Peter Steinhart is an artist and naturalist who likes to explore new territory, and enjoys putting his observations, verbal, on paper.
With The Undressed Art, he has created a delightful new medium about an old one, a collection of stories, theories and sketches about time spent in the company of people who just like to draw.
With the invention of the camera, it seemed that painting and drawing were dead ducks. But after the smoke cleared, and enough people had gazed on the miracle of realism as their relatives gazed back with pop-eyed expressions over stiff collars, there were those who recalled the softness, the emotion, of the hand-wrought representation of form. Drawing and painting were at that point, so to speak, neck and neck.
Then the twentieth century dawned, and upon the artistic scene burst the cubists, the expressionists, the dabbers and dabblers who believed they were creating a new mode of communication through color and feeling. Form was decried as unnecessary – art schools stopped teaching people the basics of drawing. Models were out of fashion and out of work.
That is where matters have stood for some time, and drawing might have disappeared altogether except as a clever psychological exercise for small children. However, despite its lesser place in the pantheon of fine arts, and its lesser economic power, drawing is still a pastime that people genuinely enjoy.
They enjoy, according to Steinhart, going to classes and sessions where the nude body is displayed for their artistic expression (and sometimes, as he makes clear, their less lofty passions). They enjoy the company of one another though they may never speak a word to their cohorts as they attend, year after year, the same life-drawing class in the same atelier, braving cold and heat and crowding and rowdy companions and models with their own unique take on matters at hand (including erections, spontaneous or pre-planned).
Steinhart takes us through the usefulness of drawing to the formation of the brain, and cites how it may be a memory tool. The longer you can remember a piece of the model before you commit it to paper, the stronger your recall in general will grow. He introduces us to wonderful characters like Jenny Keller, who studies and draws birds and other creatures: “With cats, I remember to blink.” And model Flo Allen, who disdained fashion models, saying “Artists prefer their models to have a lot of stuff on them.” To illustrate the distinction between embracing the outline and globbing on the color, there’s the instructional tale of Toulouse Lautrec suddenly crying out “Thank God, I’ve finally forgotten how to draw!”
If you’ve ever picked up a pencil, started to doodle, and found yourself half an hour later still happily lost in reverie, this book will encourage you to purchase some sketchbooks or look for a life art class in your vicinity. But be warned – drawing is frightfully habit-forming!