“Today’s Nude” the Channel four programme that aimed to bring the life drawing experience into people’s front rooms by encouraging people to draw from a nude live model on the tv screen has been and gone. If you’re reading this you probably didn’t see it. The Flickr group which allows people to upload their own life drawings has 182 members and I’d guess that that’s probably what the viewing figures were, due in no small part to it being screened at 12.30 in the afternoon rather than 6pm as originally planned. I was expecting a little more controversy. The Daily Mail did it’s best, as did the Telegraph but if you look at the comments section on their respective websites they all seem remarkably sensible and measured. If they were hoping for a repeat of “Sachsgate” where most people saw the offending Russell Brand/ Johnathon Ross clip via the internet after being alterted by the Mail rather than actually hearing it when it was originally broadcast they would have been disappointed this time. Still, if you live in the U.K. and feel like being outraged you still have another three weeks to see the series on the Channel 4 OD website so you never know
I found the experience of drawing a life model on the telly not to be as daft as I first thought. I do a lot of drawing from the tv anyway and paused or screengrabbed images from dvds can be a rich source of inspiration. I hadn’t planned on doing any drawing. I was sitting down with my wife to watch the repeat of the episode where she posed for Gary Hume (“Hey honey, get a load of this!”) and after staring at “smoking hot Kirsty Varley’s” ( phrase copyright Zoo magazine) naked torso for about five minutes and listening to the daft commentary I felt embarrased into picking up a pencil and doing a drawing rather than just sitting there trying not to look as if I were ogling. I’ve done some embarrassing drawings in my time but I’ve never actually been shamed into doing a drawing before. That was a pretty weird experience.
I also thought the programme had some value in that it introduced to the t.v. viewing public some different types of nudes that were totally beyond the range what one usually sees in soap operas and in boy/girl bands. If you’ve done a lot of life drawing over the years I’m pretty sure that you’ll have had moments when you realised that everyone can be interesting to draw in their own way and can therefore be considered beautiful but for somebody who doesn’t draw I would imagine that the experience could be quite educational. The dancer and choreographer Maria Munoz in the final episode to me looked pretty incredible. Although it doesn’t really come across in the youtube clip she was very long limbed and muscley,almost like a race horse. I wish there were more of these types of people on television, particularly for young people to see and particularly teenage girls so that they could realise that there is something else to aspire to rather than just looking like Barbie. Tinka reminded me of an elderly lady called Kit who was the first life model that I ever drew at art college. I remember the sense of drama and also the huge sense of embarrasment. I thought I was going to double up with laughter but she was totally relaxing to be around with no frisson whatsoever. She even handed out sherbert lemons to everyone. I know that for some of you drawing somebody like your gran without any clothes could also be pretty disturbing stuff but all I can say is that if drawing someone in the nude, at least to begin with is always going to be strange experience then she was a good person to draw.
The background commentary by the tutors was by and large rambling and uninstructional. One was left with the impression that all the artists involved definitely thought that life drawing was a good thing, they just hadn’t done it for a loooooong time.(With the exception of Maggie Hambling). There would be one or two tips. Humphrey Ocean talked about looking for “landmarks on the body” and Gary Hume talked about negative spaces but after that the commentary seemed to be more about what the artist’s feelings were about how their own drawings was progressing. You weren’t able to see what they’d done until right at the very end .You could tell from their comments that both Gary Hume and Humphrey Ocean felt they started out quite well, then obviously got into some difficulty but still weren’t too worried as “it’s okay to make mistakes” then you could feel their mood darken. Humphrey Ocean even said at one point that “of course its very hard to draw and talk at the same time”. Oh well. Perhaps it was too late to get another artist who actually could at that point so they had to carry on anyway.
Art critic and poet John Berger leant a bit of class to the very last episode. The only only other time I’d ever seen him on telly was in the 70’s art programme Ways of Seeing so it was a bit of a shock to see he’d gone from being a “sexy” genuinely dynamic young Marxist art critic to then inflate in old age into something of a zepplin sized windbag. Still, he was very good at getting across some of the poetry in drawing another person even if he was a bit short on practical tips.
So, overall I’d say it was a nice idea. It’s hard to find fault with a programme that begins by encouraging you to grab any scrap of paper you can find and start drawing but I think that without some more basic kind of introduction the only people who would have found it of use would have been people who had done some kind of life drawing already.
Lest we forget. John Berger in “Ways of Seeing”.