Paul Klee famously said that a drawing is simply a line going for a walk. The formulation was taken up by artists of all stripes, from die-hard abstract modernists to Crockett Johnson, the man who created “Harold and the Purple Crayon.’’

But of course, a line is singular, whereas life is bewilderingly plural. The three artists in “Emerging Dis/Order,’’ an excellent contemporary drawing show at the Bates College Museum of Art in Maine, remind us that lines are multidirectional. They swarm and multiply, and will not be kept on a leash.

“Emerging Dis/Order’’ – an unfortunate title that all but screams “Fussy academics in charge!’’ – is, against the odds, an ambitious, approachable show well worth visiting. A better title might have been “Swarm Intelligence,’’ which one of the artists, Alison Hildreth, used for a series of paintings she worked on in 2005. It captures exactly the quality these three women have in common: a fascination with how forms multiply, divide, and coalesce again.

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Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe

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