Art has never been my thing.
I enter the dimly lit basement studio of Green Hall at the Yale School of Art, feeling out of place and intimidated — my only experience with art is a 9th grade Basic Drawing class where I drew smudgy cylinders, floating bananas, and a plastic flip-flop. Tonight, while class participants dart around the room setting up their easels, I stand still, trying to remain unnoticed. Shedding her pink-and-white-flowered kimono, the model adjusts the lights above the platform in the center of the room and arranges the blankets she’ll sit on. I look around frantically, trying to let my gaze fall anywhere but her naked body.
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My gaze lands on Professor Samuel Messer, who organizes Open Drawing sessions every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Open to anyone affiliated with the university, the sessions were inspired three years ago by the prestigious Yale-Norfolk Summer School of Art and Music, which accepts college juniors for an intensive six-week course every year. “There is such a demand for basic drawing and figure drawing,” Messer says, explaining the idea behind the program. “Everyone loves to draw, but they don’t have a place to do it.” Tonight the demand is especially high; about thirty easels are clustered haphazardly around the studio. “This is the most people I think we’ve had,” he says excitedly about the turnout.
In accordance with the “open” nature of the classes, the artists here are not artists by trade. “A lot of the people that come are in the sciences. It’s a great outlet for people who don’t get a lot of chances to draw,” Messer said. Assorted textbooks spill over the floor, attesting to the diversity of their owners. I notice one man in his mid-twenties, dressed in the pressed khaki of business attire. Messer emphatically states that everyone is welcome: “This is truly an ego-less place.”
I pull a stool from the corner of the room to sit behind the easels, opting to remain in the background rather than draw. The model strikes her first pose: she thrusts her left arm straight out from her body and rests the other languidly down her back. The light accentuates the angles of her body and casts dramatic shadows across her delicate form. I quietly observe the art taking shape around me; the artists’ precise, graceful fingers work quickly, drawing elegantly overlapping bodies that fill page after page of thin white paper.
After about five minutes, the model changes poses; she bends over and wraps her arms around her knees, curling up like a cat, and Messer drifts around the room, offering quiet guidance. Forty minutes into the session, he wanders by my corner to rinse something in the sink. When I tell him I haven’t drawn in years, he hands me a piece of paper and a stick of charcoal. As I begin tentatively sketching the model’s figure, my fingers naturally fall back into the rhythm of drawing. She is reclining back on her hands, seated with one leg draped over the edge of the platform. My worries about choosing a major and studying for exams drift away, lost somewhere with the notes of the classical music playing softly in the corner. I draw for about twenty minutes, remembering all the frustrations of foreshortening and shading, until the model gets up to take a break.
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I look at my three sketches. In the second, the model looks like she has no arms; the third makes her legs look like tree trunks.
But the first isn’t too bad.