Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The glorious discipline of figurative art

I've voiced my opinion before on the tragically mediocre training in drawing and painting that one gets in a typical liberal arts university, so it goes without saying that this reality was the saddest part of my college experience.  But all things considered, with the education I did receive I would say my biggest regret was not taking a single figure drawing class.  I always had an interest in figurative and portrait drawing and painting, but I decided to stick with the bare minimum of requirements for my degree, and it just so happens that figure drawing was not a required class for my degree.  Isn't that sad?  But then again, I question how beneficial a one-semester class, only two or three times a week, would have really been.  Especially when you consider the best art academies in the world that train art students 5 days a week for an entire year just on figure drawing alone before they even get to touch a paintbrush. 
Truly, for the past few years, I have realized how much I love figurative and portrait art.  And in my own self training, I've also realized just how demanding it is... not just in execution, but also in justification.  By that, I mean simply the process of drawing or painting a figure is difficult, of course.  But also convincing others (especially non-artists) that figurative art is a valid art form.  After all, unless you commission an artist for a personal, private portrait for your home, what use is a portrait of a random person that you don't know?  And then there's the nude figure... where do I begin??

oil on canvas
24x18 inches
I'll admit, I've nevet tried to enter a painting of a nude figure in any art show before.  I honestly have no idea where such a painting would be socially acceptable, except of course a solo exhibition in a gallery somewhere.  But in juried shows such as the ones I've done mostly, it tends to be a general rule of thumb to not enter a nude painting. 
It's a tricky subject, and it's especially tricky to convince folks that it is not obscene/pornographic/whatever.  I get it.  I'm reminded of an old Beavis and Butthead episode where they go to a nude figure drawing class for the sole purpose of seeing naked chicks, and it's the best moment of their lives until they bring out a male model. 
It's funny because I've been to a number of figure drawing classes, and all of them have been a female model.  But still, there is nothing less arousing than a figure drawing class, and I know every artist out there will know what I'm talking about.  Sure, you're looking at a naked body for 3 hours, but you're looking at it as if it was a ceramic pot, or a bouquet of flowers, or some other mundane object.  I won't deny it... Artists objectify the human figure.  We have to.  That's our job as figurative artists.  We aren't looking at the nude body as a nude body, but as an organized series of shapes, forms, shadows, lights, and in the case of painting, colors.  The trick is, in the words of Michael John Angel, to "draw the pose, not the model."  But make no mistake, speaking for myself, the purpose of objectifying the human figure in this manner is not to cheapen the humanity of the model, but just the opposite - to bring honor and glory to God's greatest creation to the best of my ability.

1 comment:

  1. Well stated, Ryan! I agree about the human figure and how it's about the shapes, shadows, textures - all the elements that comprise a human body, and a well executed art piece. Kudos to you for drawing the figure on your own. Sometimes I think the best education is the one you put yourself through. Well done!