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Monday, September 13, 2010

The Nude Figure

As a high school art instructor, I found that one of the most interesting and "touchy" subjects to deal with in presenting art from the past is the inevitable presence of the nude figure. The reactions ranged from (often feigned) indifference, to deep embarrassment on the part of the wide cross-section of young adolescent artists I encountered. The kids, of both sexes, came equipped with a number of built-in defense mechanisms, but the most likely one seemed to be laughter in one form or another. There also seemed to be a direct correlation between the amount of laughter and the size of the group encountering the nude form (in pictures of course). Small groups tended to be the most open in their reactions although individual students seemed only fascinated, rather than embarrassed in seeing the nude figure in a book, for instance. In much larger groups, (as in a slide presentation or video) the reaction seems to be fairly subdued with the inevitable exception of some anonymous loudmouth in the back.

Likewise, taking a cue from this, as the instructor, I usually found that student interest in such subject matter was best dealt with using humor as well. "Mr. Lane, did you ever paint people naked?" "Yes, but the brushes tend to tickle a lot and the paint is sometimes hard to get off." Or, "I've tried, but they always make me put my clothes back on." From that point on, the subject either gets dropped, or turns to a serious discussion of college figure drawing classes, whether or not the models get cold, how much they get paid, whether they are "completely" nude, etc,

Similarly, there arose from time to time the request on the part of a high school art student to want to "do" a nude figure (from a photo of course). Here I developed two standard responses. If the request was seriously made, I demanded the student bring a note signed by their mother granting them permission to portray a nude figure. That usually took care of "that". On rare occasions, the student called my "bluff" and actually complied in order to do a nude figure--a drawing of Michelangelo's David, for instance. If the request to draw a nude figure was not made seriously, I suggested the student go home, take pad and pencil, go into the bathroom, lock the door, stand naked in front of a full length mirror, and draw, draw, draw.

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