Lines – A Brief History (Tim Ingold)

Lines – a fascinating read! `the anthropological archaeology of the line.’
Language, music and notation
‘…the post-Renaissance writing that lays claim to a surface, and to the constructions imposed upon it, is fundamentally different from the scripture of medieval times, for the latter was understood not as something made, but as something that speaks.’ pp. 13
‘…the script is read ‘inwardly’ in cognition, whereas the score is read ‘outwardly’ in performance.’ pp. 16
technology of print ‘…broke this intimate link between manual gesture and graphic inscription.’ pp.26

Traces, threads and surfaces
‘Lines that are scratched, scored or etched into a surface are reductive, since in this case they are formed by removal of material from the surface itself.’ – paths and tracks pp. 43
additive and reductive traces…tracing and retracing a route to leave a physical trace/imprint – Richard Long
‘to draw…the manipulation of threads and in the inscription of traces.’ pp.43 
Kandinsky – ‘a capacity of line [is] its capacity to create surface.’ pp.45
cracks interrupt traces
‘Threads may be transformed into traces, and traces into threads. It is through the transformation of threads into traces…that surfaces are brought into being. And conversely, it is through the transformation of traces into threads that surfaces are dissolved.’ pp. 52
‘Lines that join dots mark the outlines of a mosaic of shapes. Such lines are not only drawn on a surface; they actually define that surface as a geometrical plane’ pp. 57 ref Klee

Up, across and along
gesture, flourish – the most active and authentic line pp. 72
line goes for a walk – Klee
‘…whereas the active line on a walk is dynamic, the line that connects adjacent points in series is, according to Klee, ‘the quintessence of the static’.’ pp. 73
fragmentation of the line – ‘…travel, where wayfaring is replaced by destination-oriented transport, mapping, where the drawn sketch is replaced by the route plan, and textuality, where storytelling is replaced by the pre-composed plot.’pp. 75
maps drawn by humans – ‘…usually contexts of storytelling in which people describe the journeys they have made, or that have been made by characters in legend or myth, often with the purpose of providing directions so that others can follow along the same paths. Retracing their steps in narrative, storytellers may also gesture with their hands and fingers, and these gestures may in turn give rise to lines.’ pp. 84
‘Telling the story of the journey as I draw, I weave a narrative thread that wanders from topic to topic, just as in my walk I wandered from place to place.’ pp. 87
‘To tell a story, then, is to relate, in narrative, the occurrences of the past, retracing a path through the world that others, recursively picking up the threads of past lives, can follow in the process of spinning out their own.’ pp. 90
By implying ambiguous narratives we are creating traces, not connectors, within the ‘text’.
‘Flying, crawling, wriggling and burrowing all over and under the regular, linearized infrastructure of the occupied world, creatures of every sort continually reincorporate and rearrange its crumbling fragments into their own ways of life.’ pp. 103
‘In this zone of entanglement – this meshwork of interwoven lines – there are no insides or outsides, only openings and ways through.’ pp. 103

Drawing, writing and calligraphy
‘…dextrous movement of the hand…the earliest forms of graphism would have accompanied, and in turn commented upon, performances of storytelling, song and dance. Since these performative contexts are now irretrievably lost, we cannot know what the original significance of the traced lines would have been.’ pp. 150

How the line became straight
‘If the straight line was an icon of modernity, then the fragmented line seems to be emerging as an equally powerful icon of postmodernity.’ pp. 167


  • The significance and quality of line within physical work
  • Gestural use of additive line to denote and imply weaving of narratives – linked to performance and graphic markings
  • Processes of working – trace and remnants of previous versions or lives of the work
  • Line representing movement and non static figures – drawingness
  • Drawing elements together
  • Physical journey of making and journey of the work – also made up of lines (threads and traces) which make a surface
  • Play between 2D and 3D planes
  • An active and authentic line which meets the surface of a painting throughout the making process, rather than line as a spring board base dictating where the subsequent journey of the work goes
  • Storytelling through line
  • Ability of the viewer to retrace narrative threads whilst contextualising using their own experience
  • By implying ambiguous narratives we are creating traces, not connectors, within the ‘text’.

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