Wednesday, May 13, 2009

2nd entry for April 28, 2009

(This post has garnered a couple of comments now - happy to learn who some of the viewers of this blog are. The night it documents was a little out of the ordinary, and affords a forum for some dialogue. I'd really like to hear other peoples input on any of this. Especially G- 's perception of the evening, if he reads this: this was my take on the night - hope I have not given a skewed account. Anybody else who was there, I'd like to know your respose, too.)

These were all 20-minute poses. It was slightly unusual evening, as open drawing sessions go. In the sessions that I attend for practice - and connection and inspiration - the models choose what poses they take. From earlier discussions with him, I know that G- is very interested in the opportunity to push the sexual content/context in his modelling. (that is, I should add, something I basically support in the right context - we have discussed, and I gave him feedback, on what might constitute good erotic poses)

But in the situation of an open drawing session, that erotic focus gives me pause, as I respond to it in a couple of ways. Given our society's conflation of nudity with sexuality, art instruction -and drawing sessions- go out of their way to downplay the sexual component of drawing bodies. Being sexual creatures, almost any situation from an office to a day at the beach may have a sexual component. But I think that looking at an undressed person is viewed by many as almost inextricably related to something sexual.

Personally, I cannot deny that that is a part of drawing people. But it is not the whole thing. I respond to people on multiple layers - desire, empathy, fascination, various emotions are all part of the mix. (That mix shifts too, on every occasion) But what is most important for me is looking beyond a simple viewing to be excited. I want to see the full spectrum of who people are - their fragilities and oddities, plus what is physically appealing about them. Part of what makes drawing people's bodies important to me is that so often we don't get that more full-spectrum view of people. We get an emphasis on idealization or figures situated in conventions of the `erotic'.

In figure drawing sessions, any sexual component to the practice is the `500 pound elephant' that is present, but stays unacknowledged. That is likely for the best. It is not the point of the exercise, and not everyone is capable of responding in a mature or considerate way to that. People who model are not usually doing this as a sexual display, and they would be very uncomfortable if this was foregrounded while they were working. Drawing a live person is a situation of permission, and generally the contract of understanding is that "I will permit you to look at me, but I expect you to detach your response to me from your physical reactions.' So it is `look but don't touch' , and often "in the context of learning and art, you may look, but what you depict should be respectful of my feelings, and how I am comfortable being seen by the world." Different sitters have different comfort levels as to how they are depicted. there is perhaps a concern too that if some of the time the life drawing is a more sexualised thing, that will have a spillover `halo effect', making the whole process seem to be a more prurient thing.

On the Tuesday, G- brought the elephant more out in the open when he announced that he was going to do some more `edgy' poses, and took a pose lying blindfolded with a cord wrapped around his genitals & draped over his torso. It was a very mild bondage allusion, but did polarise the people drawing (who were only 6 and all males that night). A couple of people were perceptibly uncomfortable, and one person left.

I was fine with it. Sexual expression is part of our life experience, so to not include it is to miss a part of the whole, and seems wierd to never be addressed. But I am not so sure this was the right forum. Many of the Artists 25 people seem to be a more conservative crowd, and they have enough difficulty in getting participants that it isn't good to alienate those that do show up. Also, his more sexual poses came out of left field for those there, as that is rather atypical of open sessions. That was followed up by him advising anyone `easily offended to leave now", and the last pose, which had him kneeling with his lower torso up. (interestingly - I've seen him- and others - do similar poses, but the contextualising introduction made it hard to read this any other way than as a sexual display) One more exited, and the remaining three worked away. (to be fair though, it isn't uncommon for people to leave towards the end of the session there, regardless of the model)

G- is an excellent model, and he holds his poses solidly. I was impressed that he was able to sustain the kneeling pose on the balls of his feet for 20 minutes. It was a good drawing challenge. It moved the representation into more sensitive territory, and shook people up a little. All of these things are good in my books. Personally, in a shared situation like that I think it would have been better to sound out the crowd, rather than force things on them. (It is different with a stable group that meets on a steady basis, but A25 has a shifting drop-in group of drawers, who have no advance idea of the night's modelling fare.) In the end all of these poses are very innocuous in the grander stream of how bodies are presented today. I find myself wondering how would the dynamic have differed if it was a woman modelling. Would the men have left? G- has said that where he has done similar stuff for mixed groups, the women liked it, while the men felt uncomfortable. Is it men being uncomfortable with the possibility of male desirability?

For me, I'm down with it, but with fair advance warning. Guess I'm not an `epater les Bourgeois'* kind of guy. More `bring them round slowly'. Other drawers might disagree. sometimes, being pulled unexpectedly into new territory is the best way to get there.

(*shock the Bourgeois - was a French avant-garde motto from the late 19th century)



Maxnix said...

I am a model and I would love to pose in the way 'g' posed that night. I would only do it if invited to do it, though. I would not feel comfortable springing it on folks unawares. I have been invited to pose with other models in a more erotic situations and even homoerotic poses, which would involve, a not very small amount of acting, as I am a hetero. I like the challenge of making the pose an interesting one. It's a lot more fun. I guess it's the actor in me.

Thomas Hendry said...

If you were here in Toronto, there is now a person starting up something called the "Keyhole Sessions", which specifically aim to present a more sexualised context for drawing models.

From what I understand, though, the deal for models runs along the lines of: first be a tease, then show us your all - or get docked pay. Which isn't a recipe for honest sexual expression in my books.

G- 's impulse is much more authentic than that scenario.

Clive said...

Always enjoy your proliferation of drawings, Thomas, our life drawing group's blog has a link to your blog. Your thoughts on the erotic aspect of nude art were a pleasant surprise, thoughtful, and interesting reading.

Thomas Hendry said...

My perspective is from the drawing side of the artist-model dynamic. My family has connections to theatre, and I regard the drawer's response to emotions - like desire - as being akin to an actor's.

A good actor doesn't pretend to be engaged in a love scene; rather they channel their experience of desire, and express it, but at a remove from their particular self. The feeling is genuine while it is playing, but the moment the scene or the play is over, the personas are gone, and the feeling let go or put away. there is an understanding of a space between performance and outside life. I am very much into my partner these days, and many times in others I find reminders of her, which I respond to.

In class settings, drawing people is about learning skills. Desire isn't on the table at all.
Openly allowing personal desire into drawing someone else requires a degree of control and maturity. I really do not want to overstep my bounds and make someone who has come to model feel uncomfortable by acting too intense or manifestly leering at them, etc. And I do not confuse people's posing behaviour with their street self.

Occasionally I will come across female models whose posing seems to be informed by pin-up photography conventions - pronounced arched back, hips up, chest out and lots of poses that seem to be arranged to display genitals*.

It can be discomfiting in a broad-based group drawing session, as that isn't why most people came - would it be even more discomfiting in a session where that was the draw? No one wants too seem too enthusiastic about looking at a more sexual display, and no doubt the range of response runs from people who are uncomfortable through people who don't care to ones who appreciate that as a change of pace, up to those for whom it is a turn-on. But there are much better venues for viewing someone in a sexual context: keeping immobile for extended periods tends to diminish the thrill. (at least the way models keep immobile).

The same with men getting erect - it happens once in a while. We used to have one guy who would be up on and off the whole time he posed. Eventually it got him ostracised. But he was unfailingly polite and unthreatening, and response to him ran the gamut. I found it mildly intriguing (not something I see very often) and I knew at least one woman who dug that. I'm sure some were troubled. But eventually, the discomfort factor won out. All of which underscores our society's awkward relationship with sexuality, and the concomitant need to keep it in very limited areas.

So all of this is played out on a subtle, interior level.

(*Less so with male models, possibly because they are more concerned about censure if they cross into more sexual display. Though there is a history of homoerotic imagery that could provide poses to draw from.)