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The Undressed Art: Why We Draw Hardcover – June 15, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With the triumph of photography and the retreat of representation from "serious" visual art, the place of drawing as a central and necessary human activity might appear to be under some threat. Yet naturalist Steinhart's lively and gently polemical book shows it to be positively thriving, most passionately (and unexpectedly) in "drawing groups" that meet all over the country to sketch models and discuss technique. Steinhart (The Company of Wolves) is himself the enthusiastic member of such a group, and details of their rearguard defense of drawing traditions are the affectionately rendered center of the book. Moving from his own experiences to art history, science and the lives of the artists and models with whom he comes in contact, Steinhart examines this resurgence not only as an exercise in cultural self-expression but a collective response to a fundamental human need. Along the way, he gives quick but informative sketches of the world of children's drawing, the physiology of facial recognition and the evolution of photography. But the book's true milieu is the studio, and its core subject the complex relationships between hand, brain, eye and subject in the drawn depiction of the human figure. The fascinating life of the figure model Florence Allen (who not only posed over a period of many years for everyone from Diego Rivera to Richard Diebenkorn, but helped organize her colleagues into a professional guild) shows a side of the art world rarely explored with such sympathy and depth. And if Steinhart partakes a little of the "Us vs. Them" opposition to the contemporary art world common among his peers, he doesn't make a big deal out of it. For him, a drawing bound for the fridge door is taken as seriously as a painting in the Prado. 31 illus.
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From Booklist

Naturalist Steinhart's previous books include The Company of Wolves (1995), so drawing may seem like a departure for him, but as he so magnanimously avers, "The naturalist and the artist are alike in their watchfulness." Each must be disciplined, observant, and ardent. Steinhart has been drawing for years, finding it an immensely beneficial endeavor, and he is not alone. Although art schools downplay traditional drawing classes, many amateurs and professionals have formed drawing groups so that they can work with a model, thus instigating a grassroots renaissance of figure drawing. Steinhart, an engagingly grounded and generous writer, seeks to explain this phenomenon, and his conclusions are as surprising as they are moving. An "undressed art" in its intimacy, drawing from nude models is an "act of discovery" and a "way of seeing" that nurtures our innate "human need to look deeply and expressively," especially at each other. As Steinhart incisively chronicles the experiences of models and artists alike, he eloquently celebrates life drawing as a communion and a source of compassion and meaning. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041848
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041848
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This is one of the best books I have read for school.
Laura Kammermann
This book validates why some of us love to draw - simply for ourselves and hopefully the results may be enjoyed by others.
Robert Sinclair
I would recommend this book to artists, art lovers and readers alike!
A. Healey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Grafflin on June 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Steinhart's subtitle should be expanded to "why we draw the human figure," which would explain his title and better account for the content of the book, three-fourths of which concerns figure-drawing groups. The remaining chapters are independent essays on learning to draw, field sketching, how composing a picture differs from representational drawing, the impossibility of drawing for a living, and a final unrewarding speculation on artistic sensibility.
The heart of the book is a deeply felt and insightful set of reflections on the author's long experience with figure-drawing groups in the San Francisco Bay area. This includes a useful sketch of the history of nude modelling, and exemplary attention to the model as an equal partner in the figure-drawing experience.
As someone who has spent the better part of the last ten years in a weekly group of the sort Steinhart is describing, I can vouch for the accuracy of his account. The book has many wise things to say about the manifold challenges of depicting the human form on a sheet of paper. Our experiences do not always coincide. For Steinhart, figure drawing both is (Chapter 11) and isn't (Chapter 2) about sex, in a dance of desire that is more erotically charged than my own history of learning to see the human form. I didn't recognize his view "that artists tend to draw themselves in the model's pose," and to inflict their own physical needs on the forms they depict (p. 144). His use of art history to reinforce his arguments is highly selective.
However, if you want to learn what it would be like to participate in a figure-drawing group, or to compare your own experience with that of a stimulating and knowledgeable companion, you will find this volume hard to put down.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert Sinclair on February 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Out the outset of this book I was unsure of its purpose. Initially filled with too many references to others' writings, theories, and pontifications, I struggled with wanting to continue. But while sitting on a plane and having moved through the opening chapters, I reached a point of no return and unable to put it down. Upon completion and further reflection, I came to reallize that the book is not unlike a drawing - initially the artist (author) is finding his way, refining his line and contour, and in the end providing the form to give it shape, tone, appeal and emotion. One clearly gets the sense that regardless of the creative outlet, the mind processes in the same way - it is who one is more than about what they do or rather, what they do is who they are.

This book validates why some of us love to draw - simply for ourselves and hopefully the results may be enjoyed by others. Filled with a lots of anecdotal information on a variety of subjects that relate to the desire to create, I made the mistake of not underlining and making notes in the margins - so I get to read it again.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Richard on June 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In this age of photography, there is still a healthy subculture of models and artists who hold drawing the nude figure in the highest regard. Peter has numerous recent interviews with both models and artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. His book covers the experience of the art model particularly well. If you have ever wondered what it is like to get up in front of a bunch a strangers and model in the nude, there are good insights here. Highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. Yu on January 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have recently joined a figurative drawing class and find this book very encouraging and insightful. We live in a world that instant gratification becomes the key to everything we do. Drawing teaches us to slow down and see things the way they are. As a beginner for drawing, this book answers many questions about figurative drawing: why we draw, why we like to draw nude and how drawing can help me see many things I miss out in this fast paced world.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in drawing and art in general.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "silbennil" on June 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Undressed Art is a solid book for those interested in the why's drawing. It profiles both the people who draw and those who are drawn, making them two sides of the same picture. Even though I found it fascinating, I wish he had included more anecdotes. This book comes alive when the author narrates someone in the act of drawing, or visits a drawing group and includes scraps of dialogue, or decribes his wife hanging one of his own drawings on the refrigerator. The best chapter covered models and modeling, maybe because the focus was so much on people. Steinhart is so good at writing about people and their actions (maybe because he was trained as a naturalist?) that I longed for more of it.
Good book, worthwhile.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. E. Cranley on May 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A wonderful insight into the realm of figure drawing; the whys and wherefores of what it's about and why we pursue it, written by a man with extensive exposure to the genre.
I came upon the book as a result of having asked a well-regarded portrait artist why, at this point in her career, she had decided to pursue life drawing sessions again. Her response was to refer me to this book. Upon reading the work, I have a better appreciation of the place life studies hold in the continued development of the dedicated artist. An added benefit was the overview of the place the model holds in the whole process.
A great read!
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