Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Nude in Art

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A 10-minute line drawing from a few weeks ago

I went back to school at 27, starting in photography and soon finding my place further down the hall, where the art of painting was happening.

It became clear early on — and without much thought by me — that when you study art, you have to learn to draw the undraped body. So I signed up and pretty quickly understood every challenge an artist faces is dealt with in life drawing, also called drawing the undraped model.

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A copy of a Rembrandt I did in college

The “undraped” part is important because cloth allows you to lie, to not paint an area you are struggling with. With no draping, you cannot lie. If your measurements are off, perspective is skewed;  if the light’s not right, it’s all very obvious, and this forces you to be better. So I never gave another thought to it. This is what artists do, and it’s helpful. Wow, is it ever helpful.

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Another college throwback: this one, a copy of a Michelangelo

As a student of history, the nude in art has always been present, but in studying art history, you quickly learn each time period had its own feelings and unspoken rules about how exactly this subject should be handled. For example, it has almost always been that your model could not be looking directly at you — that’s too forward, the eyes must be averted. What?

Since my education as an artist started, conversations around the nude in art have been uncomfortable for me. I want the conversation to go away because it’s a genre that is critical to the education of a artist. But it doesn’t go away. And so I will continue to talk about it.

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A study done last summer

Soon, I will be going back to Italy to study, primarily to paint and draw the undraped model. Why? Because every time I do it, I am reminded how it makes me a better artist. And as an artist, I hope never to arrive, but to always be in a state of learning and growing, to be better than I was the week before. And so, I continue my commitment to working from models, undraped. I hope you will come along with me for this learning experience. As I learn, I teach, and I hope you’ll join me on this adventure starting April 15.

For me, this subject of the nude in art is not about arguing the point; it’s about the experience of learning art. It’s just very matter of fact. Of course, it can be argued that you can learn art without this genre, and that is true, but if you’ve studied from life, you probably won’t find yourself arguing against the practice. You will most likely “get it” (though there are exception to every rule).

So what about you? What are your thoughts and feelings about the nude in art? As always, I love your thoughts and feedback. The best conversations can be found on Facebook and Instagram where you I can be found most everyday.

Art Mimics Life

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Can you tell I’m hiding out on the peaceful shores of Lake Michigan? Here is Clay Cliffs, a Leelanau Conservancy-protected land. 18 x 18 oil painting

The most fascinating thing about art history is the context.

Artists respond to current events. The Renaissance literally means “rebirth”; artists were responding to the Dark Ages, saying “no more” and looking towards enlightenment. And so it goes throughout the history of art: Impressionists were responding to years of constraint in art. The invention of tube paint and the camera gave a newfound freedom to get outside and paint plein air, leaving literal interpretation to the camera. With such freedom, they made bolder, freer art. The establishment hated it. The Post Impressionist took that even further.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is another treasure of Michigan, and a favorite resting place. 18 x 18 oil painting

In America right now, current events are blowing up all over every day. Movements are forming and the “unprecedented” is happening everyday. So how are artists responding? I don’t know quite yet. I only know that they are, and they will.

I am wrestling with this issue almost daily in the studio. I don’t know how to respond with art. Almost a decade ago, I made a choice to keep art as my happy place, to make art that brings about a smile. To make art that celebrates the landscapes I love so deeply. And to save the issues that matter most to me for writing and personal exploration. I have long been an activist, a philanthropist, championing for children’s rights for a quality education in Ethiopia. Equality and justice matter deeply to me. Now this struggle is on my own front door … that is more complex to share than boarding a plane to Ethiopia. When it came to Ethiopia, I choose to celebrate the beauty and dignity of the culture in my art. That was what was truest to my heart. It remains truest to my heart to keep art a riotous, joyous celebration.

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More Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park goodness. Here, the view overlooks the Glen Lakes. 18 x 18 oil painting

I’ve heard it said, “Leave it to the artist to explain the why.” I cannot explain to you the why, or tell you why life is simultaneously hard and unfair and beautiful and resilient. But I can share with you the struggle: You’re not alone, and neither am I. And I can tell you that this American struggle is deeply on my mind; as a private citizen, I am extremely active and engaged, and I think we are all called upon right now to be so. Even if it’s just putting more kindness into the world — do that!

As for my art, for now I rest, steady in the knowledge that the mere act of making art is enough. The celebration of art is a rebellion. And I promise you this, I will keep making and celebrating art at the top of my lungs, though the words of Nina Simone haunt me: “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

What do you think? As always I love when you join in the conversation on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll see you there!

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The skies over Lake Michigan are as glorious as the shore, and never overlooked by my artist’s eye. 14 x 14 oil painting