November 21, 2000
Struggling with a young woman while attending our Life Group the other morning I was considering the convention. I remembered that William Blake thought a naked woman to be the most brilliant work of God. Michelangelo found a foot to be more noble than a shoe. Edgar Degas found them all the more interesting in a tub. Robert Henri thought respect for the nude would eliminate shame. Auguste Rodin named it an eternal form and a joy to all the ages.
Like an echo from some primitive rite, rendering nudity is a time-honored craft and one of the few acceptable forms of public nakedness. Even medical doctors do not have the privilege of staring for hours. Whether old or young, male or female, plain or beautiful, when stripped of its fashions, the human body has integrity. You feel the energy within; your brush begins to speak in body language. I treat my nude woman as a kind of illuminated landscape; hills and valleys, a complex puzzle of beauty and practicality. Form that follows function. It's the exercise of all exercises, light and shadow, chiaroscuro--the sphere, the cone, the cylinder. Artist and teacher Wayne Thiebaud said, "It's the most important study there is; the most challenging, the most difficult." There's definitely something about it. Educator Martha Erlebacher feels the nude makes it possible to contemplate our sexuality in safety.
The young woman changes poses--the two-minute, the five-minute, the one-hour. Heads go down with each change and the eternal re-invention begins again. The human body is the fleeting temple of our souls--the outward, evident skin of the human animal. Intuitively we know it to be something good and wholesome, and its mystery, wonder and dismaying difficulties humble us.
PS: "There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body." (Robert Henri)
Esoterica: Michelangelo took delight in anatomy and the design and engineering of the body. "He who does not master the nude, cannot understand the principles of architecture," he said.
The following are selected correspondence relating to this letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing firstname.lastname@example.org
No doubt about nude art
Since all my fine art photography is of female nudes, I feel compelled to comment on your last letter. My website is now five years old, and it has had around three million visitors. I have received thousands of letters from serious viewers - which leads me to this thought. Alongside the vast wasteland of pornography, there are websites with very high quality work, and I can assure you that there are many, many people who are being introduced to fine art nudes for the first time. And they are amazed to discover the honest beauty of the human form. People who would have otherwise never gone into a gallery or a museum are seeing beautiful nude images which they never knew existed.
So any of us who might wonder about our motivation for having an interest in nudes should examine not our desire, but should question our hesitation. What visual symbol more completely represents the human being? What image might we create that more accurately reflects our soul?
The visual arts are limited to images of the physical world - and the physical body is the primary image of the human being. It should be painted, drawn, etched, and photographed by any artist with even the slightest glimmer of desire. He or she should honor that desire, knowing that beautiful, artistic images of the nude serve only to elevate the lives and spirits of those who view them.
Beautiful nude images serve to correct the distorted self idea that mankind holds. Each of us should make an attempt to work with the nude in hopes of adding our contribution to this healing effort. It is good work, and good people need to be doing it. We must cast off not only the ignorant opinions of others, but also our own self doubt.
(RG note) To get an idea of Robb's concept take a look at www.debenport.com and then go to www.taylormonroe.com
Children marvel at the discovery of themselves, their uniqueness, their outer skins, and those of people around them. This same behavior is observed in apes and monkeys. As children grow up, many, unfortunately learn to cover up! A display of one's nakedness arouses shame and the fear of 'being caught'. Thousands of years ago, if one is to believe archeologists'/anthropologists' interpretations, the 'Venus De Willendorf' represented the ideal female body; fatted and saturated with breast tissue and new life. Today, the ideal female is tall, lanky, leggy, and lacking in breasts. This is the message the media has delivered. Unfortunately, many females, at a younger and younger age, will do anything necessary to attain the "body beautiful".
Linda Timbs, Coquitlam, BC, Canada
Ecstasy of nude modeling
Your letter awakened sleeping giants within myself! I well remember the exuberance of running naked through sprinklers on a hot summer's eve; The late adolescent agony of being "too fat" for last summer's wear. I remember the joy of being an artists' model, unashamed with my nudity, delighted with my thinness. There was no sign of the struggle within. The artists showed no sign of their private struggles either. Every subtle turn of the head, lean of the torso, was a multiple delight. These young artists allowed something I was longing for--escape, and the sheer ecstasy of being out of my skin. At last, no struggle, just free form, flying beyond my mind and soul.
Nudes and galleries
I do a lot of nudes. It has been very interesting talking with the Galleries, and I think they are being honest, "I like your work - a lot - but it would be a little tough to sell - do you have work with the same technique and eye, but different subject matter?" --- or more recently - "I'll hang some of your more chaste work and your more explicit (and none is very) in a book for my more adventuresome, etc., clients."
oliver, Texas, USA
I took my first life class recently and there was an immediate feeling that took my breath away. Once my initial discomfort of proximate nudity passed I realized it was a totally beautiful and uplifiting experiencepulling the charcoal around the shapes and volumes. Something basic, primal, spiritual.
Therese Brisson, Nice, France
Map of Time
I think the last paragraph of your letter sums it up beautifully. There is nothing as humbling as drawing, sketching, painting the human body. Young, old, middle aged it is such a thing of beauty and wonder. It is especially the older models who fill me with respect and admiration. Unclothed, naked for all to see, unable to deny with the exposure of their vulnerable bodies the map of time. In all my studies only once did I experience a negative interaction with the live model. He thought he was Adonis, rather than letting the students think it of him. Once I get over my own puritanical voyeurism I just love and am so grateful for the opportunity to work in such a forum.
Mary Jean Mailloux, Canada
More to do about stopping to eat
It isn't for nothing that chefs prefer white china - they regard the plate as an empty canvas. And so it is. When you think about it, cooking and art-making are very similar - there is the same necessity for quality in materials and tools, and the same elements of technique, skill, creativity, manipulation, and presentation. If done properly, a good meal is really just consumable art.
Arla J Swift, Harrison Lake, BC, Canada
My solution to the "golden stations reality" was to move to an area where there were PEOPLE. Build and open my own gallery (with the money I made from my Graphic Design business which I then phased out). Now I am in business right? So I have to paint every day...Best excuse in the world! "I must paint because I need inventory." Society, family, and friends now "understand" and make fewer demands. It's business! Underneath I am chuckling because painting as much as I can every day is what I have really wanted to do all along. And I am making a decent living at it. New problem however is that when I am doing anything but painting I feel unproductive instead of the old way which was to feel self-indulgent when I was painting.....Guess what? I would rather have it this way. My paintings get better and everyone is happy. Yes, I do get stale sometimes so I just do what I did when I had my design business and before that when I went to work at an office every day. Go to work and dive in. Something comes out of it... Or I take a week or so and mat and shrink wrap with my new assistant. Setting up my life to do what I wanted to do was a gamble that worked. So my day would be. Showering, looking at e-mail, going out to the studio to enjoy the anticipation of painting, reading an art book while eating breakfast, back into studio, packing gear, going outside to paint by the sea, painting, painting, painting, coming home, reading an art book while eating a light lunch, meditating, back into studio, painting, painting, painting a studio painting, reading mail, paying bills, painting, painting, painting, meditating, back into studio, fooling around, very important, (perusing books, dreaming, planning, sitting looking at all my "stuff") critiquing morning's painting, framing previous work, painting, painting, cooking and eating small dinner (or going out), watching T.V. or reading an art book, or back into studio to "fool around".
Corinne McIntyre, Ocean Point, East Boothbay, Maine, USA
It's quite an exercise to keep track of what goes on during the day. Considering that I don't wear a watch...well, it was challenging! You may have noticed that 'design' came up quite a bit. I'm in the midst of designing a 'teaser' for galleries. The gallery that I had...well, it picked up and went to Montreal. So, I'm in the midst of searching for another gallery. I spent the majority of the weekend thinking of a way to lure galleries into my world. I don't really think that my approach is the typical 'artist way' of doing things.
(Saturday) 11:00 Shopping (colour printer!) 12:00 Installing software, 1:00 Meditating, 2:00 Designing, 3:00 Designing, 4:00 Designing, 5:00 Sunset Walk, 6:00 Buying Food, 7:00 Cooking (gourmet food does take too long!), 8:00 Still cooking, 9:00 Designing 10:00 Designing, 11:00 Dreaming.
(Sunday) 9:00 Dreaming, 10:00 Walking, 11:00 Walking, 12:00 Designing, 1:00 Painting, 2:00 Painting, 3:00 Walking, 4:00 Yoga, 5:00 Yoga, 6:00 Walking, 7:00 Dinner, 8:00 Designing, 9:00 Meditating.
Norah Borden, Vancouver, BC, Canada
(RG note) Norah wins a copy of "The Painters Keys" for her luring and designing ways. Also, with regard to the time consumed by cooking when one ought to be doing other creative thingsplease see Monet's Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet, by Claire Joyes, illustrated by Jean Bernard Naudin (Arla Swift)
If you go to http://www.painterskeys.com/quotations.htm you will see what we are starting to call "the world's largest resource of art quotations." Don't print it out, at least not yet. For one thing--it's big--you may run out of ink. For another, there's still more that must be put in. This collaboration, ideal in the internet environment, is growing daily with original research by contributors and associate editors who await your critique or input. Please take a look and drop off corrections or quotations, particularly by living, breathing artists you feel ought to be included. We're trying to figure out how to make it a database so that the quotes can be accessed by author and perhaps by keywordas well as the way they are by subject. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
If you would like to see selected correspondence relating to the previous letter "Reality check," please click here http://painterskeys.com/clickbacks/reality.htm
You may be interested to know that artists from 75 countries have visited these sites since November 1, 2000. That includes Lawrence Butigieg of Malta who helps organize a life group every Saturday. And Yaroslaw Razputnyak of Moscow who writes "The men in the Russia understand mostly the beauty of nude perfectness." And Allison Creviston of Kentucky who loves the "S" artists: Sorolla, Sargent and Schmid.
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