For thousands of years and maybe more, artists have drawn, painted, and sculpted the nude human figure. Rendering the live nude model can be a serious practice that aims to teach artists to see, to understand human anatomy, to appreciate and empathize with humanity in its totality, and to more skillfully depict the forms that we see. But it’s a curious practice.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with nakedness. The human body is beautiful. Nakedness is natural. It’s how we come into this world, and it’s how we spend some of our finest private moments. But we live in a culture where being clothed is the norm, and where the human body is often sexualized and politicized. Most of us have some degree of self-consciousness about our bodies. Consequently, for those of us who’ve had a relatively conventional Western upbringing (whatever that means), the first few experiences of figure drawing evoke some emotional and intellectual dissonance.
The first time one ever joins a room full of other art students to gaze upon a live figure model (naked person), it can be awkward. I can only imagine how models must feel about being objectified for our benefit. However, most of the models I’ve met seem unconcerned about their nudity. In fact, they seem uncannily comfortable in their own skin, and interested in the art that is being made. Kudos to them for being so brave and seemingly unselfconscious (though perhaps this is an incorrect assumption).
In the meantime, we get over our discomfort, continue with the practice, and go on to gain a better understanding of human anatomy. We learn how to draw what we see, and we begin the arduous process of figuring out how representation of the human form fits into our work. The more one practices figure drawing, the less awkward it feels.
Drawings I’ve made at a drawing class I occasionally attend at Amherst College
Other kinds of drawing
Human figures are not the only subjects worthy of our artistic study. I have also enjoyed drawing still life compositions, landscapes, old manual typewriters, crumpled-up paper bags, crushed Cheerwine soda cans, neckties, abstractions, and a few other delights.
1954 Chevrolet Truck