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William Kentridge’s Norton Lectures

Video still from projection used in “Six Drawing Lessons,” William Kentridge’s Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2012.

THE DRAFTSMAN SWIPES his stick of charcoal over his paper sheet, then doubles back for the next stroke, the heel of his hand passing over the initial line to smear it into a shadow behind the ridge of itself. The projection of a shadowy space behind the physical furrow of the contour leaves no doubt that drawing is illusion, even as the line sits atop the page as affirmation of its material presence, its reality. The lesson of the smeared line is that the artist cannot sharply distinguish his own material from its projection into a fictive space “underneath” its profile.

The importance of such a doubled understanding of drawing emerged clearly in William Kentridge’s recent Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University (videos of which are available on the website of the Mahindra Humanities Center). In the first lecture, titled “In Praise of Shadows,” an excerpt from Kentridge’s

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