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Sketch every artwork in a museum

Imagine drawing everything in the Museum of Modern Art. And then doing it again a second time. That’s what artist Jason Polan did. Unfortunately, Jason, a 37-year-old, passed away last week. Only last week did I discover his artwork (due to his passing). He’s an incredible guy.

By drawing every artwork, he became very familiar with each of the artworks. ALL the artworks. How do you interpret all these works? As in, how do the works translate into your personal language of sketching? How do you handle the abstract works?

The sheer feat of drawing thousands of sketches

How many artworks does MoMA have on display? After their 2019 renovation, MoMA currently has 1,955 artworks on display. Jason did his drawings before the renovation. What would that be? Half? Maybe 1,000?

What if I did this?

I’d love to draw a bunch of artworks at my local museum, the Art Institute of Chicago. They currently have 5,287 artworks on display right now. Yipes. I think I’d be happy sketching 100 artworks.

Do I make multiple sketches on one sheet? Does each artwork get its own page? How big? How long do I spend with each artwork?

I don’t even have my own sketching style. Perhaps this exercise would help me to develop one. Do I use a sort of cubist style? I like that. Or is it really loopy? Or do I make it really dimensional? Or maybe make a dramatic perspective.

Can I really sketch and stand? Will the Art Institute let me sketch? I seem to recall you have to get permission from someone to sketch in the museum.

How this sort of activity influence my other projects?

  • Draw quicker?
  • Observe more?
  • Have a depth of library of works.
  • Will this spread out into other areas? Sketching at baseball games?
  • Will there be stories that connect artworks together? Will they start talking to each other? Will there be little graphic novel narratives that develop?
  • Will more people do this?

This is sort of like doing pencil rubbings

An act with a pencil that marks you are there. A replication of what is in front of you. Interpreted through the medium of pencil and paper.

I’d really love to see lots of people doing this

Seeing all the variations and interpretations on particular artworks. I’d love to see an army of people doing this, and then feeding all the sketches into a machine learning program to understand how people draw various works of art.

How did Jason Polan go about sketching all the artworks at the MoMA?

He published all his drawings in a book, “Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art”. It’s available only in a handful of libraries. WorldCat lists: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Harvard University Fine Arts Library, and MIT Libraries.

There aren’t many images of contents of this book online, but there are a couple, specifically from The Jealous Curator in 2012:

Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art by Jason Polan

Ahh, so he draws the artwork as tiny thumbnails. That’s how he’s able to get the quantity of sketches done. Showing about 20 artworks on one page is kinda cool. You can compare the artworks against each other. You easily get a grasp of how his style works. The artist name and title also breaks up the page nicely, the words give a sort of boundary, a sort of breathing space between the artworks.

His simple line style would translate nicely into vector art. The line thickness is very consistent and thick. It would be interesting if Polan had put all his drawings on a stock photo site; and have them get dispersed and used throughout the internet. That is, have his drawings become ubiquitous. (wow. I spelled ubiquitous correct on the first try. THANK YOU INTERNET, GOOD DAY.)

His first edition in 2008 has 50 pages. The second edition from 2012 has 102 pages. If he averages 20 artworks per page, that’s 1,000 to 2,040 drawings. WOW! Which comes in align with my guess as to how many artworks MoMA has on display. Wow. I’m dumbfounded. I know I won’t be doing 1,000 drawings. But doing these sketches will be a good practice and process for me.

I’ll be doing this project soon

I bought a 5.5 x 8.5-inch hand-sized sketchpad. Something my hand can hold. Not a large floppy sketchpad. Plus, I don’t want the attention of the museum guards.

Photo of my 5.5 x 8.5 inch sketchpad, purchased at Blick

Look out! Here I come!

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