Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good taste is the enemy of creativity - Pablo Picasso

Earlier today, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a story from New Jersey. A brother and sister team, inspired by the great Venus de Milo, carved a curvy woman from snow, rather than your run-of-the-mill snowman. Unfortunately, someone anonymously reported the snow-woman, and the police were sent to investigate, which resulted in orders to cover her up. She was then given a bikini top and a sarong, which, according to the mother of the snow sculptors, made her look even more objectified and sexualized. I agree.

It brought to mind an incident from when I was a teen in the suburbs of Montreal. A copy of Michelangelos "David" was brought in for an art exhibit in our local mall, and people complained, loudly, that it was indecent.  The complaints bought David a pair of shorts, and I remember our art teacher saying how ridiculous it was. Luckily, he was not the only one who thought so. Art lovers counter-complained that David is a tremendous work of art, and that the shorts were equivalent to defacing a great art piece. What, they asked are we teaching our children about great art when we deface even a replica? The art lovers won, and the shorts were removed. I have no doubt that until they were removed, Michelangelo was turning in his grave.

I tried to find a picture of a replica of David with shorts, as a demonstration of my point. I was sure that our town couldn’t possibly be the only one with such sensibilities. But, there were no pictures like that to be found. So, I searched for a picture of him with a fig leaf. After all, I have heard a number of different stories of replicas being covered with a fig leaf. But there were no pictures of that either.

Rather what I did find was a, well, charming light switch cover. It’s available for only $4.99 on Amazon. It gives new meaning to the phrase, “I’m going to turn on the lights.” In fact, with a light switch cover like this one, I may forget about blogging, and just spend all my time playing with the light switch.

We humans are a strange lot. We are either busy vilifying nudity, or laughing at it. We all want to look, but no one wants to admit it. We all want to enjoy sex also, but few dare to admit to that either.

After graduating high school in Quebec, the next step is to attend CEGEP (a French acronym for Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel, translated as "College of General and Vocational Education"). Because high school finishes earlier than elsewhere in Canada, you need to take a 2 year pre-university course, if you'd like to go to university. 

So, there I was in CEGEP studying Fine Arts. Our teachers decided we needed to be desensitized to criticism, and to lose our shyness about the naked bodies that we were drawing or painting. They had a rather strange way of achieving that objective. While we were in our Life Drawing classes, one of the two sculpture teachers would invariably show up, and walk behind us checking out our drawings or paintings. They would proceed to make very loud comments such as, "Oh! Look! John has made the models breasts so large," or "Wow! Look at how detailed Mary has made the penis!" or even, "Oh, see how Jane has left the penis off altogether?"

Once in a sculpture class, the teacher loudly exclaimed that I had put my own breasts on the nude bust I was sculpting. Of course every guy in the class had to then check out the bust, just to be sure he was telling the truth.

Two years later in my first university level Life Drawing class, I was busy drawing the contortionist who was modeling that day. I had left a certain part of the paper blank. As our teacher passed behind me to check the drawing I had in progress, he commented, "Very nice, but don't be afraid to draw it," he said pointing to the suspiciously blank spot. 

Caught out for having not produced the perfect penis in my drawing (one that would not draw any attention at all) I tried to cover for myself with a quip. "Oh, " I replied, "It's not that I'm afraid to draw it, I've just had to erase it so many times to get it right."

He laughed, then pointed to the blank spot and got very serious saying, "Draw it!"

At the end of class he revealed that he had many new students even in his other classes who were in some way afraid of drawing sexual parts of the various models. I started to name them all, he was stunned, and wanted to know how I knew this. When I explained our experiences in our CEJEP classes, he was furious. 

At the start of the very next class, he told the entire class that he'd heard about some teachers behaviors "from other colleges", and that we need never be afraid to fully express ourselves in his class. We could colour it in, make it large or small, it didn't matter to him, and he promised he would never make fun of us. I later heard from all my previous CEGEP classmates that he'd repeated that talk in all of his classes.

Here's a look at the first drawing of our contortionist I did after that.

Recently I have gone back to Life Drawing classes, and I'll be posting some of those pictures soon.

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