Reflections on Mayhew, Margaret. “The Naked and the Blind; Exploring the Badness of Life Drawing.” (2008).
I have been using quickposes.com which claims to be “a tool for art students, illustrators or anyone who wants to focus on improving their drawing skills”.
Before reading Mayhew’s essay I didn’t reflect on the nature of the images provided. I did send the link to a friend, who misspelt it in some way and landed on a porn site. I redirected her. I was not shocked by this. Pornography is pervasive and very available.
The saturation of pornography and near naked bodies on the internet and in advertising makes me think that Mayhew’s comments, concerning the badness of naked figures, are true but dated.
The author seeks to understand “life drawing as both popular form of recreation and a continuing element of art education”.
She specifically examines images of life drawing on the internet, not images of nude models on the internet so maybe I have missed the point in my last statement.
I stared reading this article thinking, who cares if the classes being offered were for serious art of not? Surely life drawing classes don’t need to be “serious” or conform to one definition. Then I thought of the analogy of attempting to book a remedial massage and negotiating the many sex massage services. That’s not so hard. Maybe the art world is more complicated.
Would the drawings I produced from a porn site be any different from those images displayed primarily for drawing found on quickposes.com? Is this an ethical dilemma?
One option in quickposes is “eroticposes” I have avoided these. But really are they different to other poses? Mayhew says, “If sexual life drawing is equated with bad life drawing, then this badness can form a pole of attraction as well as repulsion”.
Once I determined that the quickposes website was not porn I did not look further to find whether the models had been renumerated for their posing for photos. Moral failing?
Artistic failing? Creating an unattractive drawing or creating a pleasing reproduction of the model?
Mayhew’s concerns with sexuality and life drawing as morally good or bad may seem redundant, and the question of context raises a broader critical issue of life drawing, concerning its relationship to figurative representation and visual culture generally.
Mayhew states, “While it can be argued that historically life classes have been based on an abstracted ideal of a figure rather than the close observation of the living present model, then presumably life drawing could and possibly should be taught not only from the life model, but also based on print and screen images of naked figures (such as from advertising and even pornography) bill posters and internet images. The extension of this line of thought would argue the virtual life room of the figure drawing factory is a valid, and probably cost effective form of teaching life drawing.”
I agree with this. However it depends on what the drawer wants to privilege, their resources, and thought processes. It may be that a drawing created from a morally bad photo of an unwilling “model” in a porn shot creates a beautiful drawing by a gifted artist. Does that make it a “bad” drawing?
What if the viewer has no knowledge of its “bad” origins? Unless the model is coerced in some way then I can see no moral “badness”.
In the last paragraph of the essay the author states that,
“life drawing needs to facilitate a movement away from a habitual emphasis on representation or on confining a responsive figurative engagement to the external appearance of bodies. If we can expand our understanding of the human body to include the emotions, movements, desires, reactions and failures passing between those drawing and those being drawn.”
I disagree with the author in part. Surely the whole point of life drawing is is the emphasis on representation. Maybe in this multicultural, plural society we should ask the question, Who is being drawn? its not the obese, the maimed the social outcasts?
Inclusion of the “emotions, movements, desires, reactions and failures passing between those drawing and those being drawn” is inevitable where dysgraphia is privileged in a modern art college, and surely to some degree it was ever thus.