The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Art of Staring Productively at Naked Bodies

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)

Chapter 8: The Art of Staring Productively at Naked Bodies

My husband saw the title of this chapter and wants to practice! However, I suspect that’s not what Kimmelman has in mind … or, does he? Let’s see.

For as long as there have been artists there have been different strategies for depicting the nude. Some nudes have been realistic while others are fantastical or morphed into allegorical forms. Still others may be abstracted to an unrecognizable state. Renaissance artists and many contemporary artists deemed it necessary to study human anatomy in order to better render the human form. And then, there are the shock artists and pornographers.

Kimmelman dedicates most of this chapter to time he spent with the contemporary visual artist Philip Pearlstein. A painter of nudes, Pearlstein’s work is most unusual because he incorporates elaborate still lifes in his work (photo). He also works with different models on different days so he works on several paintings simultaneously in a repetitiously methodical way. The author spent months observing Pearlstein’s process and revealed a number of daily habits practiced by Pearlstein that enhance his productivity. The artist explained it this way: “The act of re-creating the visual experience of the models in front of me is absolutely absorbing, leaving no room for extraneous thoughts, sexual or otherwise. My routine is my way of controlling hysteria… There’s no way to get rid of emotion in art. It’s just a question of making something constructive out of it. … I wake up every morning and get to work. It’s my little contribution to civilization.”
Pearlstein established a routine that enhances his ability to intensely focus on his work. I try to do the same thing: post my blog, go to the studio and paint, lunch, paint, dinner, relax and read. This routine changes during the summers because I love kayaking and hiking. But, the moment those activities end I'm back at my routine.

Focus, routine, dedication… sounds like a formula for success to me.

What are your thoughts and routines?


Carol Blackburn said...

Drawing or painting a nude would be difficult for me because growing up I often got in trouble for observing others. I would study the way someone's hair fell across their back, or how the curls were piled atop their head and the ribbon laying loosely across their cheek. Back in grade school I was very observant until it became bothersone getting chased or beat up for staring. Oh, I have no trouble looking someone in the eye today, but looking at them behind their back is scary business. I photograph people this way though so I can stare at my photo and learn everything I need to draw or paint them without threat of violence.
Wonderful blog you have here. Pardon my staring..........

Robin said...

In the past, I always felt uncomfortable painting the human form and when I was in graduate school (went back 30 yrs after undergrad school) I wrote a paper early on about why I was so uncomfortable painting figures and faces. I decided to challenge myself - force myself to paint figures or faces regularly, a daily sketch. This lasted for several months, then after 2 yrs of school I found a way to feel comfortable with human form (using a new medium!). I never would have reached that point if I wasn't disciplined and kept to an art making routine. I do have to admit though, I much prefer a landscape painting to a nude, both in viewing and creating.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

I can see circumstances where I might take some time to study the human form, both draped and nude. I think I would enjoy exploring the nude in the context of human-ness in it's natural state. I do like Pearlstein's work; there is something surreal in his compositions.

There's the idea of routine cropping up again! I do think having a work routine helps!

Unknown said...

Hi Carol - I know what you mean. As a child I was a "starer" and it used to unnerve my teachers. But, the fascination was really about forms and movement - something that fed my aesthetic side. Using photographs is a great idea ... I should do that more because I still stare too much!

Hi Robin - your comment reminded me of my first experience in college drawing nudes. It took a while to get used to, but, as you mention, one does get used to it. You hit the nail on the head: discipline and routine!

Hi Peggy - I think you'd be great rendering the human form! Your skills are advanced and it would be neat to see what you would produce. Maybe MsKitty and Toy Pony could morph.

-Don said...

First of all, your new painting is really nice and I commented on it on your Photobucket page. Sweet.

Second of all, how dare you get me all interested with the title of this blog/chapter only to take me back into that boring routine thing again. It's the oldest marketing ploy in the book - sex sells. I feel hoodwinked!

My only real routine is the requirement I've placed on myself to paint/create every day. If I try to follow a specific disciplined schedule I've found that I get bored and that's when trouble rears its ugly head. I go through my day more like a pinball than a bowling ball... Not that either is better than the other - high score is still the desire.

Now I'm off to stare at some naked masks...


Anonymous said...

I'll have to check out your latest painting Kathy! How exciting.
I make a weekly list of art tasks and try to finish it. Like Don, if I back myself into a corner, it's not a good thing.
I will say that I push myself constantly in a creative direction.

Unknown said...

Hi Don - Thanks for noticing my work! I thought I could sneak it by you - but, you're toooooo sharp. As for the cheap ploy to get ya'll to read this post, I apologize. Perhaps I should post some nude pictures of my dog :-) It's interesting to me that you don't have a routine - I thought you did. But, then again, you do have teenagers in the house. There's no way to set up a routine with teenagers, as much as we love 'em. As always, I appreciate the belly laugh. You're too funny!

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - I used to make lists but have given up. I also stopped wearing a wrist watch :-)

hw (hallie) farber said...

I like Perlstein's nudes and always imagined he just happened to have nudes lying all over his floor. Now I'll think "repetitiously methodical."

After my first exposure, I found looking at nude models no different from looking at trees in winter. You look but you're not really labeling parts; you're simply sculpting or painting them.

Casey Klahn said...

I find I like the (love the) Matisse nudes, and am now studying the Modiglianis. I am also studying/drawing from a book on artistic anatomy that is by a Art Students league fellow. There is more to this than I thought before when i used to draw the figure. I am also studying Degas' figures. That is the best!

Oh, and the Helga series is incredible.

What is the "accidental" part here? I am either not following closely enough, or I'm just dense. Or, I'm in constant stress - today I hung an exhibit and came home to one of the bottle-fed kittens almost dead. I slammed home some milk, and things are better. Then, I took a power nap when Lorie got home - I must've tossed and turned the night before!

My compliments to Don for the catch. Is it The First Law of Thermodynamics? I hold this series up as the best thing I've seen this year, Kathy.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - so true. I remember in one life-drawing class getting hung up on a detailed drawing of the model's hand - to the point that I barely rendered the rest of the body. My instructer was somewhat surprised that I managed to get so distracted from the actual assignment, but there was something so interesting about the hand!

Hi Casey - whew! I'm glad you saved the kitten. The "accidental" part isn't apparent in this particular chapter, but I think that Kimmelman's book theme is about all the incidental aspects of life that artists can utilize to inform their work. I guess we'll see by the final chapter (only two chapters away). Thanks so much for the praise and support of my work!

Dan Kent said...

When I was a young married man, I went to group sketches with a nude model. I used pastel one night with a particularly attractive model. I don't know if it was any good, but it was an expressionist masterpiece - oranges, reds! My young, jealous wife made me stop taking the class! lol.

Unknown said...

Hi Dan - too funny!!