Figure Drawing

For thousands of years, artists have drawn, painted, and sculpted the nude human figure. The tradition of drawing from life teaches artists to understand anatomy, to respect each other’s humanity, and to depict what we see. But it’s a curious practice.

Nakedness is natural. It’s how we enter this world, and it’s how we spend many private moments. But we live in a society where being clothed is the norm, and where all too often the human body is idealized, sexualized, and politicized. This leads many of us to have some degree of self-consciousness about our bodies. Outside of the art studio or classroom, it is unusual to encounter a person nonchalantly unclothed. Thankfully, artists and models are a different breed, who bravely create a safe and sacred space in which to challenge society’s flawed programming, and to get back to a more primal understanding of reality.

The first time one joins a handful of other artists to draw a live model—often a stranger—the experience can feel a little awkward, and it can evoke a twinge of emotional dissonance. But the session quickly becomes an act of mutual trust and compassion between the artist and the model. It becomes a humble recognition of our shared humanity, and an appreciation of the beautiful art that results. We get over the fleeting discomfort, and we move on into the serious work of rendering what we see.

One model I know speaks of modeling as a form of personal development. Most models I’ve met seem unfazed by their intimate exposure in the context of the art studio setting, and they seem quite comfortable in their own skin. If you think about it, isn’t this how we should all feel? Confident, safe, and empowered to own our place in the world. And allowing of the same in others. Kudos to models for embodying these traits. Model citizens, I’d say.

Below is a sampling of charcoal drawings I’ve made while attending various drawing sessions around the Pioneer Valley. (Amherst College, Go Figure Drawing Studio in Holyoke, Mass., and Liliacland in Pelham, Mass.)

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