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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Nude in High School Art

When I was a high school art instructor, I found that one of the most interesting, yet "touchy," subjects to deal with in art history/appreciation was the inevitable presence of the nude figure. The reactions range from (often-feigned) indifference, to deep embarrassment on the part of the wide cross-section of young adolescent artists I encounter. Kids, of both sexes, come equipped with a number of built-in defence mechanisms, but the most likely one seems to be laughter in one form or another. There also seems 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 tend to be the most open in their reactions although individual students seem 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 a 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 find that student interest in such subject matter is 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 arises 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've developed two standard responses. If the request is seriously made, I demand the student bring a note signed by their mother granting them permission to portray a nude figure. That usually takes care of  "that". On occasion, the student has called my bluff and actually done a nude figure...a drawing of Michelangelo's David for instance. If the request to draw a nude figure is not made seriously, I suggest 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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