This entry will be slightly truncated since I’ve been busy with preparations for a Bill Woodrow event tomorrow evening.
As a subject of my earlier research on the Sculpture Department of St. Martin’s School of Art, Woodrow will provide an intriguing connection between my previous and present research. At the moment my interest has turned to the instruction of drawing practices and notions of draughtsmanship in London art schools, so this blog entry will pose a few questions rather than present a thesis: Why, after over a half-century of art schools’ displacement of drawing in the life room, does the general public continue to regard the life room as the centre of art instruction (as evidenced by the popularity of such classes in summer art schools around the country)? What is the enduring interest or appeal from working from the model when our leading art schools phased out this practice decades ago? Is there still a place for the life room as the basis for a visual grammar within our leading schools’ pedagogical practices? After all, in a 1961 conversation between William Turnbull and Maurice de Sausmarez, Turnbull thought this was still a possibility:
Yes, it seems to me ridiculous to teach life drawing the way I was taught, where we sat in front of a nude woman and tried to do a correct visual copy. One should start from zero to make one’s own free statement. I mean a line drawing by Matisse is doing exactly that plus so much more; he is organizing the space with a line. If you were teaching life drawing, so long as you were explaining what is happening in some formal way it seems to me it would be just as good a way of teaching it as any other.
I’m not, course, proposing that we ‘jump back into the life class, the nest of nudity, in a state of theoretical nakedness’ (in Deanna Petherbridge’s pithy formulation). But when we witness the energy and engagement of these unsanctioned life rooms, perhaps we can ask the question: what did we lose when the life room was decentred in British art schools?