The Undressed Art

The Undressed Art
Why We Draw 
by Peter Steinhart
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004

Unlike other books about drawing that focus on the mechanics of the art, this one goes to the heart of the matter and seeks to explain why people draw and the satisfactions they derive from the practice.

"Drawing is a way of communicating with the world, of listening to what the world has to say and answering back," author Peter Steinhart suggests. "I doubt anyone has done the research to prove or disprove this, but I'd guess many children who contrive to draw naturalistically doso because there is something in the world that they have an intense intrerest in, something that is not shared enough by those around them to be the subject of conversation and so is something they get to know privately."

Drawing may be a private art, mostly, but Steinhart's book also exposes readers to nude modeling and what it's like to be a model or an artist in a modeling session, and he profiles a number of formal and informal drawing groups that meet to sketch models and discuss their techniques.

A writer who specializes in natural history and environmental affairs, Steinhart previously published The Company of Wolves and California's Wild Heritage: Threatened and Endangered Animals in the Golden State. His drawing has always been an avocation, not a vocation, but he finds parallels between his career as a naturalist and the urge to draw.

"The naturalist and the artist are alike in their watchfulness," he explains. "They are both servants of their eyes. A naturalist learns to look intently at things, to listen to them, smell them, touch them, to wonder what they are made of, what they do, how they are like or not like each other, what they mean."

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The Undressed Art

Excerpt on Drawing Groups

It could be said that a kind of renaissance of figure drawing is occurring. It is not something you'd note in the galleries or museums, for it is practiced, more often than not, by amateurs.

Drawing from live nude models used to be something one had to enroll in an art school to do. Today, one does it in community art and recreation centers, in fine-art museums, in privately operated ateliers and in home studios and living rooms. The number of places that offer classes in life drawing seems to be steadily increasing. In just about any city and in many suburbs you can find a drop-in drawing session, where, without advance reservation, you can pay a modest model's fee and draw from a live model for two or three hours. You can draw this way, for example, at the Minneapolis Drawing Workshop, the Truro Center for the Arts in Castle Hill, Massachusetts, the McLean (Virginia) Community Center, the Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center in Maui, Hawaii, the Northwest Area Arts Council in Woodstock, Illinois, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Art/Not Terminal Gallery in Seattle, the Art Museum of Missoula, Montana, the Community Hall in the Boulder Crossroads Mall in Colorado, the Creative Arts Center of Dallas, the Scottsdale (Arizona) Artists' School or the City Market of Raleigh, North Carolina. David Quammen, who models in Washington, D.C., knows of two dozen drop-in groups in the Washington, D.C., area. In New York City, there are Minerva Durham's Spring Studio, the Art Students League, the Chelsea Sketch Group, the Salmagundi Club, the Society of Illustrators, the National Academy School of Fine Arts, the Tompkins Square Branch Library and many others. You can find drop-in drawing groups in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, Bali and Jakarta-indeed, all over the world.

There are at least eighty different drawing groups meeting weekly in the San Francisco Bay Area. They range from small, very private gatherings of four or five artists in someone's living room to large public drop-in sessions meeting once or twice a week in community centers. 

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