Typically, we associate nudity with private places on the periphery of society. A college classroom does not necessitate those criteria, probably. This is, perhaps, one of the last places your mind wanders when thinking about nudity.
Nonetheless, for art students and art instructors, the university setting is the perfect place for nude men and women. We're talking the course of life drawing or figure drawing.
A required course for art majors, life drawing is a class where art students learn to draw the human figure from studying someone (in almost all cases) completely nude. Think Titanic, minus the steamy romance between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and a ship in peril.
Tulsa has recently seen a major shift for life drawing with the opening of fully nude life drawing classes at Tulsa Community College.
Prior to 2005, TCC would not offer classes with fully nude models, only partially draped models. With the exception of schools that are religiously based like Oral Roberts University or Oklahoma Christian, most colleges use fully nude models.
That was one of the arguments that Dewayne Pass, art instructor at TCC, made when he was petitioning the school to allow fully nude classes. He surveyed several other schools, determining if they had fully nude classes and revealed that TCC was in the minority.
"I sent out letters canvassing other community colleges in the area like Tarrant County Community College in Dallas; probably about eight different colleges," Pass said. "I asked 'Are you using nude models? ' We were the only ones that weren't using a nude model. So, I thought I had a pretty strong case."
Pass conjectured that the reason TCC wouldn't offer the class with nude models was because of former President Dr. Dean Vantrease's beliefs.
"I don't know why," Pass said. "I think it was their discomfort with it. I don't know if it had anything to do with religion, religious philosophy. But I suspect it had to do with their sense of morality because I know at that time the President was a very Christian man. He wasn't comfortable with it; didn't think it was necessary."
Life Drawing might seem like a useless skill class or a blow-off elective class for college students, but that's not how art students feel.
As a matter of fact, life drawing in art dates back quite some time, and this could be the perfect time to bring that up for context.
In The Beginning
Nudity in art can be traced back to carvings of fertility goddesses by prehistoric man, and deities that watched over pregnancy and birth.
It was also common in Greek paintings and sculptures where it was used as a sort of costume to depict various men, signifying them as heroes or gods.
Frequently, when an unclothed woman was presented in European art, she was identified as "Venus" or some other Greco-Roman goddess as a justification for her nudity. The very famous painting by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel depicts God stretching out his finger to touch the naked figure of Adam.
Gary Moeller, art professor at Rogers State University, has taught life drawing for more than 30 years and talked about the development of nude art.
"When you think about cave drawings and that type of thing, people are relatively small compared to those animals they hunt or have rituals about," Moeller said. "So what was maybe really important to them was the hunt, not so much the people.
"As that developed, there are later images with Egypt, then Greece, (with) more of a humanistic kind of approach where you're almost scientifically understanding what you see in terms of physiques and expression. That's just the western art part. You've got to consider everything that went on in China, Indonesia throughout North America and South America. It's been going on forever."
The terms "nude" and "naked" imply different connotations, at least for the art community. A "nude" figure is generally a figure whose lack of clothing is its usual condition, and it is not sexually suggestive. Whereas a "naked" figure suggests that the person normally wears clothes and their lack of it is sexual in nature.
The "naked" figure was rare in ancient art; although, there is debate. Moeller explained what nudity meant generally.
"If you think about the Renaissance and some of the other important time periods, the idea of nudity had to do with purity and truthfulness as opposed to some salacious type of thing," Moeller said.
Social standards for public nudity (for the most part) influenced the portrayal of nudity in art. Where nudity was accepted in a culture, nudity in paintings and sculptures were as well. However, artistic nudity is almost always more tolerated than public nudity, even in a place like a museum where nudity is on the walls. Try going to the Philbrook with nothing on but a smile and see what happens.
When attitudes over nudity started to change, the appropriateness of nudity in art also came into question.
Around 1530, the "fig-leaf" campaign led to numerous pieces of artwork covered up in order to reduce the amount of nudity in them. For instance, Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" was covered up using drapery and extra branches from nearby bushes. Many of the alterations during this time have since then been reversed.
Even today people aren't completely comfortable with nudity in art. In 2002, the Department of Justice spent $8,000 on blue drapes that hid the "Spirit of Justice" and the "Majesty of Law," two giant, aluminum art deco sculptures. They claimed that for aesthetic reasons, the drapes were occasionally hung in front of the statues before formal events. One you might not have noticed is the changing of the Starbucks logo.
In the beginning, it portrayed a twin-tailed siren with two bare breasts and belly. Now, today, the fin, breasts and belly button are all cropped out on your warm latte. Christy Smith, a life drawing model in Tulsa, understands that people will not always agree with what she does.
"Even though college students are adults, there's still controversy about a nude body being displayed to students," Smith said. "There are just some people that do not believe that the human body should be displayed period."
Conversely, there are some forms of nudity we find acceptable and not degrading to humans or wrong in any way. Like when you go to the doctor, you have to be nude sometimes. Biology textbooks also contain nudity.
Glenn Herbert Davis, a photography professor at the University of Tulsa, said this is called institutional imaging, and it is considered safer than imaging done by an individual. People often find imaging done by an individual to be more suspect because the intent is less clear.
"We're imaged constantly in public by video tape cameras and certainly we submit to a much more invasive type of imaging when we go through the airport," Davis said. "We accept these things."
Taking It Off
Figure drawing classes have been around as long as the doors to college have been open. However, many changes have been made from then to now.
In Western countries, it is generally acceptable for either sex to pose nude for or draw members of the opposite sex. However, prior to the 20th Century, this was not so.
Thomas Eakins was dismissed from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for removing the loincloth from a male model in a mixed classroom in 1886. Victorian standards required the female model to pose nude with her face draped, and in European arts academies, women were not allowed to study the nude at all until the end of the 19th Century. Moeller described what it was like in American classrooms during these more prudish years.
"Society at the time demanded that men wore suits and ties, and women had gloves and hats and fancy dresses on," Moeller said.
Artists (whether a photographer, graphic designer, painter or animator) use the human figure in their work. That's what made Pass so concerned with getting fully nude life drawing classes at TCC. He was afraid his students were not getting a quality education working from a draped model.
When Pass replaced Nota Johnson in 1988, the first full-time art instructor at TCC, he picked up where she left off. Pass said Johnson tried for years to get it changed.
"The problem was that there were some administrators who were very uncomfortable with it," Pass said. "After getting it changed, you find out where the road blocks were. Basically, it was at the top level where they weren't letting it go through."
The administration, from Pass's experience, was only concerned with how the school stood up against other schools, and that's one of the only arguments he used with TCC.
"They never came to me and asked me 'Why do you need this?'" Pass said. "What I had to do was not get emotional about it. They could care less why an artist wants to draw from the human figure. What they want to know is how we stand against other institutions. So that's all I gave them. I said, 'Look we're the only ones not doing it other than Oral Roberts. This is something that's part of the educational experience.'"
He said the administration never explained to him why they wouldn't offer fully nude classes.
"I've even had some students who were refused transfer credit to universities because they didn't have experience in drawing from the nude model. So I used that as an argument," Pass said. "But they never gave me an answer for why they wouldn't do it."
Life drawing is considered crucial to an artist's knowledge. They gain several things that are unique only to the life drawing class. While learning technical and mechanical skills is definitely part of the learning, the artist also deals with a much more complicated subject that invokes elevated thoughts and feelings that the artist won't experience with, let's say, an apple.
"They can relate to the model, male or female, in one way or another. That brings out a certain kind of expressive concept and reaction that they probably wouldn't have with something that's inanimate," Moeller said. "You can look at a model in terms of form, shape, light and dark, but you never really can get away from the fact that they're a person."
A life drawing class typically begins with a series of brief poses that lasts one to two minutes called gesture poses. These are intended to warm the artist up and to keep them focused on the model instead of the paper. The model will then hold a pose for 30 minutes to an hour.
The nuances of the human figure are what Moeller finds difficult to capture.
"There are things about the human figure that would be hard to actually logically figure out because it might be a reflection," Moeller said. "Or there might be a slight turn in the muscle or something like that that has everything to do with what the pose expresses."
Pass believes that the human figure is the epitome of artistic expression, encompassing everything you could possibly ever want to observe. Humans, to him, are the most thought-provoking subjects -- more dynamic and intriguing than anything else. Moeller also expressed that, while great things can be done with still life, drawing from the human figure is a different world.
"A lot of students come into these classes, and they're always copying someone else's artwork. There's no learning. All that is, is a skill of observation. The learning comes when you have to sit in front of the human form and see it from multiple sides and make decisions yourself," Pass said.
Davis, an University of Tulsa photography professor, said one cannot learn to draw the human form from a photograph or other image. He feels it is pertinent that the artist work directly with the human figure if they want to learn to draw it.
"To look at something and draw it, you have to look at it directly. You're already seeing through a whole series of filters at that point as well. So the more filters you add, the further you get away from that object. So to have any chance of drawing the body, you have to look directly at the body," Davis said.
It is possible to argue that an artist will not use the human figure, but Pass stated that this would eliminate a huge vocabulary of expression. Moeller also said that life drawing is useful for almost any form of art.
"There are different approaches to art that might not require it, but even an abstractionist needs to know something about form. Whether you're trying to make a representative or abstract, it's useful," Moeller said.
Working with partially draped models doesn't work because students are trying to learn the human form, and they can't if clothes are covering it. Plus, it's hard to draw something when you don't know how it was made physically, Moeller said.
Cayla Spears, an art major at Rogers State University, said that it wasn't until she took the class that she understood why it was important.
"When you haven't studied the human form, then you don't know how parts bend. So you'll draw someone, and it will look flat because you're not sure how that arm's going to turn," Spears said. "In life drawing, you get a really good view about how bone structures are and muscles and stuff like that."
If a student objects to taking life drawing, accommodations can be made; however, Moeller strongly discourages that. In dealing with these types of situations, he has found that the problem is usually with overprotective parents or students who do not really understand what figure drawing is like. He also stated that it's probable the student is at the wrong school.
"I want to retain and recruit as many students as I can, but, at the same time, some students don't belong here because we're serious," Moeller said.
People who think life drawing is pornographic might not realize what the class really entails. According to teachers and students, the atmosphere is sterile and completely non-sexual.
Spears admitted she was nervous, at first, because she didn't know what to expect. She thought it would be awkward staring at someone with their clothes off but discovered it wasn't.
"The people that do object are ignorant to what it's about," Spears said. "They just think it's something dirty when it's not."
Christy Smith believes that life drawing is different from pornography because pornography objectifies women; whereas, figure drawing is done with care, and the body isn't the only focus.
"What some of the artists and students and professors have told me is that they like the expressions in my face because they feel like they're drawing somebody who's real with emotions and feelings and desires and passions rather than just a body," Smith said. "It's not a sexual situation. A couple of models that I've trained have kind of had that worry, but the artist just doesn't look at you like that. It's not that they don't appreciate beauty when they see it, but that's not what they're looking for."
While it is definitely possible for art to be sexual, there is a difference between Playboy and life drawing classes.
"Playboy is pornographic because it's not honest. It's not about any kind of reality," Moeller said. "A nude figure is dealing with actualities. We are not trying to present the figure as something that he or she is not. I find myself extremely uncomfortable if I have a Playboy in front of me as opposed to a model."
As far as whether the model is ever degraded, Moeller said that it's possible, but it's the exception rather than the rule. Smith also agreed it could happen but has never experienced it.
"The possibility exists, as with anything, but I have never once been in a class in which people are in there just so they can stare at a naked body," Smith said.
"If you paid that much to take the class just so you could look at a naked girl, it's pretty sad," Spears said.
Davis thinks if a person disagrees with life drawing, they should thoughtfully consider why they have a problem with it. According to him, to say that it degrades the body would mean that imaging for medical purposes is degrading or getting your photograph in the yearbook is degrading.
Richard Rich is a facilitator for life drawing classes at Philbrook. He observed that having clothes on can be more gratuitous.
"In a lot of cases, having clothes on is more gratuitous than not. That's why a lot of them wear bras, high heel shoes, etc. to change the shape of your body. That's why being completely naked removes the intrigue and the doubt," Rich said.
Even if someone did react sexually to her, Smith said that it probably wouldn't affect her much.
"If I don't know about it, it's not going to hurt me. And I'm sure it's inevitable. But I don't lose sleep over it," Smith said.
Adam and Eve
Christy Smith has modeled for seven years for several different schools in the area. She got her start when Gary Moeller's model didn't show up. She was referred by a friend and decided to give it a try.
The first time she modeled, Smith brought a friend with her because she was so nervous.
"But after I did the first couple of poses, there was almost nothing to it," Smith said.
The one rule Smith has when it comes to poses is that they're tasteful.
"There are some poses I won't do. I don't do anything you'd see in a girly magazine," Smith said. "There's a difference between art poses and porn poses."
The atmosphere in the class can vary from school to school. Smith stated that Pass and Moeller usually have very laid back classes, while TU is more formal.
Some teachers give lots of direction to the model, while others let the model have free reign. Moeller stated that it depended on what they were doing in class and whether he had something specific in mind.
The model's situation is much better than it was in the past. Some artists had very little regard for the comfort of their model. Today, though, the model is much more respected. Smith said that there have frequently been space heaters in the studios she has worked in, and the professors have made sure she is comfortable.
"Every single semester, Gary (Moeller) opens up by introducing me and saying 'I expect you to treat her with as much respect if not more respect than you do me," Smith said. "I think the closest that I ever came to disrespect was when I was in a class, and the instructor stepped out for a little bit, and they just started talking and throwing things across the platform. But for the most part, it's been all positive."
"I usually have a talk with the students and say, 'I don't know what your background is, but you will not cause any problems with the model or you will be gone,'" Moeller said.
Posing is harder than it appears. People who think it's easy probably don't factor in that not only are you standing still for 30 minutes, but you're naked while doing it. This can cause all sorts of discomfort. Sometimes the model can also get into a pose that is very uncomfortable; not thinking about pressure points.
"There's a real skill to it. It's painful," Moeller said. "Have you ever tried to sit still for a long period of time? If you're not relaxed, and you can't put yourself in another state of mind, I think it's extremely painful. It's almost torture. You probably don't pick people up off the street and expect them to do a good job. Although, I was desperate a time or two, and I tried that."
Oklahoma pays between $12 and $25 per hour. In states such as California, it can be as much as $75 an hour. The requirements to be a model are minimal. Richard Rich said his favorite model is the one that shows up. You do not have to be a certain shape, color or height as long as you're older than 18.
Some schools allow students to model, but many do not. There is a certain decorum, though, expected from the model. They are to be just as respectful as the artist is.
Smith trains models that are starting out by helping them to think of different poses. She said this can be one of the hardest parts because there are only so many poses a person can do. She also tries to make the model feel more at ease.
Moeller said that he tries to approach the situation with delicacy, making sure the model is comfortable with the poses. He stated that he doesn't have a problem with any pose as long as it isn't provocative or intended to be sexual.
Models also need to take precautions. Even though Smith hasn't had a bad experience with any of the people she has worked with, she feels it is still vital to be safe.
"It's just important to take care to make sure that any possibilities of any misunderstandings are eradicated," Smith said.
She never does a private session with anyone that she hasn't worked with in a studio session for a long time. And during night sessions, the professor will walk her to her car after class.
Other than money, models benefit from sometimes being able to relax and meditate.
"It's a great time to be still," Smith said.
"A really good model finds great relaxation in doing it, but at the same time, satisfaction, at making students relax," Moeller said.
Spears said the class is relaxing for her, too.
"It's a class you can go to and just zone out because you just draw the entire hour," Spears said.
Smith said it is particularly gratifying to see the artist's finished work.
"I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be cool if some day, a few years down the road, there's a picture in a museum of me," Smith said.
Smith also said that her self-esteem has increased from being a model.
"A lot of artists tend to see beauty in a lot of forms that are not conventional," Smith said. "That was really gratifying. And one of the benefits is that I'm receiving an art education as I sit there and listen to the instructor."
Spears has other ideas about models.
"I actually prefer it if they're not super skinny. It's more exciting to draw someone who's heavier set or not what you think of as a model," Spears said. "It's real. It's real people, and I'd rather draw that than really, really skinny people."
The best part about being a model, according to Smith, is that she gets to be a part of the creative process. Her best experiences have been the interaction with the artists.
"My best experience is in knowing that I'm contributing to their education and also continuing relationships that I've developed with them," Smith said. "There are artists that I've stayed in touch with that I met when I first started out. That's probably the most rewarding."
Many professors encourage friendly but professional relationships between artists and models.
"I think in an academic environment, it has to be extremely professional, friendly but no touching," Moeller said.
There is historical evidence that artists had relationships with their models, but it has become a stereotype for all of life drawing.
"People think we all get together, draw and have sex with everybody. And that's completely opposite of what goes on. It's very respectful," Moeller said. (Sorry, DiCaprio fans.)
The relationship also has to have trust.
"Trust that they're not going to judge you, make you feel bad or exploit it," Smith said.
Her four kids all know about her modeling.
"There's actually a picture of me in the living room, and they weren't sure how they felt about it at first, but now they are proud of the fact that I'm free in that way," Smith said.
Smith said that she explains to them that modeling is a joy for her and something that she wants to do and is not forced to do. She said that she would support her children if they wanted to do it too.
"I'd support them because I've had nothing but good experiences," Smith said.
There is a shortage of models, and Smith surmises it's because it takes a certain mentality to be a model; a certain amount of self confidence.
Dressing for Success
Today, life drawing is no longer an issue at TCC, but (educator) Pass still takes precautions with his classes.
"The transition was great," he said. "I didn't even have to push it again, it just happened. Then nothing else has ever been said. I think it's a non-issue, and I hope it stays that way. We are kind of sensitive about it in the sense that we don't want it taken away. So we try to make and ensure that it doesn't become an issue.
"We have display cases out here. We have to be careful what we put in those display cases when it comes to figure drawings. We don't want to have something that can overtly be considered sexual or in your face or anything like that. In the classroom, it's not seen that way, but if it's put out there in front of the public, it might be seen that way. We're very conscious of the change in the sense that we're very protective of it, but as far as administration, it's been a non issue."
Pass said he was actually worried about students deciding to join life drawing when the change happened but said it hasn't been a problem.
"I think being in Tulsa and kind of in the Bible belt, there were a lot of students who were comfortable with having a draped model. So I had some concern, if we changed it, if the students would respond and how they would respond, but it has all been positive," Pass said.
"I haven't had any complaints. I tell them right from the very beginning of class that we use undraped models. If that's a problem then you need to question whether you want to be in this class. I've never had anybody drop. I think once you get past that initial introduction to someone standing naked in the room with you, it's nothing. But as soon as the students have that initial embarrassment -- 'should I look, should I not look?' kind of thing -- it just all goes away. It comes very natural.
"I've probably gotten more reaction from other faculty here," Pass said. "When we first started it, there were lots of jokes going around just because they're kind of uncomfortable with the idea. For the most part, the students handle it very professionally, very maturely."
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