Au Naturale: Celebrating the Tradition of the Nude in Art

Humans have been representing themselves in two- and three dimensional form since prehistoric times. Throughout history, the human nude has remained one of the most powerful and prominent subjects for artistic expression. While the purpose and meaning for this type of representation varies greatly between societies, it remains clear that the need for self-representation is an inherent and universal part of the human condition.

We are all familiar with the naturalistic, yet idealized marble depictions
of Greek athletes and gods created during the height of the Classical
Antiquity. It was during this ³Golden Age² that the academic disciplines now known in the Western world as ³the humanities² originated. Ideals of human perfection were expressed through these flawless, canonically proportioned forms. The practice of drawing, painting, or sculpting from the direct observation of a nude human form has been part the traditional Western method of art instruction at least since the sixteenth century, when the first European art academies appeared. Years of rigorous study of the human form were required of all academy artists, and this practice remains a crucial part of artistic study to this day.

Societal ideals regarding the representation of the human form change with
time. Looking through history we can see the nude figure depicted in every
way possible, from the idealized to the realistic, and from the naturalistic
to to the abstract. In contemporary times, the nude human form appears in
performance and conceptual art. It is clear that the nude human form in art
is here to stay.

As both an artist and an educator, it is my belief that a regular figure
drawing practice is crucial to all artists, regardless of their skill level,
where they are in their careers, or their preferred media, style, or
subject matter, even if their ³actual² work is not figurative. Why is this?
Because drawing from observation is a practice that enables an artist to
develop a deeper understanding of space, proportion, structure, light,
gravity, movement, and balance. We first begin by observing arrangements of inanimate objects known as ³still lifes². After a partial mastery of this
skill, an artist needs to learn to draw from a live model. To work with a
living, breathing, and moving (although generally models remain as still as
possible) subject, one must understand the dynamics of the human body and how structure, connectivity, tension, volume and texture relate to the
skeleton, muscles, connective tissues, fat, and skin. All the while, the
artist must also learn to capture the humanness of the model, allowing the
psychological and emotional to come through the physical form.

This exhibition is a demonstration of these beliefs, which I share with my
colleagues and fellow art educators from both STC and UTPA. I wish to thank all the full-time and adjunct art faculty from both institutions for
participating in the Au Naturale exhibit and lecture series. I would like to
extend special thanks UTPA Art Department Chair Susan Fitzsimmons, for
permitting us to use their facilities for our weekly practice sessions. I
would like to thank Rose Colorado, VAM Department Administrative Assistant, and Amanda Alejos for their tireless work assisting with this exhibition and all other VAM events. I also wish to thank Dr. Margaretha Bischoff, Dean of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Juan Mejia, Vice President of Academic Affairs for their continued support as we try to make our art program the very best it can be. Finally, I would like to thank all the models, who endure, for what must seem like an eternity, sitting or standing
motionlessness under the scrutinizing gazes of the artists.

 

Phyllis L. Evans

Chair, Visual Arts and Music

South Texas College