Drawing Class. Session 7 prep. Life Drawing/male, day 7.

November 28, 2011

Others undertaking the SoM journey

In working through the Riven Phoenix Structure of Man figure drawing course, I’ve been curious if others have documented on their weblogs the same process I’m going through. “Ferret” Steve in South Australia made considerably headway with it some years ago (http://discovering-the-structure-of-man.blogspot.com) and importantly used his doodling during university lectures to reinforce what he was learning by drawing completely from memory. I share his impetuosity to move ahead and I appreciate his precocious experimenting with distorting proportions; Burt Dodson in his drawing book for beginners tackles the figure obliquely – in terms of rough proportions, a bit of foreshortening, the recumbent figure (which is curious/interesting!) as well as deliberating distorting some aspects of the figure to create individuality. 

I notice Diane Kraus (http://dekraus.com) got to the end about a month ago and has fielded questions from others in her Comments about how long the course takes to do. Just looking at the drawings gives the impression of dry-as-dust academic drawing, which is not the case. The primary advantage in following the videos is that you can fast-forward through little bits you’re confident about and rewind to refine details; that’s simply not possible in other learning contexts, unless you’ve got a live, paid tutor sitting right next to you. The individual sessions range from 5 or six minutes to around 20, so there’s plenty of opportunity to stop and walk around the room. My mind gets numb and my fingers lazy after a few hours; I like to mix it up leafing through anatomy and figure drawing textbooks and of course, towards the end of the day, trying to ‘sum things up’ by rendering from newspaper and magazine photographs, many of which I’ve cut and saved over months and years because the lighting is good or the pose worthy of copying sometime. Diane Kraus pus the practice of drawing from photos and the Phoenix course in worthwhile context and her Etsy anatomy drawings also indicate where she’s coming from. 

Critics of the SoM approach

I bought the 5-DVD set originally and when I thought I’d misplaced the white carboard box they came in, bought and downloaded the lot from his website more recently. I noticed a lot of grizzling on BlendedNation by students complaining about prices and price rises. Typically, the videos have been pirated – even artists themselves stomp all over the intellectual property of their colleagues, chasing the primacy of the “free” (someone should critique the nexus of the Land of the Free/USA, the concept of Liberty and the feeling of entitlement in the age of the Internet demanding everything be free and without cost).

I’m appalled by people disparaging the videos’ production values where what counts is what the viewer is sketching and less on what is on the computer screen. None of the critics have uploaded photos showing their own incomplete learning. Comparisons by some critics of the course with anatomy books on the market are completely misguided because books promote rote copying, not drawing with flexibility from the imagination. You can copy till the cows come home all the drawings from books by Civardi, Bridgman, Richer and Hale drawings (I’ve bought them all over the years!), but without a teacher like Phoenix, you’ll never be able to “see” things three-dimensionally.

In terms of value for money, Phoenix’s course is roughly the equivalent of seven untutored life drawing classes at 2 hours each. There is absolutely NO WAY anyone could grasp all of what Riven Phoenix is providing via the equivalent of a mere seven life drawing sessions. I’ve attended term after term of night classes in life drawing and come away with relatively little; I’ve had teachers who’ve looked at my work and said, “You need more work on hands and feet”, and the best they could offer was an anatomy book, without any explanation about how I go about attaching a hand/foot to that particular pose I’ve drawn. Is more attention paid at proper art school? I’ve no idea. I suspect a lot of Phoenix’s critics are art school graduates who have invested heavily in their art formation and resent someone coming along offering a lot more at a fraction of the price they themselves paid.

No, the Phoenix approach is identical to that of the Renaissance where all figure drawing was done from the imagination, with rare recourse to models or cadavers. Careful examination of sketches by Renaissance artists clearly demonstrates they drew not from a model, but from their imagination; it can be dangerous to copy their ‘mistakes’. I notice in film and television and literary versions of Italian painters that artsts like Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi are shown working from live models; assuming there is some historical justification for this, it’s important to note these were early 17th century Baroque/Rococo artists and not strictly speaking Renaissance artists. I recall an excellent Russian biography of Da Vinci, linking black magic with the dangerous activity of dissecting cadavers. Like a lot of life drawing class tragics, I possess a huge wad of sketches from life drawing sessions past, all of them ready to be washed over with gesso so the paper can be re-used. Phoenix’s course has helped break the cycle of despair at my constantly making the same mistakes and never being exactly sure why.


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