Not Just Nudity

In my last post I mentioned that through modeling I had learned to find more meaning in figure art than I had previously. I have always found figure drawing to one of the most beautiful forms of art and having taken a class where I tried figure drawing heightened my enjoyment and appreciation for it. However, I always had a bit of the mindset that figure drawing had little to offer analytically. All I had experienced up to that point were themes revolving around feminism and gender politics. It is easy to jump to considerations of ideal female body types and the meaning of nudity in art while considering a figure work. The prevalence of female models over male models contributes to that element of the study of figure.

I remember when I was trying to decide what I would write about in my Independent Study at Wooster I considered writing about figure drawing - I found it to be some of the most visually pleasing art, so I knew I would enjoy the time spent choosing images and the like. I decided not to simply because I immediately wrote off figure drawing analysis to be exclusively feminist, and I was a little burnt out on feminist art history.

For some reason all the animal poses would
include those butterfly hologram platforms...
Pastel by Kate Doyle

Through modeling I was able to see more of figure art's depth. While many of the finished pieces I was involved with are more than just figure drawings, short drawings that I have copies of now have more meaning than I would have found before. A drawing of a quick, ten-minute pose by Kate illustrates this. This was one of my "animal poses," where I would try to get in touch with my inner beast, imagining stalking prey or hiding from a predator. Of course Kate could capture it beautifully. Through my own emulation and Kate's ability to portray it in her drawing, this one picture shows that even though we've built all this exclusively human culture around us, especially art, we still are a species of animal. We all have the instinct to fight or flight, and whichever you see in my crouched body and tense arms, we share it with other animals. Of course, I could be attaching much more significance to the work than it deserves, but all art carries with it the potential from someone to construct some more complex meaning.

It looks like you could just scoot me up
a few feet and I'd be in the picture
Watercolor by Kim Grant

Another example of this is a small watercolor by Kim. It shows how artists can include small elements to simple drawings for added significance. It shows a girl napping (I was actually asleep for a lot of that pose) on a couch, directly under one of Kate's lackadaisical picnic scenes. The composition almost gives it a feel of a time lapse, as if Kim's Nora is posing for the painting under which she is lying. It gives us a window into the artistic process, the beginning and ending of a painting's creation. The mood of Kate's finished work seeps into the mood of the drawing session, and history repeats itself. It also speaks to the function of the majority of figure drawing I have experience with - to practice and hone drawing skills. This study, an exercise in learning, is juxtaposed with the assumed culmination of studying drawing - a finished work of art to be sold. In reality Kim has other employment to occupy herself with, but no one would know by just looking at the work.

These are just two explanations of what I've been able to find in figure drawing that I would not have bothered to before. In thinking of grad school as a possible career option I am now seriously considering a thesis focusing on the figure. I would not have done so without my experience modeling. I now value a knowledge of making art as a crucial part of art history, as an intimate knowledge of the artistic process has opened my eyes to a myriad of new paths of analysis.