How Much Skin is “In”?

2014-11-02 Sun Worship

Women are beautiful.

No surprise there I guess. It makes me think of a comedy routine I heard back during the late ‘80s when every show on cable featured a brick wall. (You know the brick wall that aspiring stand-up comedians would do their bit in front of?) I can’t remember the guy’s name but his routine went something like this:

“Women are beautiful – but they are crazy. They’re crazy because women love men, and men are ugly!”

I was cursed/blessed with the inability to draw women very well until I slid over the crest of the ridge in middle age. It obviously was a curse because it made my job as an illustrator that much more difficult, but it was also a blessing. Who knows what would have filled my sketchbook at age 18 had I been able to draw women like I can draw them now? I know my buddy Kurt would have been much happier. We sat together in Ralph Smith’s World History class during the spring 1972 semester at the University of Alaska – and he was constantly suggesting subjects for the endless doodles that appeared along the margins of my notes, kost of the suggestions involving girls and anatomically impossible combinations.

To be honest I wouldn’t have indulged his prurient interests even if I had mastered the female form at that point. Total exposure and blatant sexuality were never my forte. The more my imagination was involved the more interested I became.

I call it “prom sexy”

Nothing could ever compare with the first couple of minutes you were in the car with your date to a formal dance. It was sensory overload of the highest order:

  • New hair-mechanics
  • Special make-up.
  • The rustle of fine fabric.
  • The smell of perfume (preferably White Shoulders!)

I may have felt suave and debonair after bathing in Brut and donning my new brown pinstripe Edwardian-cut suit but at that first moment in the car I was transformed into Alley Oop.

The allure is as much or more a mental/emotional thing as it is a question of coverage per square inch – but at the same time it is pretty well established that men are definitely more responsive to ‘visual stimuli” than any other sensory trigger. Consequently there will always be the question of how much dermal surface should be showing in proper company…and the definition of “proper company” will be open for debate for a long time as well.

Currently there is a wide range of tolerance towards the visibility of the human body. Europeans tend to be much more liberal towards nudity than Yanks are, and most of the Middle East is much more conservative. Those attitudes change over time as well; high fashion in the both ancient Minoan culture and the Egyptian Old Kingdom women went for all intents and purposes topless. Even the people of Scriptural times actually wore a lot less clothing than we see in the posters and other visual aids used in Sunday school. Whether we’re talking about the Middle East or Mesoamerica the fact remains that a lot more skin was showing than most believers are comfortable with.

Again, I have to come back to the idea that the allure has more to do with our imagination than our vision. It’s like the old rhetorical question:

  • What’s the difference between “nude” and “naked”?
  • “Nude” means wearing no clothes. “Naked” means wearing no clothes…and being up to something.”

As an artist – and especially as an art teacher I deal with this issue all the time. You can’t completely understand the way anatomy works by observing a clothed model…but using totally nude models isn’t always the best solution either. Capturing the gesture of a model’s pose and insuring bone and muscle structure is correct is more important in life-drawing than it is when working from photos – but at the same time it is that much more difficult to do.

I have found that it is often easier to teach figure drawing using female models wearing two piece bathing suits or male models wearing an athletic supporter. The top edge of the jock strap and the top hem of the bikini bottom and the bottom hem of the bra-top make perfect reference lines for orienting the hips and shoulders as well as establishing the torso’s contour.While I think every artist should try drawing from nude models at least once, you can also learn some basics ( and keep your significant other happy) through the use of those very basic “unmentionables”  mentioned above.

…and as far as keeping my work “tasteful” I have found the perfect system. It’s called “the sketchbook audit” and it is administered by my sweetheart Lori.

Anything that doesn’t pass her doesn’t stay in the sketchbook.

2 thoughts on “How Much Skin is “In”?

  1. This article has been helpful to me because as an artist, I, too, have wondered about the rules of art versus the laws of God. I am glad to to hear your perspective and your solution to reconciling art with religion and spiritual laws.

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