A strange situation

Dear Artist, Recently, Patricia Godvin of Bozeman, Montana wrote, “As an artist who works with the nude figure, I find so little quality dialogue or artists’ exchange of ideas concerning this subject. I would love you to stimulate some discussion on working with the unclothed figure.” Thanks, Patricia. Have you ever noticed that paintings of nudes come and go in popularity? In the galleries I work with, there are currently very few. Back in art school the nude was de rigueur and I actually thought I was getting the hang of it. In those days, most of our models were women. Perhaps the current decline is because the idea of “woman as object” is not as popular as it once was. I recently passed by a classroom full of women furiously drawing a nude guy. It seemed a comment on our times and a subject for a New Yorker cartoon. Fact is, the unclothed figure, male or female, is an education in waiting. Above spheres, cones and blocks, the human figure is key to understanding light and form. Michelangelo went so far as to say, “One who does not master the nude cannot understand the principles of architecture.” Student artists neglect figurative work at their peril. Painting or drawing nudes with facility was a rite of passage for past members of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood. Fortunately, underground vestiges of the cult still exist. “The naked form,” said Auguste Rodin, “belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people in all ages.” Well, maybe not by all people in all ages. Whole cultures are currently trying to get more and more folks to cover up. Is the world turning once again toward some sort of Puritan modesty, equating skin with prurience and sin? Might this be partly because of recent Western art trends depicting naked depravity? Was, as some critics think, Toulouse Lautrec the naughty one who set the orgy in motion? Perhaps we might, within the anatomy of our imaginations, think once more of the naked body as a vessel of grace, taste and wonder. In the spotted history of art, stranger things have happened. Best regards, Robert PS: “The body always expresses the spirit whose envelope it is. And for him who can see, the nude offers the richest meaning.” (Auguste Rodin)

A modest proposal

Esoterica: Our bodies, apart from their brilliant role as drawing exercises, are the temples of our being. Like the bodies of all fauna, they deserve both our study and our appreciation. Few there are who object to a naked dog, cat, horse or parakeet. The Society for the Encouragement of Modesty in Animals (SEMA) attracted only 72 members before its website went blank. I once considered a program to put shorts on dogs, but Dorothy rejected the garment and made an unpleasant fuss. There’s something natural about au naturel. But when, for art’s sake, will au naturel make its next comeback? “What is the body? That shadow of a shadow of your love that somehow contains the entire universe.” (Rumi)   Better than psychiatry by Catherine Stock, France  

watercolour painting
by Catherine Stock

I organise and attend weekly life drawing sessions. To my mind, they serve the same purpose as sessions with a shrink, as all my feelings, sometimes good and sometimes bad, are exorcised onto paper. My life drawings don’t sell but they are my purest and best work and keep me sane.         There is 1 comment for Better than psychiatry by Catherine Stock
From: Bev Morgan — Sep 18, 2012

I have learned far more from life drawing than from any other form of art or art instruction. My ability to observe even the most subtle detail and nuance has increased tremendously, and I am able to then apply that skill to other areas of my painting.

  ‘Pose drift’ by John Crowther, Los Angeles, CA, USA  

“Figure drawing class”
original cartoon
by John Crowther

I attend a weekly uninstructed figure drawing workshop with some remarkable artists. One of the most fascinating paradoxes of my life, counter-intuitive really, is that my figure drawing skills have improved thanks to my cartooning, not the other way around as one might expect. I cartoon from the images in my head; I draw the figure from the model. But the reality of live models is that they move. It’s what I call “pose drift.” If you’re not aware of it, all the “mapping” you do in the early stages is out the window by the time you’ve completing your drawing. Robert Henri brilliantly said that in his ideal figure drawing class the model would be in one room and you would actually draw in another. You capture the model in your mind, then go to the next room and draw.   Nudes are hot by Doug Swinton, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“Nude 14”
charcoal drawing
by Doug Swinton

I have painted the nude for a long time. I have also painted the landscape for a long time. Landscapes sell well in galleries. No one wants nudes. Recently my second out-of-town gallery was purchased and thus had new owners who had never owned a gallery before. The new owners of my second gallery started taking nudes from the moment they saw them, sighting that they were beautiful and should have no problem selling — maintaining an, “I will take anything that will sell” attitude. My first gallery has always maintained, “Nudes just don’t sell” “We can’t give a charcoal away.” Meantime, gallery-two now sells them all the time. Recently, gallery-one came to the studio to pick up some new work and saw framed nudes ready for gallery-two. “Really, you give them these and they sell them??” “Yes,” I said. Not to be outdone, the reluctant gallery took two drawings. Two days later they called to see if I had more, as they had not even hung any on the wall yet and one sold. I now sell nudes quite well in both galleries. I’m not sure why but I hear galleries say all the time, “No we don’t take nudes. They don’t sell.” I can tell you if you don’t have any on your walls, they sure won’t sell. There are 2 comments for Nudes are hot by Doug Swinton
From: Win Dinn — Sep 18, 2012

As of course they should sell – they’re stunning. Thanks for sharing #14…

From: dkoochie — Sep 18, 2012

i agree.they are stunning

  An emotional experience by Ingrid Christensen, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“Warm and cool”
original painting
by Ingrid Christensen

The privilege of studying and painting a nude model is something that generates huge emotion in the class that I teach. One of my female students was near tears as she painted the angel-faced, young woman who had been posing for us for the past three hours. The painter said that she pictured all that life still had in store for this innocent girl and felt protective and worried for her. Though model breaks don’t give much time for getting to know these women, I find that, at the end of the class, all of the painters express warmth and gratitude to them for the generosity of what they’ve provided: an opportunity to look deeply at humanity in all its grace and frailty. There are 4 comments for An emotional experience by Ingrid Christensen
From: Sylvia — Sep 18, 2012

Beautiful painting!

From: Michael Jorden — Sep 18, 2012

Beautiful words.

From: Gail — Sep 18, 2012

I love this painting, and other works too by Ingrid. I love the lost and found edges, the romance and lyricism of it, the play of light and colour across the figure. It is everything a painting should be

From: Michael McDevitt — Sep 18, 2012

Expressing appreciation to the model is a courtesy worth remembering. I sometimes am in a hurry to grab my gear and go or the model is being chatted up by others. I will try to be more patient and courteous.

  Bedeviled by ‘The Shadow’? by Travis Apel, Omaha, NE, USA  

mixed media
by Travis Apel

Perhaps Ms. Godvin’s view is determined by a bias that has been forged and conditioned for a long period of time. Maybe her governing thoughts are due to the haunting, Jungian archetype, the Shadow. This archetype is one that represents alienation, a sinister danger to a mysterious and uncomfortable scenario which can create cognitive dissidence. If I could guess, her predetermined judgement is etched in her amygdala part of the brain and should be regarded as irrelevant because of its subjective memory bank.       There are 4 comments for Bedeviled by ‘The Shadow’? by Travis Apel
From: Anonymous — Sep 18, 2012

Wonderful! I couldn’t have said it more confusedly

From: Ron Ruble — Sep 18, 2012

Travis, Could you write my artist statement? No need to see my art, your words are sufficient. My dictionary is dog eared, but I now think that I get it, especially the irrelevant part. I now feel free to draw my beloved nudes. Thank you.

From: Ily — Sep 18, 2012

The correct term is “cognitive dissonance”. (If you’re going to spout jargon, get the words right at least.)

From: Michael McDevitt — Sep 18, 2012

I love the word “dissonance” and all other analogous words and phrases employed to give a sense of what is hard to explain or understand about art and making art.

  In praise of older women by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA  

“When Rain Came”
original painting
by Terrie Christian

Part if my own art journey has been the human form and I think it has value. I did both male and female drawings at an atelier school and it was good for my education and even has informed some of the more abstract things I do today. One of my favorite artists is Alice Neal and I love her willingness to use her own body even as an older, wider woman. Recently, one of my art friends brought a magazine that had an article about Sigmund Freud’s son that featured a painting that he did of an older, thicker woman. All in our group are over 50, not all of us wider, but we all loved that painting. With so much of the imagery these days of almost emaciated models and the concentration on youthful bodies, I would wish that artists who want to paint the body choose many different body types to honor as art. Everybody has beauty in their own way.   A dated idea by Richard Harper, Memphis, TN, USA  

“Morning field”
original painting
by Richard Harper

I learned to draw in life classes. The human body is difficult to draw, but well enough known that any mistake is quickly visible. Today I prefer drawing & painting from people with their clothes on. This allows more variation of shapes. The nude is a dated idea that while attractive to viewers is still a picture of a naked person and all that implies. One complaint I have with nude models, especially in long poses, is that their goal is to be comfortable — posing is hard. I have posed for a class myself and we had an hour long pose in a freezing cold room. I grew tired and was able to utter, “I think I’m about to faint” a second before I did faint. Upon coming to I had the wherewithal to comment, “I dreamed of waking up naked in a room of people.” How the drawings turned out I don’t know. I prefer talking to my subjects while I draw and paint them. They are more engaged this way and I can see it in their muscles.   Can’t fake anatomy by Jill Wagner, Saline, MI, USA  

pastel painting
by Jill Wagner

Even though I am mainly a plein air painter, I love going to figure drawing class every week. I think it is the absolutely best way to learn to “see” and then “translate what you see.” It is easy to fake a tree or a flower, but it is instantly noticeable when a limb or muscle does not read correctly in a painting. Our bodies are probably our most intimate subject and we know it better than any other. I feel earning to draw the human form is imperative for all artists. Now if only all galleries and museums also valued nude paintings.       The contemporary nude by Teresa Posyniak, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“I speak my daughter tongue”
mixed media by
Teresa Posyniak

I have drawn and painted from nude models for many years and incorporated this imagery in my work.  As an art student in the seventies, I was expected to learn to draw from the model as an exercise, among many others. I guess it stuck with me, and ten years after graduating with my MFA, I found myself working with the nude again. I approached the subject of the nude in a more personal way and appreciated the individuality of my subjects, who became inspirations for some of my work. Thus, the nude, for me, was not an object. The women (and male models) were not objects, and I didn’t view them as such. The Nude became a way to deal with the issues of vulnerability and resiliency. For instance, in 2010 I had a solo exhibition at the Glenbow Museum which focused on my triptych, “I Speak my Daughter Tongue.” This piece portrayed a couple (both nude) holding a bundle of their late daughter’s t-shirts… as an expression of their grief. The Glenbow Museum in Calgary chose my work as a ‘contemporary’ approach to the Nude. My website has some details of the work as well as the writing about it and other works.   Hooked on the human figure by Karen Martin Sampson, Sayward, BC, Canada  

“Listening For A Nightingale”
oil painting
by Karen Martin Sampson

I have been fascinated with the human form and face since I started drawing as a small child. Most of my work has involved the human figure, especially nudes. Lately I have been doing more draped figures, but with the underlying form of the figure still being present. I have found that there is not a huge market for many of my figurative pieces, but many have sold over the years. I have even had a gallery turn down my work because they considered themselves a “family” business and didn’t want to offend anyone with nudes in their gallery! No matter how often I am prevailed upon by others to do more “marketable” subjects, I am hooked on the human figure.       There is 1 comment for Hooked on the human figure by Karen Martin Sampson
From: Anonymous — Sep 17, 2012
  Where there’s a will, there’s a way by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“The sleeper”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

Unfortunately, my nude figure work does not garner income and comes with all the clichés attached in a very puritanical society. Figure paintings are in a Renaissance and those who have spent years learning the figure are now in the forefront of figure painting. The East Coast of America is the hub for figure painters, not Montana. Although my teacher moved there some years ago, his work is valued and sold primarily on the East Coast. One aspect of figure painting is you can use them in paintings but not so much as subject matter. Also I use my nude studies to get the proportions correct, then paint the figure in clothes for finished works. This has been done by the masters. I have even gone so far as to clothe old nude figure paintings and re-title them. These have done better and I am slowly bringing down my inventory. In addition, I do still life and landscape for the money, though my passion is with figure work. Don’t stop painting what is in your heart. But think about the practical side and establish your reputation by being an all-around painter. Lastly, I use the landscape as a foil for my figure work. Much of what you see on my site were at once nudes now re-painted with clothes in landscapes and urbanscapes. There may come a time when nudes will be again appreciated but not until we lose our stifling, puritanical thinking. As for women as object, there too, it’s all in the way we look at things. Women can and are painted with style and grace toward women hood and not as sex objects. It’s all in your approach. I’ve painted nude men, but on the practical side, they don’t sell. Here again, though, things are changing with the freedom of sexual choice and inclinations. I do sell nude men and get requests for original works of men to male clients. So, where there is a will, there is a way. There is 1 comment for Where there’s a will, there’s a way by Rick Rotante
From: Susan Warner Farmington, MI — Sep 18, 2012

The comment: “Above spheres,cones and blocks, the human figure is key to understanding light and form.” It really says it all! I too had Life Drawing as a basis of my education. Later in life I had the privilege of teaching ‘Life drawing for artists’ with a colleague who is a talented sculptor. We combined his background of anatomical perfection with my instinctive eye and we had a successful and fun class for a few years. We fervently believed and still do, that anatomy is the basis for all art. It is the Neuro Surgeon’s Biology and Chemistry for an artist. The beauty of the human form is the strong foundation to build on. And I LOVE your humor Robert! Is there something wrong with shorts on my cat? You haven’t seen him!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A strange situation

From: Marvin Humphrey — Sep 13, 2012

A thorough understanding of the anatomy of the human figure in its ideal form (i.e. Leonardo’s geometric figure) is fundamental to relating to, and interpreting, our perception of the world. Drawing it drills it into our psyche. And, I just saw the Lansdowne Herakles at the Getty Villa in Malibu the other day…a classic example of quintessential proportion.

From: ReneW — Sep 14, 2012

Having had some training in classical life drawing I appreciated that opportunity to gain that experience. There are a few critical factors that you need to consider: you need an environment where the model is comfortable, the cost for hiring a model, and time needed to complete a drawing or painting. Some colleges and universities offer classes in life drawing and painting in their art department. Usually is not a problem for anyone who wants to can get permission to take such courses but there will be fees to take these courses. Workshops are another venue. Formal training, in my opinion, is highly recommended but not required. I often draw people I see on my HD television. I just pause the image and start drawing. It’s not as good as life drawing but it can be fun and challenging.

From: Sheila Minifie — Sep 14, 2012

Huh? Why the blame on Toulouse Lautrec? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

From: Darla — Sep 14, 2012

There’s no doubt that the human figure is an essential subject in art. I was lucky enough to have a high school art teacher who taught us the basics of drawing the figure (not nude, but short drawing sessions in which we took turns modeling.) It would be interesting to paint highlighting different societies’ ways of regarding the human figure, not just on the subject of clothing or lack of it, but weight, age, gender, makeup/tattoos/piercings, commercialization, etc. It’s hard for me to understand why the naked figure is such a taboo when we’ve all got bodies, and have seen them naked at some point. After all, we’re all naked under our clothes!

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Sep 14, 2012

I understand Patricia’s confusion around painting the Nude form and the viewer seeing this as Naked. In Art School we learn to draw the nude form as a tool to understand what the mechanics of the body are and therefore paint or draw the clothed form more accurately but as we draw the nude model we stop seeing him or her as a Naked person and as a unique landscape of light and shadow, moving and still at the same time. When I realized that there were some that had a problem with the Nude painting I adapted my style to be more gestural than literal and left the facial features off or obscured. This is my attempt to help the viewer see the beauty of the human form and not the object.

From: Dwight — Sep 14, 2012

The “beauty of the human form” is not universal. For many of us clothing covers a multitude of sins. On the other hand, a female friend of ours, on seeing Rubens paintings in Europe said, “Now there’s a man who knew what a woman is supposed to look like.”

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 14, 2012

It is a rare patron who will display a nude in their home. The final home for figure painting is limited, unless you are one of those very few whose work resides in a museum. So then you’re faced with what to do with all those paintings after you’ve mastered the human form. I’ve noted those nudes that have endured as great paintings are the more classical depictions: women bathing, men warriors, and as gods or virtues. Fine for the 19th century but difficult with our modern day sensibilities. You could settle for partial nudes with dancers or athletes but then it becomes just another figure or portrait, not a nude. Good luck trying to change peoples’ perception of what the human form should be … culture is too much of a brick wall to break through. It’s exhausting and draining of energy, and I’m not up for it anymore. Other than some life classes in college most of my anatomy lessons came in the ER and labor and delivery. The glare of an overhead light can’t substitute for subtle soft lighting but it all sufficed for what I want to do. I think the greater question is suitability. If you can answer that it might give you guidelines in how to present your nude figure. Other than suggest you keep it classic and keep it classy, I don’t know.

From: onelio marrero — Sep 14, 2012
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Sep 14, 2012
From: Tom Semmes — Sep 14, 2012

“Perhaps we might, within the anatomy of our imaginations, think once more of the naked body as a vessel of grace, taste and wonder. In the spotted history of art, stranger things have happened.” Robert that is a beautifully written sentence.You handle the pen as beautifully as the brush. Thank you.

From: Frederick Winston — Sep 14, 2012

A couple of personal observations. I have never seen a painting of a nude in any home I have been in, so I expect it has a limited market. Secondly, and not particularly important I suppose…but it seems to me that women outnumber men in painting female nudes, ten to one.

From: Holly — Sep 14, 2012
From: Richard Mazzarino — Sep 14, 2012

Holly- This all has to do with a puritanical society we all live in. Even with a (brilliant) painter Dad, his daughter is subject to her environment with school, television – which is getting racier every day not only in content but language and peer pressure. With the Internet and much of its objectionable content, the world hasn’t gotten better as regards nudes or nudes in art. Also, if you look back in Greek and Roman history, men where the ones with no clothes, very few women. The ideal body was personified in the male form, not the female form. Today, all that has reversed itself. But here too, things are changing since women have come into their own, they want to see more male skin than ever before. Looking far into the future there may come a time when nudity will be the norm. But, alas, I dream.

From: Gavin Logan — Sep 14, 2012

A painter worked from a nude female model who came to his home/studio every day. One day, as the painter’s wife was just leaving for work, the model arrived. The painter announced he was not feeling well and would not need the model’s services. The model asked if she could make him a cup of tea so he might feel better, and the painter agreed. Just as the model brought the tea to him a car was heard in the driveway. “Quick,” said the painter, “My wife’s come home. Take off your clothes!”

From: Steve Kuzma — Sep 14, 2012
From: Ronnie Romeo-Maziarek Lisle, IL — Sep 14, 2012

I’ve been conducting open figure drawing workshops for local artists for nearly 5 years, and I can say that the artists at all skill levels work very hard at mastering the nude. It’s complex and challenging, a ‘landscape’ where there can be no deviations, the viewer’s eye will always detect them. If you can master the nude, you can master any subject because you’ve fine tuned your hand eye coordination, your perception of line and volume, your observation of color and transluscence. It doesn’t matter what your style is or how you interpret what you see. There’s no substitute for working from a live nude model to aid in furthering your artistic skills. Also, let me put in a word for the hard working models. A good professional model understands they are an integral part of the creative process and works, sometimes painfully, to facilitate that process. A good professional artist understands and appreciates that a model like that is golden!

From: Chris Carter — Sep 15, 2012
From: Roger Davis — Sep 15, 2012

Reading your letter on the nude model in art brought to mind an incident in which I was asked by a male friend whether the excitement of seeing a woman unclothed was the main reason for taking the class. I can’t recall what I told him exactly but it was a variation of “you don’t understand.” Many life drawing classes later I polished my answer down to ‘ The model is the challenge to my self -image as an artist and there is no time to waste’. Can I produce an evocative image? Time is flying. Every mark counts. The concentration required blocks all other thoughts. Aspen, CO

From: Bob Breur — Sep 15, 2012
From: Carole Goldman — Sep 15, 2012

I adore the nude figure as a subject (clothed as well) because I see something beautiful and sacred in every original person. I paint the landscape and I love floral exercises but always a passion for the figure. I am shocked by the numbers of people who do not want to confront nude images depicting older age or ones with large bodies. The pressure to be young and perfect is what I see that contributes to the viewing enjoyment and of course the purchase of nude images. I have friends who very much admire my art but have said please don’t share the images of people who are overweight. These critics are people of educated taste and in some cases buy art….but not a nude. Well maybe a back view of a young beauty. I do of course live in Los Angeles California.This is not a reflection of other artists I draw/paint with…only the people who can actually buy and hang a purchased painting in their living room. Of course I shall continue my beloved interest.

From: Marilyn Hartley — Sep 15, 2012

The nude figure is my most preferred subject since it is always new; and yet … each is a marvelous work of engineering. Believing as I do in our Creator, and knowing this is the closest image to God himself, how could I consider myself accomplished in the arts if I did not continue to explore the human figure. Aside from these personal comments, I will not try to add to your already erudite description of the human figure, and the benefits of studying it by students and advanced artists. Drawing from the nude model always humbles me … and yet, following my exploration, if I have done justice to my subject, I breathe a sigh of one who has achieved something of worth.

From: Patty Oates — Sep 15, 2012

I once took a life drawing class with male and female models, old and young, and came to the conclusion that “every” “body” is beautiful.

From: Linda Flaherty — Sep 15, 2012

It has always been my firm belief and experience, that no matter what kind of work I might be drawn to – landscape, whatever – the practice of drawing the nude human form has always been the most inspiring and enlightening of all practices. It improves my work, no matter the subject. Depending on proximity to an art center, university, or museum with a suitable classroom, it can be difficult to find available opportunities. Even if the chance to practice is only occasional, it’s worth the effort and a little travel to make it happen.

From: Rachel LeBlanc — Sep 15, 2012

I took a nude drawing class once. The thing I learned is the human body is one of the most difficult subjects to draw. The reason is you can tell right away if something is off kilter! The person does not look like himself/herself. It was really difficult to capture the person’s essence. A few people in the class got it right and it was beautiful. All of us others just stood in awe. Very humbling.

From: Natalie — Sep 15, 2012

I went to an evening workshop, they served wine, there were mostly men over 50 drooling over two nude female models under 25 who shaved their pubes into designs and posed in manners that could easily be seen as dominatrix or S&M. I was so uncomfortable. I went back home sure that I have crossed over into the realm of flower painting forever, an old, old woman. I’m currently in a clothed model workshop and it works better for me. I know they aren’t all like this, but…too much for my 60 plus sensibility.

From: Carl Nelson — Sep 15, 2012

When I was practicing drawing as a younger person, the nude drawing sessions organized by an artist friend would draw 20 to 30 people a week and were one of the only ways I met other artists. At the time, my ambition was to paint a glorious nude which I would sell to to hang above the liquor in my favorite bar. I would imagine going there ever so often to have a drink and meditate upon it.

From: Terrel Jones — Sep 15, 2012
From: Lee Caflisch — Sep 15, 2012
From: Rebecca Skelton — Sep 15, 2012
From: Alice Wofford — Sep 15, 2012

I have always believed that if you cannot paint/ draw the body correctly then you cannot drape It correctly. Certainly it is those people who either have their mind on the gutter or are overly religious that object to nude studies. Please don’t think that I am objecting to religious beliefs…I am not…only to those who take it to extremes.

From: Gary Eddington — Sep 15, 2012

Figurative art is one sure way to measure our eye’s accuracy. When an observer comments and names the person you’ve drawn you experience the magic of out talent, to speak without language. Marks on paper become something else” those are my eyes, but, that is not my nose”. In fact they are our marks on paper. Without use of the figure, structure may be more difficult. Artists are always looking to find a simple formula that will allow them to produce original and inspirational works. The figure is, I believe, a good place to revisit whenever I need inspirational energy.

From: Claudia Roulier — Sep 15, 2012

I don’t agree that “whole cultures” are trying to get us to cover up. I think there is only one culture that’s going in that direction.

From: Sandra Stevens — Sep 15, 2012

My only comment is that if all you said about the nude is true…. then theoretically 50% of the nudes sketched, painted, or used as models would be males. Any argument to the contrary would have to notice that if 80% of the nude models/subjects are female, it corresponds curiously with the fact that 80% of the artists are male. ????? A strange situation indeed

From: Sharon Way-Howard — Sep 15, 2012
From: Minaz Jantz — Sep 15, 2012

The nude was center to my learning curve when I became serious about studying painting and drawing. It became clear to me over time, that some artists thought this to be too risky to paint nudes. I was told NUDES don’t sell in Canada, people may like them but afraid to hang them in their homes cause someone might report them as pornographic. My son grew up with NUDE paintings all over the house and each time he brought a new friend over, there was the initial shock but they got over it and found art not pornographic images. Educating people to open their minds to art making, takes patience. Artists may need to explain that it’s historically important to draw from the nude, mastering the craft of observation, learning anatomy while capturing the personality of each model. I joined many ‘life drawing’ groups to eventually hiring some of those nude models to come to my loft, to pose for just a few of us. Such fond memories of those times and enjoyed getting to know the models while respecting their knowledge of what poses look good for artists while sitting long poses without falling asleep with boredom. Just try to sit still for 35 minutes without moving, and then do it nude while people are staring at every inch of your body. Many models take up yoga to help them focus on being still and to keep themselves limber to hold many types of poses. I honor those nude models and thank them and their nude bodies to giving LIFE to my art.

From: Janet Darlington — Sep 15, 2012

Regarding the clothing of animals: it seems they have a natural clothing, fur, feathers, etc …. nature provided them the protection they need … lobsters have shells, etc. We are the only ones who go around naked … if some folks want to “revere” the naked form, so be it. But I think that those who don’t necessarily agree that it is the ONLY way to learn to paint, should be respected for their views as well. It takes diversity to make the world go round as they say and especially in the art world, we should recognize that fact. Respect is key here.

From: Elizabeth Schamehorn — Sep 15, 2012

Drawing the body is such a challenging exercise, artistically and emotionally. We are allowed the privilege of seeing a person without their protection, their daily armour. We do honour to the human being by depicting their perfections and flaws, the articulation of bone and muscle, the gesture. We had a model here for many of our classes. He was very shy, only spoke a few words, but what an amazingly expressive model he was. He left this world too young, but the many drawings of him that exist now are his message to us.

From: Anne Nielsen — Sep 15, 2012

I must admit the nude figure is my most lacking area of art subject matter. Upon doing some of my first nude drawings, and having them framed, they were resting against the counter in my kitchen. A five year old friend of mine came strolling into my kitchen and was promptly was scandalized. “Miss Annie! I can’t believe you have that kind of pictures in your house!” was his comment. I tried to be very serious and pulled out all my art books. I patiently explained that, as an artist, the body is the hardest thing to paint or draw. Each artist, trying to do it well, does it in their own style. We covered Matisse, Klimt, Michelangelo, and many others. I told him, there was a big difference between these pictures and “naughty” pictures. He went over each book carefully, the last book being Picasso. Putting his hand up to his face in an aside. He said in a stage whisper, “These are all very good, but that guy, Picasso, doesn’t do very good does he?” I almost fell down laughing and replied, “I guess not sweetie; I guess not.”

From: Chris VerSteeg — Sep 16, 2012

The lack of the nudes male or female is, I think, due to a renewal of prudery in culture. At least, here, in the US. Do not even think about having an image of a male nude in most galleries! Very sad.

From: Ellen McCord — Sep 16, 2012
From: Judy Chinski — Sep 16, 2012

Imagine my surprise as a seventeen year old freshmen in college, my first nude model in painting class was a male, playing a violin no less. I just wanted him to stand still, drawing a moving figure was just too difficult.

From: Helen McCusker — Sep 16, 2012
From: Cindy McDonnell — Sep 16, 2012

Perhaps the few nudes in art galleries is because the female body has been so cheapened by trashy and slutty clothes on young girls’ (and old?) bodies – flaunting for popularity. It’s simply not that attractive at times with diabesity running rampant. Hence, growing lack of interest in WELL DONE nude art – we’ve been trained to look away – it’s less painful most of the time. As a mother of 2 teenage girls with beautiful bodies and still so innocent, I worry that they will not treasure their bodies and pureness for as long as they can — rather will succumb to the current young society’s pressures to “put out or get out”. My challenge is to teach them otherwise — which involves some covering up because “it’s not just not right” to walk around with your butt cheeks hanging out, showing your belly and revealing cleavage.

From: Peter Cummings. — Sep 16, 2012

I am studying a Diploma of Visual Art and due to cutbacks there will be no life drawing classes. Ridiculous. Some of the best nude male drawings I’ve seen were done by Paul Cadmus who specialized.

From: Elle Fagan — Sep 16, 2012
From: Russ Wagner — Sep 16, 2012

Patricia Godvin wrote; “As an artist who works with the nude figure, I find so little quality dialogue or artists’ exchange of ideas concerning this subject. I would love you to stimulate some discussion on working with the unclothed figure.” Seems rather vague about what Patricia is looking for, what is quality dialogue? I will offer this.. I believe when one looks at another closely, they will always see something beautiful.

From: Mark Wood — Sep 16, 2012

I’m not trying to create narrative symbolic content or trite pretentious allegorical pictures, I just enjoy painting from the model in the studio each week.

From: Shane Conant — Sep 16, 2012

Just the same during the Victorian Era we don’t lack for great painters. Rodin also spent hours drawing circles. Perfect form and beauty I think were synonymous for him. Modern pessimism denies the intrinsic beauty and replaces it with a subjective vision that cares little for the objective truth. In this thought the figure whether nude or clothed loses its form by putting more value on its symbolism than its actual form. That’s when you need a Rembrandt to step in a remind us of the value of content in its relation to form and beauty!

From: John L. Sullivan — Sep 16, 2012

Twenty-five years ago when I was in art school it was all about the female nude.

From: Norman Ridenour — Sep 16, 2012

Prague is an European city thus by definition has a lot of outdoor sculpture, much of it Baroque. A friend of mine had AMERICAN visitors who after two days commented that Czechs should do something to cover up all of the nude art, it was disgusting.

From: Kurt Jacobson — Sep 16, 2012
From: Wes Giesbrecht — Sep 16, 2012

I’ve only been attempting figurative work (specifically pinup style) for about a year now. Other than complete abstracts with liquid paint and no brushes, I haven’t really done any painting before. I have high aspirations of getting good at this genre and then expanding into more serious paintings that will include some nudity, some suggestive eroticism but not anything explicit or pornographic. I get some sideways looks and lots of ‘no comment’ type reactions from people who see my paintings. What’s the big deal? The nude and eroticism such a compelling and intriguing subjects. I’ve wondered if The Painters Keys has a policy of avoiding them?

From: Éric de Sherbrooke — Sep 16, 2012

I wonder what Patricia would think of my “nudes”. I put the word in quotation marks is that nudity is really for most of my paintings. Explicit sexuality is in the foreground, which very often involves nudity. I’d love to have dialogue about all that too!!

From: W.E. “Bill” Smith — Sep 16, 2012

Nudes are not appreciated because they tend to appeal to the sensitivities of our puritan interests. The human body, in and of itself, is beautiful, God’s work, and should not be dismissed as a wonder of nature. What many tend to dismiss or, rather, assume is that artists are looking at the body as a sexual object. Quite to the contrary, the artist looks at it as an object of beauty and majesty. It is, without a doubt, the most perfect form in our universe.

From: Linda Jerome — Sep 16, 2012
From: Robyn Rinehart — Sep 16, 2012

For 40 years with a short break here and there, I have gone to life drawing groups, and now attend two separate ones week about. I love the silence, the concentration, the scratchings on paper, the praise given to the model, and then wandering around to ponder on the achievements of each artist. It takes practice to get the proportions correct, and it is surprising how few can these days. I am now drawing part time on my touchscreen computer, and then cross to paper when the battery runs low. Maybe I’m addicted, but I don’t care!

From: Beckie — Sep 16, 2012

Loved that you addressed this subject. I currently attend a weekly life drawing group and do some of my best work there. But nowhere to exhibit. We have wonderful female models but I wish we had more males.

From: Carol Hazen — Sep 16, 2012

I wonder if the mystic of the human body is a bit lost with the easy access to seeing EVERYWHERE… magazines, commercials, TV shows, movies, billboards…. just a thought.

From: Marj Vetter — Sep 16, 2012

I took a life drawing course at Red Deer College a few years ago. It was interesting and fun, most of our models were men, some enthused, some not!”

From: Gavin Logan — Sep 16, 2012
From: JJ JohnS — Sep 16, 2012
From: Sheila Minifie — Sep 17, 2012

From my own perspective, I was taught by John Stewart Osborne who was adamant that drawing from the human body was about understanding form. That’s virtually all he said in 6 years of studentship with him. Eventually, I understood what he meant. Form – not as ‘body’, but as pure form. It’s difficult to express what it is as few people see it, let alone express it. Sorry, it’s not describable. Most of what I see in life drawing or painting is reproduction (though useful of course).

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Sep 17, 2012

Robert, why is this topic ‘strange’? In the past, artists were primarily all male and the models were primarily female. Why? Because of HOMOPHOBIA. So male artists who also did male nudes were not heterosexual even if they lied and presented themselves as such. So ALL male nudity was homo-erotic even if the work wasn’t particularly erotic. Why? Because we silly stupid humans remain unable to think of eroticism (obscene pornography) as anything but bad. Sex is one of the most natural human expressions there is. I’m an abstract artist, but because I’m gay everybody thinks I’m going to be producing GAY ART- read- homoerotic. Oh well. I did recently expose my one and only 30 years old (literally) life-size, full-frontal anatomically-correct male nude padded relief, at my recent lecture. I was never able to sell it. Nobody wanted it. In the present the art-group was less shocked than they would have been 30 years ago when I first produced it. I would have gotten banned from the group- then. It’s stained. A dog pissed on it. Kinda gives it character! It’s lived in both a storage space and a garage, and right now stands just behind my refrigerator. I can’t toss it as it’s become way too valuable… just for existing!

From: Jackie Knott — Sep 17, 2012

On male verses female nudes, it is more likely because historically, there have been more male artists. One assumes the majority prefered painting women. Trying to remove sexuality in painting nudes is almost impossible; we are sexual beings. Some artists present erotic figures while others, the asexual classical figure. Many object to the former but are perfectly at ease with the latter. It is a fine line and is as much in the mind of the viewer as the intent of the artist. I don’t know why I have nothing but admiration for Old Masters’ nudes, Thomas Eakins, or even Vargas, but yet bristle at others. Go figure … excuse the pun. I’d like to hear from some models.

From: Lismer — Sep 17, 2012

The most puritan societies presently are Islamic countries, followed by the North America. Nowhere else is nakedness judged strongly by the society.

From: Jim van Geet — Sep 18, 2012

Some years ago I conducted life-drawing classes in Melbourne. After one of these sessions I entered a rather crowded elevator in a busy department store and was greeted by someone at the back who said, ” Don’t you say hello to your friends Jim “. When I saw who it was I absent-mindedly responded with, ” Oh, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on “. Some of the passengers were highly amused whilst others appeared horrified. I thought about explaining but only briefly.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Sep 18, 2012
From: Bruce B. Miller — Sep 18, 2012

At one time I was taking a figure sculpting class and a drawing class. In sculpting it seemed we took a zillion measurements. In spite of that my clay figures never seemed very “human”. My teacher made the wise comment: “Art occurs between the measurements.”

From: Karla Pearce — Sep 18, 2012

As an art dealer I could care less what an artists credentials are. Its all about the work and how professional they are.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Sep 18, 2012

Some professions need those titles added to their names like medicine, dentistry and other professions with the corresponding diplomas or certificates stating that they are indeed qualified for the service they render. I am not sure for artists if titles will speak for the pictures they produce. The finished pictures speak for themselves and the viewers choose what appeals to them. Some artists never went to art school or have earned certificates to show except for their work. Artistic ability is instinctive and a God given talent. They have the ability to see beyond what is obvious and interpreting what they see in their own on paper, canvas or what ever media available to them. Perhaps those letters give a sense of prestige and belonging that give a distinction of importance. But who bothers to check those letters?

From: Fiona Cork, ireland — Sep 18, 2012

Drawing from the nude is such an essential part of developing as an artist. The nude figure is the ultimate yardstick if you like, for attempting to capture reality in 2D. We all know just how a human being looks, how a person moves, what the feeling of weight is like ect and can judge in an instant if an artist has captured all the elements of humaness in a drawing. It should never be alowed to “go out of fashion” or be considered outmoded. It would be like a mechanic not needing to learn how the engine works!

From: Jaime Volio — Sep 18, 2012

Incompetent painters need letters and can get them. Competent painters don’t need letters but are given them.

From: Suzanne Barrett — Sep 18, 2012
From: Brenda McCrank — Sep 20, 2012

I’m just running off to teach an Intro to (nude) Figure Drawing Class aka ‘learning to draw the most complex grouping of forms – so if we can do this, we can draw anything” … I am very interested in this discussion …

From: Christine Seaver — Sep 21, 2012

When I was in art school I looked forward to drawing nudes. Male or Female it didn’t matter. What I remember is the attention to contour lines and the flow of my pencil moving as I focused on the form. I loved to draw this way. I didn’t like that this practice would stop there in the drawing room. In studio I would go back to my figure drawings and add my own flare or additional touches. I still have many of my favorite nude portraits with me hidden away in storage. Isn’t that a shame. Some I like so much I would like to exhibit them but not sure how they will be received. Living in Winnipeg I haven’t seen exhibits with nudes. Although people I know still go to life figure drawing classes. What happens to all the beautiful nude drawings that people produce.

From: Paul Rybarczyk — Sep 25, 2012
From: Jonathan Rubicon — Dec 27, 2013

I’ve managed a life drawing group in Atlanta for over a year and find variety–male/female, old/young, beautiful/not, and even pregnancy bring compliments and greater attendence to our sessions. All bodies are beautiful and bless all models who share them. “I facilitate creativity”, one model tells us. Thank you, thank you.

     Featured Workshop: David E. Dallison
091812_robert-genn David E. Dallison workshops Held at the Chicago Botanical Gardens   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Autumn Reflection

oil painting, 12 x 16 inches by William Marvin

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Nick Banderas who wrote, “Where did you get those shorts to put on your dog?” (RG note) Thanks, Nick. They’re actually my shorts, but it’s okay because I washed them before I put them on Dorothy. And also Dorothy Gardiner of Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA, who wrote, “After studying and sculpting the nude figure for many years, my 11 year old son pleaded, ‘Mom, could you please put some clothes on those naked people all over the house. Every time my friends come over they laugh and tease me!’ ” And also Susan Marx of Orange, NJ, USA, who wrote, “There is a difference between nude and naked. It is the artist’s intention that is important.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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