he mines to make a logical argument for his premise. 

     Martin’s theory emerges out of decades of experience, from both his studio work and his teaching practice. It is informed by his extensive knowledge of Art History and an intense personal interest in philosophy. Alongside this there are specific investigations into cognitive science as it relates directly to certain visual issues. Most all the details of this  knowledge stay in the background however, as Mugar offers up a series of practical exercises. These are laid out as something like arenas for the exploration of vision itself. We are given points of focus, each designed to tap into certain aspects of visual processing. Discoveries are left for the student to unearth through a visual, Socratic question and answer process. Formal issues are dealt with experientially and through looking rather than by describing a particular design concept: Drawing, cutting, collaging, finding negative shapes, using the imagination and redrawing. On the painting side, certain lighting and color parameters are established. There is a strong emphasis on starting out each exercise within its given boundaries, but there is also a feeling that the thoughtful game of chess, once established by those original limitations, could land the student just about anywhere. The destination is not restricted. There are unlimited possibilities in starting from inside those borders. 

      I would be hesitant to strictly call these exercises or assignments, and I doubt they are something to which one could firmly attach a grading rubric of the check-list variety (thankfully.) This doesn’t mean they lack objectivity, as Mugar is a stickler for really making you look at what’s going on in front of you. Caravaggio, Seurat, Cezanne and Braque figure prominently in this book, not for any emphasis on their stylistic flourishings, but because Martin relates certain perceptual functions to what each of these artists did on the picture plane, and how each one saw in new and innovative ways. He orders these exercises according to a different logic of sequence than most teachers I have encountered, starting with those visual processes that happen deeper down in the brain: A nod not only to cognitive science, but to simple intuitive experience as well.

     While Martin doesn’t explicitly stray into the depths of philosophy proper in Drawing and Painting, we get hints of how his knowledge in that field enriches this book. One can see his interest in the thought of Heidegger - or perhaps other flavors of phenomenology and existentialism – permeating the mental atmosphere of its pages. Martin’s approach is also philosophical in this way: he does not offer up recipes or a set of instructions. Even with specific projects given, one must attempt to penetrate the meaning of each working situation he sets up through action and reflection. Though simple and straight forward in some ways, all is left open enough to be somewhat opaque and elliptical in terms of end points. Single sentences can be mined and reflected on for manifold implications. This book will utterly elude and exasperate the student who is looking to memorize technically rehearsed answers for surety and peace of mind. It is not a how-to manual. 

     Drawing and Painting calls us to ask questions, frame inferences, and create something of our own conclusions while being given a partial tour of the territory. The whole map is not handed to us, a priori. Instead, we are initiated into a knowledge of how to navigate the wilderness. What we discover in that wilderness is left up to us. 

 With its compact, elliptical prose this book is somewhat short, and I found myself wanting more. While he dips into certain aspects of perceptual science – the striate cortex was one that was new for me – there are many others that he leaves alone. I went away feeling like other, unmentioned aspects of vision, like depth of field, the fovea, and center surround, could each have had their own set of exercises tailored for them – along with many others. Or did the author decide that in the case of this book, less really was more? This would leave open the possibility that Mugar treats teachers like he does his students, and those things are left for us to figure out in our own curricula. 

     In any event, this is an important and timely book. Much of its significance is its tendency to go against the grain of our present-day reasoning. The algorithm, the template, the prefab architectural plan, these are the spirit of our current artistic age. We are offered an array of various templates which give the illusion of freedom. If followed, no thinking or feeling of your own is required. Sharpen your pencil, measure this, measure that, rinse, wash repeat. 

 Part of the beauty of Gothic cathedrals, and much of the reason we admire them today, is that they were constructed with no architectural plans. Their engineering specs were worked out during the construction process. The builders of  Notre Dame defied gravity by experiment, by an intuitive understanding of their materials and the laws of physics. Drawing and Painting is a call to something similar. It is a call to build painting from the ground up, but in this case through an intimate, experiential knowledge of the laws of visual perception. To some that may seem old fashion. To others, it may be the only new way through.

- Miles Hall, December 3, 2021

Martin Mugar currently resides in New Hampshire. His writing appeared on Painter’s Table. 

Book is available at: