From Wikipedia—“One definition of fine art is ‘a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness—specifically in, painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, graphics, and architecture.’” (In that sense, there are conceptual differences between the fine arts and the applied arts, which include pottery, weaving, mosaics, etc.)
The figure as subject is an enduring theme in the study of fine art. We can list a number of reasons why, but the most common reason sited has to do with the challenge of “seeing”. Great acuity is required when studying the human body in order to understand form and proportion as light and shadow bends over the figure. The elegance of line can be easily accessed. And the model can be readily changed. How the body, moves, bends and flows provides endless compositional as well as drawing challenges. You are engaging in—“aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness” in its highest practice.
The biggest difference between life drawing/painting and any other subject is the energy that the model brings with him or her. The room changes when the model enters. It is reported that the human body contains enough energy to light a 100 watt light bulb. Think of how turning on a light can alter the feeling of any space.
With figure work you have before you a living, breathing being that can bend, twist, extend, turn, balance, fold, etc. etc., and with enough energy to light up the room. It’s an interactive experience! What a subject!
The challenge for the artist is to finds ways to connect and to see the figure in a new way, to find an approach that will encourage further engagement and to limit frustration. Drawing the figure is hard. And it’s easy to get trapped into attempting to render something expected, but that lacks life.
So this week as you observe the scenes around you, imagine how an unexpected use of the figure in your work might aid your vision and improve your skill set. Notice what happens when you “crop” your view, when you see multiple figures next to each other or stack in front and behind, or when you create a new and different context. It is unlikely you’re seeing figures nude, but allow some imagination in your observation. What about color or strong contrast. Can texture enter into your composition? Can it define the form? What if the pose is repeated multiple times? Just ponder.
I will have some suggestions of how to incorporate our model into the whole, but feel free to come up with your own ideas and share. We will do quick gestures and some longer poses. Collage and underpaintings can/will be employed. Think about a series of smaller pieces that can build one image. And then think about the reverse—a larger image that can be deconstructed and put back together. After entertaining these ideas be ready to react in the moment, feel the presence in front of you when you look at the model and connect to it. Don’t be so hot to use your tools that you don’t see. Look. Feel. Bond. Be ready to put “life” into life drawing.