WHY life drawing ? Why, long after artists have left the Art Schools and become successful, do they still attend classes and draw from life ? Why is it that life drawing is the basis of teaching at most of the principal Art Schools all over the world ?
Drawing from life is the acid test of draughtsmanship. It is to drawing what the great classical ballets are to ballet dancing. By it you compare the abilities of one artist with another — and even one generation with another, because life drawing presents exactly the same problems to us as it did to the old masters.
This standard of comparison is used because, of all the things an artist draws, the nude human figure is the most difficult, and especially the female nude figure. Obviously, everything you draw is difficult if drawn sincerely, but in the case of the human figure,
should you make even the slightest mistake it will be apparent at once. Everybody has a very clear idea of what a human figure should look like and therefore any deviation from this will be noticed at once — the legs are made too short, they will say, or that arm is too thin and couldn't bend like that. When you are drawing a tree you may draw three more branches on the tree than were really there but nobody will quarrel with your drawing on that account if the tree is reasonably tree-like.
When drawing the female nude you are walking on even more of a tight rope than ever. With the male figure a certain amount of latitude may be given and put down to character or strength but with the female of the species, if you are trying to draw an ideal type and not a grotesque, you have practically no leeway at all, and if your model is attractive it will take all your ability to draw her correctly and attractively. By
attractively, I mean just that. There is a great deal of difference between a correctly drawn figure drawing of a beautiful model and a pornographic drawing; but even the latter requires considerable ability. It is this hair-trigger precision that makes life drawing so interesting to artists and makes it such good discipline for students. The constant practice of this most difficult of all types of drawing is of the very greatest value all through your life as an artist. From time to time, pressure of work may take you away from it and when returning to it again you find it necessary to work hard at your practice again. Indeed, life drawing is to an artist what constant practice on his instrument is to a musician or the hours at the barre are to the ballet dancer; even the greatest of ballerinas and musicians constantly keep up their practice.
For those about to begin their careers, drawing the figure is absolutely vital. It is a hurdle that must be faced and jumped properly if you are to lay a firm foundation for whatever comes after. I will not be dogmatic and say you can't succeed without it because that would be
absurd, but if your career is going to include much drawing or painting the human figure you will certainly need to master figure drawing. Even if it isn't — should, for instance, design or landscape be your choice — even then it will be of great value to you, for the human figure is one of the most marvellous designs in the world and contains almost every problem that an artist in his career has to solve. Composition, balance, light and shade, design, pattern, all are included in this problem.
For the amateur too, figure drawing can be an interesting occupation. I know of an Art Club in St. John's Wood, London, where a mixture of amateurs and professionals gathers once a week for two hours to draw from the models, and the amateurs are by no means behind the pros in order of merit.
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