Drawing naked bodies is not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but to its aficionados it is very special. This is no “nudge, nudge” prurient practice but a serious branch of the graphic arts with a long pedigree.
Artists will tell you that “life drawing” as it is termed is the hardest to master: “The construction of the human figure, its tremendous variety of balance, of size, of rhythm all those things make the human form much more difficult to get right in a drawing than anything else” [Henry Moore].
Difficulty alone would not place life drawing on the pedestal I suggest it occupies. No two poses or viewpoints, let alone two bodies, are the same but above all these bodies are living people who are there to be brought to life in two dimensions. The artist is offered a privilege in seeing those individuals in ways not open to others.
The model exposes everything normally hidden under a material carapace, in part used to convey an impression of the person that they want to create. Without this, though, all that is left is reality, warts and all. Indeed, some of the most interesting models are distinctly unlike those more familiar from the world of fashion, with their apparent flawlessness.
Life modelling is a leveller
Without the trappings of social status, profession or level of affluence, all of us are just humans, no better or worse than one another. Life modelling is a leveller, without clothing and accessories skewing the artist’s view. It is also a profession, requiring understanding of what artists want, the ability to take up and hold poses for a given duration and acceptance that the resulting work may not reflect their own view of themself.
For the artist, as well as relishing the rare opportunity granted by the model [and those who arrange these sessions], this is far more than just a technical challenge or some pencil practice. Regular life artists are afforded a rare insight into humanity in its variety – and in its commonalities. We see different people completely exposed. We see how there is beauty and worth in everybody; and that there is no such thing as perfection nor any superior type of human. Each of us is equally individual, interesting, worthy of respect.
When I dared take up this peculiar practice, barely confident to draw anything, let alone the nude, in front of others far more proficient than me, I had no conception that it would be more than a particular form of still life or a dry studio discipline. I now know it as a form of non-verbal philosophy and one of the most stimulating, absorbing ways to spend a couple of hours, which has enriched my life and appreciation of humanity. Thank you, all life models.