By David Maclagan
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Additional resources for Line let loose : scribbling, doodling and automatic drawing
First, the animal handler David Gucwa’s work in the early 1980s with the elephant Siri shows that the animal was able to graduate from making marks in the dust with a stick held in its trunk to ‘drawing’, simply by being given a pencil and paper, and by this being incorporated into her daily routine without any additional reward. Gucwa refused to put the elephant’s work on the art market, though he did send some of its drawings to a number of artists and critics. Willem de Kooning is said to have commented: ‘That’s a damn talented elephant.
But these scribblings or erasures can then take on a momentum of their own and turn into a negative compositional factor. In this doodle it is as if, despite the fact that there is no obvious external constraint, the person has gone over and over the same shapes and patterns, to the point where they are barely legible (illus. 23). One could say that doodling plays out a dynamic relation between order and disorder, constraint and freedom, public and private – this being perhaps as much 61 | t h e d o o d l e a n d b e yo n d a reflection of the context in which it is engaged in as of the doodler’s individual personality.
It appears as early as Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, meaning a trifler or idler, and its etymology was later variously traced to Dutch or German words for ‘foolish’. 2 The modern term, with its specific association with absent-minded and marginal drawing, seems to have appeared in the early twentieth century: it figures, for example, as something that people would recognize in the screenplay for Mr Deeds Goes To Town (Robert Riskin, 1936). By the mid-1930s it had become something of a craze, with an expanding interest in the reproduction and interpretation of celebrity doodles.