Friday, July 15, 2016


In the good old days before “modern” art reared its convention-breaking head, every artist knew how to draw. The worst academic hack could turn out a visually accurate rendition of the human body.  I was discussing this with a friend, a product of the leading art academy in Russia and I commented that American art schools were churning out tens of thousands of expensively educated artists who can’t even draw a hand. She stuck her nose in the air and snootily replied that in Russia, you couldn’t even get into art school if you couldn’t draw a hand. In the United States today, I’m not sure that any major art institute is teaching these kinds of skills. The current state of ART does not require the ability to draw. You can always find something “on line,’ in the unlikely event you need it.

It’s time for a personal confession: I can’t draw a credible hand for the life of me, I’m great at faces and pretty good at figures and given my “cubo-expressionist” style, that’s all I need. I can create a shape that functions within the overall design, but it’s rarely anatomically correct. You would think that after ten plus years of intensive art training, somewhere along the line, someone would have insisted I learn how to draw a hand, but here I am, at the end of my career and still faking it. The best advice I got about drawing hands came from Victor Candell, the wonderful Hungarian teacher I told you about in Post # 29. I was struggling to get the prominent hand in one of my paintings to “look right” but quite frankly, I didn’t know enough about hand anatomy to pull it off. Candell, in his infinite wisdom, pointed out that all I needed to concern myself with was the abstract shape of the hand. Did it fit into the overall composition or didn’t it? Once I accepted that, I was able to draw a perfect hand; maybe not anatomically correct, but then, it didn’t need to be.

Let’s go back to my conversation with my Russian artist friend. She commented that she had colleagues in art school with incredible skill in reproducing what they saw, but they weren’t artists, at least not in any contemporary sense. They had a camera eye but not an ounce of creativity. The need for academic drawing skill probably died with Ingres and the invention of the camera, and certainly today’s artists with their concentration on creative ideas (novelty) don’t need to draw. My son Ned, an environmental artist, draws mostly on the computer. And Photoshop is pure magic; you can change a painting from Impressionist to Expressionist with the click of the mouse. No drawing or painting skill required.

However, I hope art schools don’t abandon their life drawing classes. They may be totally useless in the current art world, but everyone I know remembers them fondly, one of the highlights of their years in art school. The models alone were memorable. Who but an eccentric character would want to earn his or her living getting naked in front of strangers, mostly blushing adolescents? And as for our learning how to draw a hand, who looked at their hands?

1 comment:

  1. My life drawing classes were held in old Russian church, which was not heated too well. The model had an old fashioned electric heater directed towards her and the blanket she was sitting on top of caught fire. She screamed and ran outside, causing a grand commotion in the middle of a busy Moscow street. We all had a great time chasing after the poor women with someone's coat until one of the boys covered her with it. The fire fissiled out in a matter of minutes and we continued the class.