There is an elephant in the room, or maybe it’s the 800 pound gorilla. Both are euphemisms... the first is the glaringly obvious problem no one wants to talk about, and the second is about not wanting to complete some psychologically avoid-avoid task or activity. In multilevel marketing (MLM) they called it the 800 pound telephone (too heavy to pick up and call someone and ‘try it on’). Try it on is a New Zealand (Kiwi) euphemism for ‘hitting’ on someone, figuratively, or trying to pick them up, also figuratively, basically, trying to seduce them, sexually. The earliest use of ‘would you like to come up and see my etchings’ is in like the 1630’s literature where married court women clearly were being invited to be unfaithful or cuckold their older in-virile powerful husbands with the innuendo ‘would you like to come over and see my tea cup collection?’ The reader understands the innuendo to mean would you like to come over and have sex.
A proposition in that context is sexual. I remember when studying B&W photography at community college and asking someone to pose for my assignment, no, not nude. But at that age, asking someone to pose nude was intimidating and interpreted by them as a sexual proposition. And, who am I to say that it was anything but that, subconsciously. Oh to be young! I’ve since asked lots of people to pose nude and have also been turned down (declined) just as often. Now a days I pretty much only ask art models and romantic partners to pose nude. The first is openly and professionally engaged in it, and I’ve heard many photography nude models share nightmares about photographers assaulting them, crossing boundaries, and behaving unprofessionally, then damaging the models career when their advances are rejected by the model, À la Weinstein. I’m like bring your partner, a chaperone, bodyguard, your guard dog... whatever. I just want to paint you. I’m a professional, but the kind that is ethical or respectful.
While I’ve become aware of the whole ‘male gaze’ issue raised by feminism and the interpretation of misogyny toward painters, like Degas, who was painting ballerinas who, in turn, were being sex trafficked to patrons in an otherwise abuse of male privilege and sexual abuse of the women, or the artists painting prostitutes or in brothels, I have also dated women who would say their friends asked them if her new boyfriend ‘the artisté’ was going to have her pose nude (while gesturing to themselves with their hand like someone might gesture wiping sweat from their brow only somewhat more... sexual innuendoed). If that makes sense. It’s kind of a raised forearm with the hand folded horizontal and rotated towards themselves, with a cheeky, dreamy grin sort of thing. Not so much moi? as assuming the pose.
While I do not want to ‘man splain,’ justify or invalidate any of the #metoo sexual abuses, I like figure painting. I shared the story of my friends kids asking me why I paint ‘girls’ (women) without any clothes on in a previous blog post. I learned that we study drawing from life in order to learn to draw humans. In order to paint the draped person (clothes/robes/coverings) convincingly. We study drawing anatomy, drawing from life (which is a difficult learned skill), drawing drapery, so we can maybe learn to paint a likeness and make a living painting portrait commissions.
Back in the really male gaze days, the church said you can paint a woman nude in 3 positions, standing, seated, or reclining. Then there are the orientalists, most of whom had not actually traveled to the Ottoman Empire; however, at that time the whole male chauvinist pig thing of owning concubine female slaves or a harem was being romanticized. Africans who were also captured and forced into galley ships were being sold on the docks in Annapolis, MD. So, I don’t want to sidestep the history of civilization and the inequality of slavery, either. Some people’s pet peeve is animal abuse, I don’t want to ignore the wrongs of the world, I just want paint on the canvas all day. I’m not excusing it, justifying it or celebrating it. If I were a gay man, I would probably prefer painting male nudes, so there is no denying a certain implicit sexual bias, what an individual finds beautiful. As I have said in the past, I love trees, I think trees are beautiful, I could paint trees all day long, but I think being a human, that humans are more beautiful. I’m sure the trees if they could voice their opinion would disagree.
Here is the deal, I paint figure. Male, female, old and wrinkly, young, fat, skinny... black, white, brown, yellow and green. it is a human, it’s beautiful to me, I want to learn to paint it well, naked. When I’m painting a nude figure, it is not arousing, it’s work. It’s getting the drawing right, the composition, how I’m going to divide the space, negative space, positive space, lines, proportions, landmarks, values colors, earses, eyeses, and noses. I am a hetero normative guy, a cis male, he... the opposite sex is more attractive to me. The culturally normative ideal female form is attractive to me. I’m not being paid to paint male God’s scantily clad on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I paint ducks, cows, cats, dogs, sunsets, skies, trees and bodies of water, too, flowers. I would prefer that my infidel images not have their eyes gouged out at some later time, due to religious or political extremism. I like stability, safety, security, and love. I’m trying to pick my way through life causing as little harm and contributing something back into the world. I’ve contemplated retiring from painting women nude, altogether, painting tennis shoes or flowers instead. Painting what you are passionate about is important. It shows in the work, the emotion. I remember wanting to paint a particularly wonderful full moon once and being told you can paint it next month... it doesn’t work like that, not for me. Like 30 days from now on a Thursday at 9:00 pm you can paint the moon it will be full. It might also be cloudy and cold, but that night... I was moved, moved to paint it.
I would prefer to paint what I find beautiful, and should add when I find it beautiful. That’s sort of the point. I’ve painted many nude figure paintings. One actually sold once. A nude figure is like the least marketable commodity for an unknown artist. That’s why it’s pure. It’s painted out of love, passion, and for some sitters possibly money, lust, or love! I wanted to title this blog Naked Woman!, but I changed it to be more politically correct (PC). I don’t paint women only in the nude. Sometimes a sitter will ask me if they should be naked. I always say, I love painting women clothed or nude, I prefer nude, but when you are 90 and look back on your life, you will have this visual memory of yourself at your younger self’s age... even if posing at 39, 49 or 59. Most of the nudes that I have painted were what’s called trade for shoot (TFS) in photography, the sitter keeps the painting. Some, I paid the model to sit. Others were in studio with other artists vying for position. I will note that nude paintings in museums and by famous artists are very expensive. I have had several models tell me it would be more equitable if I were also nude while painting them. I’m okay with that, I haven’t, but paint naked, whatever, just paint.
I’m hosting a life drawing and painting series of open zoom sessions this spring, on Friday evenings. Not nude, but implied nude, or robed, or draped. You are welcome to join us.