Consciousness separates human beings from simply being in the world, we must also make sense of it. Making sense is not an individual activity, human societies try to provide meaningful answers and pass on the best answers from one generation to another, with some changes. Cultural evolution works on the same principles as biological evolution; not producing perfect solutions but workable adaptations. However, rather than the slow evolution of species, the evolution of ideas and behaviors does not take many generations. While any particular time and place my seem to have as many social problems as any other in history, scholars who look at the millennia see a steady increase in human well-being.
During my lifetime, cultural change has been significant, with a mix of failures and successes. A small example has been the change in attitudes toward the human body since the puritanical views that once prevailed, and remained influential prior to WWII. In the late 1960s and early 70s, America enjoyed a brief period when nudity could have meanings beyond sexuality. Nakedness was part of political protest, the rejection of stereotypes and social status, and symbolic of freedom in general.
It was in 1970 that I began drawing the human figure from live models, first in classes and then at open drawing sessions. The proliferation of these informally organized groups was indicative of the change in society; previously life drawing was limited to serious art school classes and urban artist’s communities. Many artists may leave drawing from life behind after a certain point in their education, but others continue to attend regularly. This has been my practice for fifty years. I have explored other forms and approaches to art, but always return to the spontaneity of drawing, and the challenge of capturing a human connection.
Figure drawing is one of the few artistic activities that is a true collaboration, dependent upon a group to provide a studio, but most of all dependent upon the creativity of those willing to model. Many art models are visual artists themselves or performing artists such as dancers and actors. Others are introduced to modeling through personal relationship with artist, or begin as a side job while in college. Whatever the initial motivation, models who continue generally find in modeling an expression of value in their physical being that is not offered by any other social situation.
The creation of artworks from live drawing sessions is only possible because of the empathy that exists between people. Sadly, mainstream American culture has largely returned to the status quo of nakedness as not only sexual, but as perversely so; nudity in art is viewed as no different than the objectification or exploitation that may exist in the mainstream media. My fifty years of experience has been the opposite. The meaning of an image depends upon the context within which it is placed.
Unlike some other counties, in American there is virtually no public context for nudity other than sex. In much of Europe, non-sexual public nudity, particularly on beaches, is not unusual. In the 1970s, this was becoming the case in some parts of the U.S. as well. Yet fundamental aspects of culture do not change in a single generation, and the persistence of Puritanism is strong. As any artist must, I can only asset the context within which my work is created, and the intention of communicating the normal, positive manifestations of human existence visually.