I read…a lot. Particularly books about art. However, every so often I read a book that is so good that it makes me glad that I am literate. It so good that I am thankful I know how to read. Because by being able to read I have been access to so much life-enhancing knowledge. This book has literally made me better by reading it. A better artist. A better person. The book is The Undressed Art ,Why We Draw by Peter Steinhart.
Books about art generally fall into a few categories, (a) how-to books written by artists, (b) art history books by art historians, and (c) self-help books written by artists or marketers. Every now and then, someone addresses the fundamental nature of ‘why’ people do art. Usually, it is done on how art relates to society. The Undressed Art, however talks about why to do art from an artists perspective. The first two chapters describe the experience of drawing and going to a life modeling session in better words than I could articulate myself.
Steinhart describes the experience of a figurative artist, what draws us to the subject, the experience of working in a life drawing session, and what motivates both artist and model. He discusses how the acceptability of figurative art has changed through the history of art. There are many interviews and quotes from artists, teachers, and models that discuss their experiences with life drawing and its meaning to them. He discusses the taboos in a life drawing session as well some humorous anecdotes. Steinhart discusses the issues of eroticism and sexuality of figure drawing, and how clinically artists and models treat the experience compared to how non-participants imagine it is. And importantly, he describes the futility of the experience and yet why artists continue to persevere.
I recognized many years ago that art was not optional for me. In particular, figurative drawing is core to who I am as a person. Although done in groups, figure drawing sessions are often silent and artists rarely interact during a session. Reading this book for me was like having a conversation with a kindred spirit in a way that I would never have in real life.
I recommend this book to anyone who is a visual artist, and particularly to anyone who draws as their premium medium. More importantly, I recommend this book to the spouses and partners of artists, because I can think of no better description in words of the figurative artists experience than what Steinhart captures in this book.