Friday, September 3, 2010

The Naked Truth

by Drew Martin

When I was a fresh, young teenager, perhaps still a tween, my brother and I went to a camping expo with one of his friends where, unbeknownst to my parents, knives and guns were pedaled by the kind of men who stockpile supplies in the woods; waiting for the end of civilization. I bought a sleek, black BB hand gun that looked like something James Bond would pack.

Back at home, I was sitting on my bedroom floor, admiring the ebony pistol, imagining some mission where it would be my trusty piece, when my mother suddenly entered my room. I quickly stuffed it under my bed so all she saw was the movement of guilty concealment. She became upset but did not question me what it was. She grabbed me by the hand and marched me into her study, sat me on her soft, blue tattered couch and pulled out a few oversized and heavy art books from her shelves. She opened them up to nudes, dropped them in my lap and said. "If you want to look at naked women, look at the works of these great artists!"

She left the room, while I stared, wide-eyed at the oily beauties by Goya, Dalí and Picasso. I do not ever remember looking closely at an image of a naked woman before these. Sure, there were the occasional porn magazines hidden in the older neighborhood boys' forts in the woods but those were protected harems of the alpha males and I was simply the adolescent chimp on the periphery.

My mother had assumed I was looking at such smutty material when she barged in, but the idea had not even crossed my mind at that early age to actually possess such contraband. Needless to say, I have a very interesting mother and had a unique perspective of the human form early on, especially since I gravitated to surreal eroticism of Dalí.

The incident seemed to be part of a pattern in my life. A year or two earlier, in middle school, I was sitting at a big square table in art class with some other boys. One of them, who is now a doctor, drew a very graphic picture of a naked woman. It was not a good drawing but it had all the juicy parts. The little-lady art teacher, who had probably not even seen herself naked in several years, caught him and crumpled up the sheet in her bony-wrinkled hands. Her knuckles were white.

With disgust, she said to him and the others lads present that they were not worthy of drawing the naked female body. Then she turned to me and added, in a sweet voice, that I, the little natural artist, could render whatever I fancied because I would show respect and taste. It was an awkward and titillating moment at a time when I was only thinking about drawing cats and penguins and my reprimanded peers gave me looks, like "Well, go ahead, draw something for us to look at!"

Although my upbringing had a lot to do with my pioneering feminist mother, I was also saved the initiation of cat-calling, whistling-up-women by a very decent father who always, and quietly, pointed me in the right direction, as he still does to this day. He has never said anything inappropriate about a woman in front of me.

A few years later, while I was still in high school, my mother signed me up for a life drawing class, which she thought was going to be of still life. She dropped me off at the Protestant-proportioned barn-building and then left, saying she would return at the end. By the time I got up to second floor and set up my newsprint pad, a roaring Harley Davidson motorcycle pulled up outside. Minutes later, a leather-clad-biker-chick appeared. She stripped down rather abruptly and posed nude in various poses for the long session. She was the first naked woman I had seen in the flesh and she was kind of tough: not pleasant like Goya's Maja or Dalí's Gala.

Looking back at my sketches and studies, I see what my art teacher meant: what I drew was softer than the model's reality and transcended her human flaws. My mother was a little shocked when she asked to review my work, expecting to see fruits and crockery, but my parents allowed me finish the course.

The female nude and the male gaze are controversial and continuing themes in art. The human form and representation are loaded topics to begin with. Looking back on these experiences and how they made an impression on me, I would say more of this kind of educated exposure would be helpful to youths, especially in a culture where pornography is so much more accessible. That being said, I would save Schiele for a later age/lesson and probably dismiss Koons on this topic. The Greek sculptures are not a bad place to start.