I received a very thought provoking email yesterday about the tendency for artists to avoid drawing and painting genitals and I decided to express my views in a post.
I had replied to the email with a fairly lengthy response but this morning I received a notification that the email had failed to be delivered. I’m not sure why of the email failure but, I think it was good that it happened as I need to bring some of these thoughts into the open and hopefully get an opinion from any of my other readers.
Before I get started in on my opinions / thoughts I want to say “thank you!” to the person writing the email. I don’t get much correspondence through my blog but it is nice to receive something so thought provoking.
In the email this person, whom has experience in modeling, pointed out their notice of artists regularly avoiding the depiction of male genitals. The sender goes on to say…
“It seems strange to me -this omission, obviously there is a feeling amongst some( and I am not saying you) that they do not enjoy male models and don’t want to be seen enjoying them or have any interest in their genitals.”
I have to agree, I would say that mosts artists, male and female tend to ignore genitals or just suggest their presence. I also think this is especially true when artists are faced with male genitals.
I feel that in life drawing most artists, myself included, see this as training. And I/we want to spend most of the time on the most difficult parts of the body, head, hands and feet. I did the same today in life drawing when drawing the male model, I avoided the penis because I wanted to work more on the thighs, legs and feet. To be honest, I’m sure the future of my figurative work will feature humans in natural contemporary settings, so I should probably practice painting clothing more than torsos legs or genitals.
The sender goes on to describe an experience of male artists sometimes leaving the life drawing session and vocally announcing their displeasure with being confronted with a male model.
I hope this never happens in the life drawing studio that I run on Whidbey Island. I feel that a response like that is childish and definitely suggests a prejudice on behalf of the artist. Honestly I think most feelings like this are based on fear. Fear of homosexual tendencies maybe or… I’m not sure what.
For myself I can’t deny a feeling of embarrassment when being confronted with drawing/painting genitals. I could blame this on pressures from society, or my upbringing, but regardless of the source for these feeling it is something I need to work on. I love depicting the figure so much it seems stupid that I wouldn’t want to render any part of it.
Fear of Viewer Response
I avoid the genitals on both male and female models in life drawing and in my paintings in the studio. It is not due to any prejudice of my own or preference of male of female nudity. In fact I much prefer drawing and painting the male model because in some cases it’s easier. The reason I avoid these areas, or pick images that do not have them presented blatantly is due to fear of viewer responses. It is my guess, I haven’t done any research on this so it is just a guess, but I think most viewers don’t prefer to see genitals so prominent. I also want to avoid any sexual commentary on my work, because, yes, I get those comments sometimes. It’s kinda sad actually that a large percentage of viewers would total overlook the skill at which I’ve completed my work and just think “penis”… or “vagina”. Admittedly, this is a personal fear and maybe one that I should challenge, hmmmm.
Both the Sistine Chapel and the sculpture of David by Michelangelo features the penis prominently, yet it seems that the genitals is the last thing many people think about when referencing the works. Admittedly their depiction here is quite small, here is a good article that address penis size in art history.
After reading that article I find it interesting how society has changed over the years in its consideration of certain parts of human anatomy. Today in America the exposition of breasts is scandalous but in other countries much less so. Yet, I’ve seen topless African tribes depicted on basic television with no issues. This is so confusing to me and I’m sure could warrant a massive study into the complexities of general sexual perception. But, I’ll not go further into that here, that is a whole other can of worms, that I don’t any knowledge or stamina to write on it detail.
Instead, I’ll bring it back to my own preferences. I avoid particular images for my paintings. As an example I avoid posespace.com as a resource for references because I thought most of the images were overtly sexual. Which kinda sucks because the site has some good quality reference and I’m in sore need of a good bank of images to pull from. But, I won’t pull from these images, again due to fear of response. I would like anyones opinion here though.
Do you think that the images at posespace.com are overtly sexual?(https://www.posespace.com/)
Thinking about today’s political climate and how minorities including the LGBT community are being ostracized legally. I have to ask the question. Am I playing into this same bigotry with my fear of public response to my art? If there is even a small percentage that this is true, I’m going to do something about it. I think the next time I go through my bank of images I’m going to pick a pose that I like regardless of the depiction of genitals. And when I do paint that image I’m going to focus on what I see and paint the penis or vagina as accurately as I can.
So quickly about todays life drawing session. You will see below that I was really struggling today with drawing the model. While I was drawing I was thinking to myself that I really need to draw more often. I don’t want to be a “one trick pony”, I should be well rounded in the arts. So, I may start changing up my subject matter soon.