Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Looking and Seeing

A couple of months ago, I posted about artist Ron Cheek and the Texas Academy of Figurative Art.  I had the pleasure of modeling there a couple of weeks ago for an evening anatomy series he has been teaching.  The class started with Ron lecturing on different muscles and bones.  On the platform was a skeleton, and on either side of that were full color charts depicting the muscular system.  After about twenty minutes of lecture, he called for me to step onto the podium.  I took my place next to the skeleton and tossed my robe aside.  Ron told me to stand straight and "look anatomical."  So I stood with my palms turned outward, like the diagram below.  He then continued his lecture and used a laser pointer to highlight my anatomical features.

It was strange (but, for me, not unwelcome) to be standing nude in front of a group of people who were simply looking and not drawing.  It has become the custom in most classes that I do to not take off my robe until all (or almost all) the students are ready to draw, as if to be nude when people were not drawing would somehow be improper.  I've never really seen the need for such a custom since nudity is such a natural state, especially for me after doing this job all these years.  But customs are a hard thing to break, especially if one loves what one does and wants to keep doing it.

Once Ron finished discussing the anatomy that can be seen from a frontal view, he asked me to turn around and face away from the students so they could see my back.  As I did so, I turned the skeleton as well.  Once all the anatomy lectures were done, the rest of the class time consisted of me in two fairly long standing poses, one front view and one back view, with the students drawing me.  What I saw of their drawings during and after class seemed to be a few steps above the typical college figure drawing classes in terms of capturing the form with the correct proportions.  I got to thinking about that after class was over.  Why were their drawings so much more accurate that what I usually see elsewhere?  I thought about those anatomy lectures, with the students simply looking at me.  Seeing me.  So many people in other classes spend so much more time looking at their paper than at me that I wonder how much of me they really see.  And if they don't really see me, how can they draw what they see?  Are they drawing not what they see but simply what they expect to see?

Quite a few of the teachers I have worked with will talk about anatomy with a skeleton before going into the drawing time, but won't do it with a live model.  I've even offered to get up next to the skeleton a time or two but have been turned down.  It is the job of an art model, especially a model for college classes, to be seen and studied as an aid to teaching students to draw accurate representations of the human body.  I wouldn't be doing this job if I weren't fine with that.

So, I applaud Ron Cheek's teaching methods, and I look forward to working with him more in the future.

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