(Article originally published on 26th May 2014 in www.cartanart.com, edited by Johny M.L and Sushma Sabnis)
Three decades ago, a group of art students contacted a sex worker to pose nude, for the sake of nude studies, since it was not a part of their life-study classes in their art school at Davanagere (Karnataka). Funnily, after the monetary deal was over, the sex worker asked the young and bubbly art students, all of them boys, whether ‘posing nude was the only deal’, to which the answer was in affirmative. The reason as to why nude study is not a part of life study in any art schools in Karnataka is because the students just cannot draw and draw the avant garde attitude – from life! This is true despite the fact that north Karnataka art schools have produced very skilful art students/artists and artworks who/which (have) represented reality in quiet illusionistic mode, thanks to the bleeding of the J.J.School’s tutorials into their schools through mentors, visitors and interactions. Yet, the students cannot draw from life; and hence the nude study as part of life-study, as an officially endorsed subject, is an absentee in their institutions.
That of which it could be a part of (life-study) does exist, though.
While many schools like Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan do have nude study classes and while many who taught/teach at Karnataka art schools studied in such schools and also have played major roles in framing the syllabus over here, nude study has become obvious through its absence. Its absence is very much felt, for, the appropriate container of which it is an inevitable part of, is very much a part of art school curriculum!
The gradual predominance of the ‘right’ over the ‘left’ in policy making, the conservative nature of the urban middle class around whom such art schools evolved — are not the reasons for withholding the introduction of nude studies into life study classes. Such socio-political protest against them becoming a reality is for reasons outside the actual experience they might actually evoke.
Nude model is addressed more through a pre-existing discourse around it than in practice. In other words, we study a lot about nude images, from ‘Venus of Willendorf’ to the arguments of Gorilla Girls. Theoretically nudes are also differentiated from the naked. Instead of a practically studying it, some might adopt a few nude images into their creative works. In other words, every time a nude image is inculcated creatively, it becomes epistemological evidence to what they lack – the nude study. The compulsive sensuousness that was to be thus availed to the gaze is contested as an element of inability, the reason behind which is culturally deep rooted.
The larger question that nude study poses in art pedagogy is that of visibility. Sensuality, which is held to be at the core of nude study and the reason for its absence, might be a compulsive element, though in a metaphoric form, in ‘creative painting’ subject. It is proclaimed that life study is to assist such creative paintings, which is a pre-set and prejudiced rule that creative paintings are bound to be figuration alone. Nude study, abstract works and inter-mediatic representations are yet a taboo
Studying from a male/female nude is to counter and contest the traditionally set rituals of Indian family structure. Nude study involves a private view of a stranger from the opposite sex, with familiar gendered company around, by and large; however rare is its occurrence. This deviates from voyeurism, wherein sight segregates itself from other sights around itself and determines to remain solitary, while watching the banal in what it presumes to be a sacrilegious mode. Elements of voyeurism like ‘lonely sight’ and ‘sacrilege’ are the aspects that are evaded in nude study; and hence it is next to impossible in the Karnataka art school contest. Is this lack of nude study a certain censorship and suppression of freedom of expression? And is this a valid question?
The clear cut categorisation of learning through differentiated subjects such as life-study and creative composition, arguably worth ridicule, is at the heart of art pedagogy. Nude study is an inevitable part and parcel of this categorisation. What happened to this split, post 90s in Karnataka art schools, can explain as to why nude study is absent as well as how it is inevitably interlinked with the lack of drawing skills from life. Such chronological specification might also add up to the overall a‘dress’al of art pedagogy, courtesy nude study.
The difference between the sketches/drawings of students before and after 1990s is a case in point. The absence and reminiscence of nude study not only was brought about by at also led to the loss of drawing skills from real mundane life. To sketch by copying from comics and illustrations was a taboo before 90s. Yet, even then, those who plagiarised the detailing of the figure in life-study, by copying comic-books, realised that they were preordained to copy the sutras of representing limbs, rather than arrive at one of their own invention. The representation of limbs was media-specific, ink and pencil varied in the way the outlines and skin was equated with the feel of a watercolour hand, a drawn hand and an inked one. Currently, arguably, most of the art student’s sketches are one layer away from reality and mundane existence: Even when they sketch and study from life, the comics/graphic novels/illustrations (Manga-like) act as the source file to their vision. The drawn lines have lost the ability to differentiate between emerging from one’s own hand skill and that of the plagiarised one. The abstract inspiration from the studied sketches/drawings before 90s is replaced by those original/live sketching, which obviously leave their traces as to which genre/category (mainly from the popular arts) the sketches hail from.
Studying from live nude models becomes a problem because of this very reason: the already viewed shapes of something similar to the model, the feel of the muscle behind the veil of the skin, the variations of skin tones, the overwhelming presence of nudity visible at varying degrees, due to the self-consor-free lifestyle, after the arrival of hyper-text and web world, makes the students (post 90s) consider the nude model in a newer premise of aesthetics. Not that the pleasurable nakedness of the bodies (even of the aged models, though) is availed to the sight of the art students, neither is the average age group of the students is on the higher side. The very idea of the definition of sensuous experience has been shifted from the ‘real’ to the ‘virtual-as-real’. No more is there a necessity to study nude models as part of the life study class. Voyeurism and sensory experience of nude study have negotiated each other’s differences. You no more paint sensuousness with awe but only that which you already consider as sensuous.///