Let me start by making it clear that I am no nudist or naturist or whatever those who believe living unencumbered by clothing are called these days. Like most of us, I am very insecure in my own appearance and am tense changing clothes in a locker room or shedding all to enter a steam room or spa. I am keenly aware of the places my muscles used to be, my belly never was and the various site of the scars. wrinkles and reminders of the passing years residing on my skin. With all of that said, I stand by my assertion that we all look better nude.
Being an artist and a devotee of life drawing I have seen likely hundreds of people au naturel. I am in awe and appreciative of those who pose for me. It is hard work and their comfort in doing something I am personally terrified of to me speaks to courage. In capturing these models in I am not merely seeing them. I study them, seeking the form, movement, dark and light of each body. I look for the balance and how body and bone conspire to lift this human into ever-more expressive poses. Skin, muscle, and hair dissolve into texture and technique, translating the human body into simple marks, lines, strokes and shading.
From the first nude model I drew from in 1979 as a nervous teenage student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati to the dozens I have experienced virtually during 2020, it never fails that no matter the model, the body is amazing and beautiful. I lose myself in that truth. This goes for men and women, young and old, fit and not. All colors, shapes and sizes. I have drawn retirees, parents of a kid in my son's class, yoga instructors, white-collar managers, blue-collar laborers, dance students, other artists and even a mother-to-be who was days from delivery. From conversations with other figurative artists I hear the same thing. As you draw from life beauty becomes a much broader concept.
Getting past the titters of those seeing nudity as prurient and even our own sense of shame around the human form, all you have to do is study the parts of our anatomy we freely display to experience what I am talking about. Take 5-10 minutes and study the hands or the face of a loved one. Look intently at them. Think about where the shadows and highlights are. Look for what makes them recognizable to you. Stare for an uncomfortable period of time to really see them. Now close your eyes and see what you have rendered. It is amazing that any of us could imagine ourselves to be anything but beautiful.
Clothing, at least to me, makes those who fit the current definition of beautiful, look beautiful. For the amazing array of forms the human body comes in, the apparel industry generally does a mediocre to poor job serving those on either end of the bell-curve. Add to that the manipulation the industry fosters through ads and product strategies and its no wonder we are all unsure if we are normal, much less beautiful. For example I am a size 42" in my $50 jeans but a size 38" in my $200 ones. Models who pose for life drawing sessions enter rooms in street clothes. Often its hard to avoid the automatic judgements the well-trained voice in our heads tend to whisper about those we see on the street. We judge, assume and project. But given the removal of the trappings of life, the striking of a sustained pose and a few moments of actually seeing them, staring at this most fundamental form common to all of us, the voice is silenced and only the beauty remains.
I do believe we all look better nude. Perhaps someday I will be brave enough to pose myself.