Focussing on one single mark in a drawing by Raymond Pettibon, ‘Drawing the letter’ reassesses existing critical approaches to the artist’s work as well as challenging dominant art-historical interpretations of word-image relations in contemporary drawing practices. By laboriously exploring the iconographic potential of a single inky line—one that looks somewhat like the letter ‘I’—in relation to Nelson Goodman’s influential differentiation of writing and drawing, the article questions the putative distinctions between drawn and written marks premised on notions of legibility and visibility, reading and viewing, arbitrariness and motivation. Crucially, the article questions the reductiveness of its own—and in doing so, wider art-historical—practice of typing up marks in drawings that can be read as verbal characters.
As part of DRTP’s special issue on the theme of ‘Drawing and Language’, the article thus develops a theoretical position that refuses to differentiate between language- and picture-bound aspects of writing and drawing. Instead, it promotes a theoretical frame of the ‘graphic’, developed through Jacques Derrida’s writing on grammatology, that demonstrates the inevitable integration of writing’s and drawing’s visual qualities and ‘verbal content’. Within the special issue, ‘Drawing the letter’ thus effectively draws attention to the graphic marks that underpin written language, including those in that seek to articulate drawing in the journal itself.
The article’s analysis of graphic qualities provides a formal basis for an enquiry into the relations between writing and drawing, as well as more widely practice-based/-led and ‘traditional’ scholarship, that the author has pursued in material and theoretical ways in other publications. The essay is thus part of a larger body work, that challenges word-and-image-studies scholarship that, on the one hand celebrates a deeply interwoven hybridity of written and drawn marks, yet, on the other, continually returns to categorical distinctions.