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Friday, September 14, 2012
A strange situation by Robert Genn
A strange situation
September 14, 2012
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 riguer 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.
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)
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)