April 17, 2005

Drawing from the nude model.

The NYT tell us that "trendy artists" are subjecting themselves to figure drawing sessions again. But is this really new?
In the market where these contemporary artists ply their trade, the age-old discipline of drawing human figures is considered a rather fuddy-duddy exercise. Although figurative painting and drawing has always maintained some presence, in recent years rumors of its demise were rampant, as video, installation, and conceptual art rose to the ascendant.

Though figuration has recently made a comeback, hand-in-hand with the burgeoning popularity of painting, the art-world laurels still tend to go to those who package their figuration with a conceptual gambit - like John Currin's devastating grotesqueries, which often skewer precisely the types of people who can afford to buy them, or Elizabeth Peyton's romantic portraits, celebrated because they're fashioned at her own pleasure rather than a patron's behest.

Oh, human beings will never get over the human figure. How absurd to imagine they would! Abstraction and conceptual art could die out, but we can never lose our love of the human body and our desire to gaze upon it.

I suppose there is some chance that photography could serve this human need so completely that artists would cede the subject to lens-wielders. But if they ever did, the next artist would come along and seize the opportunity. There are always things you can do with pencils and paint that can't be done with photography. You don't necessarily need to gaze on a live nude model to do figurative artwork, but it's an inspiring practice:
Most say the sessions have influenced their work, although not necessarily in obvious ways. Ms. Essenhigh, who was standing at an easel at the back of the room making strong, muscular pencil drawings, said that life drawing was great for "keeping your chops up." It serves "to prevent yourself from being clich├ęd, from your hand always going with the same thing," she explained. (Since she began attending, the figures in her paintings have gone from flat to volumetric, and her aesthetic has changed to match.)

My undergraduate degree is in Fine Arts, and I've spent many hours drawing from a live model, both in art school and in evening sessions here at UW. With a model taking a pose -- which is hard to hold for a very long time -- you feel a strong, shared concentration, and intense attention to your own drawing results.

That is, if all goes well.

It can also be tiresome to draw from the model. You may think it's always going to be interesting to look at a naked person, but many people who try to be artist's models are not very good. You need an interesting body and an ability to find a good pose and hold it. The artist can move around looking for a good angle on a pose, but with some models there are no interesting angles. Try drawing a thin man! The best models are overweight women -- like the woman in the photo at the link. One reason I stopped doing the evening drawing sessions here at UW was that nearly all the models were thin. I mean, if I want to draw landscapes, I'd go to the mountains, not the plains.


Rick Lee said...

Interesting! Here in provincial little Charleston, Taylor Books (blogged about here) has art classes along with their gallery. One of the most popular classes of the last couple of years has been the life-drawing session. Not a class really, just a place to go where you pay to have access to a model and associate with other artists. I had no idea we were "trendy"... or for heaven's sake, ahead of the curve!

Joan said...

I can attest to the difficulty of being a life drawing model. I have no idea how I ended up doing it, but when I was in high school I modelled for the a night life drawing class. Not nude, though -- just in a leotard. The teacher was excellent in that she would help me, in my complete inexperience, find a pose that was both hold-able and interesting. It did require intense concentration!

I haven't thought of this in years. I can't imagine that art students would want to avoid life drawing. It can be so dynamic! I was always amazed at what came out of the classes I modeled for, so many different aspects of "me". It always made me wish that I could be the one drawing some day.

PatCA said...

I was a painting and drawing major. One of my favorite teachers had the model move slowly through a pose, tai-chi like, sometimes, and then we had to draw it! Great warm up.

Pancho said...

An interesting subject and one about which I had a deep discussion with my artist friend Woody Gwyn. Woody is a nationally acclaimed artist in Galisteo, New Mexico who commands large sums for his landscapes, but every now and again harks back to painting some fairly bizarre "human figures". Go look and judge for yourself at: Woody Gwyn

moonshower said...

I have taken quite a few art classes throughout the years, and one of my favorites was my figure drawing class. There is something really interesting about the way the human body can look completly different in each drawing-from a detailed, life like drawing to an abstract rendering of the figure.

min said...

I've been a life drawing model for 35 years! Yikes. It started out as a way to make some easy money and has evolved over the years into much more. It is a gift to be part of the artisitc process. Every time I see how the artists translate what they see into beautiful art, I am totally blown away. Modeling has taught me to be comfortable with my body and to see myself as more than a sexual being. Now that has been the enduring gift. I'm comfortable in my skin. As is. No makeup needed.

edo deweert said...

interesting blog...for some reason the girl models seem to think they need to be skinny, as on the runway...some must think that being a naked art model is just a preliminary for the big catwalks in milan, paris and london.
in addition, they do not even seem ready tobe a little advanturous with their poses...
a favorite pose with many art instructors is for the girl to be on their side: more butt and even some pussy, after all, that's what it's all about, isn't it?...sex.
i too have a blog )am a naked male art model), check it out at www.themodelundraped.blogspot.com