Regular posts about my painting practice present and past.

Category: Courbet

The Naked and the Nude

| 24 May, 2012 10:58

The naked human body, the nude, is the central subject of western art. It is the form in which mythological figures and gods have been presented to us in art since the Renaissance.renaissance nudes luca cranach

The Three Graces, Lucas Cranach

The titles and settings of the paintings enabled art patrons to gaze at the image of an unclothed young woman and/or man on their walls and appear at the same time completely respectable; even high minded. Yet the titillation factor was always at least part of the appeal of the great masterpieces of the genre.

Courbet nude

Origin of the World, Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet made that appeal overt when he painted the lower abdomen of a woman and called it “The Origin of the World.”  Artists since have not bothered much with the mythological trappings of what has always been our much more animalistic interest in the human form.pastel nude drawing

Brown pastel nude, Ross Skoggard

As figurative artists today we like to say “we paint what we see.” But of all the things we see, we choose to paint the things we want to see more of: the delicate play of light in a landscape, the satisfying balance of objects in a still life or the allure of a naked body.

pastel nude

Standing nude with pole, Ross Skoggard

The subtext of every picture of a nude figure is sex. And, as Freud says, sex is the motive force behind nearly all human activity. 

Thes are pastel drawings I made at open life drawing sessions around 2001.  Many of the poses were quite short: five or ten minutes. In that time only an immediate impression can be captured. There was no time to blend the colors so they tend to be exaggerated. Placement and composition are secondary concerns if they figure consciously in the drawings at all.pastel nude

Nude on a step ladder, Ross Skoggard

What grounds these images and makes them recognizable as human forms is our willingness, our desire to see a human form even in a hasty scribble of color.

The curve of a breast or buttock, the line of an arm or leg is all we need to orient ourselves in relation to the drawing and say that yes, this is a person. And even though they are not literal transcriptions of a particular individual we feel a kinship. We identify. We feel pathos.

pastel drawing

Male nude on one foot, Ross Skoggard

The pictoral means are anything but gentle and caressing, but the humanness of the figure shines through and is more affecting as a result.