There’s that Word Again

I first encountered Tim Ingold during Helen Rousseau’s lecture, when she made reference to his work Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, Architecture.  Alexa Cox in her video also referred to Ingold’s Lines – A Brief History, as a key text.  I clearly needed to read Ingold and ‘lines’ as a subject is important to me, so I decided to start there.

Lines is a fascinating book about the history, the language and the notation of physical and metaphorical lines.  Professor Ingold is a social anthropologist and his work is filtered through this lens.  Whilst the style is not as poetic as Bachelard, the fine exploration of the elements of the work are reminiscent of Bachelard’s exploration of corners, doors, windows.

Of particular interest was the chapter on Traces, (that word again), Threads and Surface.  Most traces are additive, charcoal on paper, chalk on a blackboard, or reductive, lines that are scratched, scored or etched into a surface, but Ingold continues to explore the word.  From the trace of a lifeline on your hand, vapour in the sky, to Richard Long’s land art.

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, England 1967

Two images really spoke to me.  The charter script with its ‘threads’ attached but somehow free.


Fig 2.17 Ninth-century charter script

The process of teaching children through gestures in the air before committing to paper, the comparison of the calligrapher with the dancer ‘In calligraphy as in the dance, the performer concentrates all his energies and sensibilities into a sequence of highly controlled gestures.’ Ingold (2007): p134.  Wonderful images to which I will return.


Fig 5.6 Detail from calligraphy by Hsien-yu Shu (1256-1301)

He references Paul Klee ‘taking a line for a walk’.  More food for thought.

Much as Les Bicknell opened my eyes to the wider world of the ‘book’, Tim Ingold has written a definitive work on trace, thread surface and line, and the concepts they encompass, to which I will return again and again.

Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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