No Naked Nudes
Two divergent trends have led to these musings. The first is a public dictum to eradicate the nude from art. It is neither an open public debate nor the topic of art forums. Yet it exists as a curatorial directive whispered between institution and artist. The experience that public funding can be withdrawn from an individual artist or an art institution presenting work of a nature not approved by a general public has created a self-censoring climate. This censorship has become thoroughly internalized. Several years ago it seemed particularly ironic to me when, having been told, quite matter-of-factly, by the curator of the San Francisco Art Commission Art in City Hall exhibition program, that I should not include any nudes in my exhibition, I walked around the building to find an exhibition of photography. The photographer had accompanied the police to crime scenes. There, laid before the viewer, were images of women who had been abused, raped, and murdered. These horrific scenes, presented without the consent of the subjects, were fine to grace the walls of City Hall. The notion of a carefree line drawing of a playful, cartoon-y nude frolicking under a palm tree was forbidden. The brutalization of a woman could be shown, the personal freedom of nudity could not. The quietly intoned: “Of course, no nudes” came to mind again as I recently entered one of the galleries at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. The sign warned of the nature of the artwork. The art museum, home to centuries of painting, drawing, and sculpture rendering the nude, required a warning worthy of the surgeon general.
In contrast to this public disavowal of the propriety of the nude in art there emerged a new trend: the phenomenal popularity of life drawing. The die-hard groups meeting weekly for decades on the campuses of the University of California Berkeley and the San Francisco Art Institute were now surrounded by mushrooming groups in every corner studio. Artists of the most abstract, rigorously non-mimetic conviction confessed to years of secret life drawing. The doctor, lawyer, tinker, and tailor now gather round the model stand. The naturalist who keeps his binoculars trained on birds writes gushingly about the experience of drawing from the model. There appears a semblance of sport, an impulse to entertain.
From the perspective of an artist committed to the figure and the humanistic social content of art, this engagement has held a visual search for form and expression in the nude. Hopefully these drawings add to a tradition in a meaningful way. The opportunity to publish these drawings is certainly one to be seized; the opportunity to exhibit them may not present itself within the current climate. These drawings were made within a studio tradition of a drawing practice; yet, I have hoped, with each turn of the page, to discover something new and wondrous beyond.