Drawing class sits in for therapy, porn

There are few people who, when pressed, won’t admit to a childhood passion for drawing. The urge to draw comes from the same place as the urge to speak. As toddlers become aware of the world, their excitement necessarily leads to a need for expression, which can help make sense of the hamster that got killed behind the door of their kindergarten classroom or the strange noises their parents make at night.

Too often this primal thirst for art can be stifled by unfair grading and irresponsible criticism. I remember how discouraged I felt when my seventh-grade painting teacher dismissed my Valentine’s Day prints of a tiny cupid tearing up human hearts, and then how confused I became when I discovered that she had in fact stolen my foam template and distributed copies of the print among her friends. Experiences such as these turned me against academic art from a young age. My artistic talents, though prodigious, have remained unschooled and raw.

But on Tuesday night, at the “Open Life Drawing” class in Green Hall, my pent-up drawing aggression was, for the first time in years, channeled in a delightful and constructive direction. The program, which meets every Tuesday night from 8 to 10, is conducted by Sam Messer, associate dean of the School of Art, and the format is simple — students stand with easels around a nude model, making strokes with charcoal as they strive to represent her figure. Messer walks around and observes. He will not impose his opinions on your work, but when you do ask for help — and I did — his generous advice penetrates to the heart of the issue.

“Ever play baseball?” Messer asked one student. “Try to get your hand to do what your eye is doing.”

The program is democratic by nature. It began last year as a way for people who might not normally draw at Yale, or who feel somehow dissatisfied with Yale’s art program, or who just want a time to draw for fun, to come and make art. Many people there had never taken a figure drawing class before, yet this inexperience was no obstacle towards their drawing with the gang. Moreover, the non-judgmental setting of “Open Life Drawing” may be the perfect way for a novice to learn how to draw.

According to the teaching assistant Sarah Lasley, this year promises to be more successful than the last. The previous series of classes was not well attended, with maybe five or six people showing up each time. Since there were so few students, the models were subject to their whims, however strange these might be, and classes were often disorganized.

“During one class, they had the model doing stripper poses,” Lasley said. “It got kind of weird, with a stripper pole and everything.”

The real problem, Lasley concluded, was that the class met on Mondays, and now that it’s been moved to Tuesday evenings, a time that fits better into most schedules, she expects it to be a lot more popular. Also, Messer has worked hard to increase awareness of his program by sending e-mails to key figures in the Yale administration. The large turnout of about twenty people on Tuesday night was a testament to the success of these combined factors.

For many students, this was only their first or second time attending. Messer emphasized the idea that everyone should be allowed to do art, and, further, that art is more of a fundamental human practice than one might think. Successes and failures in drawing often resonate profoundly with a person’s “non-artistic” interests. Messer told me about a chemist friend of his:

“Lots of times you try to do an experiment and get gunk at the bottom of the test tube, until finally you get it right,” Messer said. “Art is the same thing.”

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