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?



David Hulks

Hester, I think this is such an important question. Do please keep blogging your thoughts. I did read somewhere by the way that some of the exercises at St Martin's were thought of as a kind of restoration of the life room experience, so I think the history might be a bit more complex than you suggest. I don't think the life room simply waned away in other words, and of course as you point out it is still with us, if decentred. But the story is more about how people like de Sausmarez and others tried to create other, equally intense observational exercises, unintentionally allowing the budgets for hiring models to be dropped. Anyhow, look forward to your further thoughts on this ...


hmmn the complex history is that there is an ongoing misapprehension dating back to the onset of modernism let alone 'abstraction', whatever that is. Pay scales were adjusted to be in line with university staff in the 60's, the articulation and justification of 'what is being taught' had to be pretty forthcoming.( And usually done by one simply needing a teaching job rather than an artist !) Life drawing was extracurricular always,and more about the positioning of the artist in relation to the narrative of the major work whether that 'appeared' to be representational or not. I sat in on Hal Foster's seminar day after he was over to deliver lecture on Gerhard Richter ( he charmingly said at one point to a PACKED hall,"you know,I think I'm over him" sweet!) During seminar HF lean't his chair back against the wall and stared wistfully at the pale grey velvetty carpet and pale grey mock swede chrome armed chairs and I fancied I could read his thoughts ....the questions he was being asked were leaving him feeling hopeless.Yup, years ago when the chairs were wood and one could have picked one up and thrown it through a window ,and no one would have turned a hair,much.( I DON'T say that to encourage wild student behaviour by the way ,suppose I'm talking about frustration) At that point a Courtauld Prof. suddenly threw into the ring, for no apparent reason " you know we have drawers and drawers full of drawings from the 17th.C. here and no one looks at them". No,but they will read about them won't they.




and yet, trying to relocate reality , whatever - through drawing seems something of a futile luxury,whilst people sit dying; in mud in Pakistan ; starvation in Somalia; stabbing in London ,or any other number of horrors around the world.Is it possible these things are connected somehow with that need to relocate. (yes to the 'barre',Freudian slip!)


"when the same image has been generated millions of times and has been handed down for many generations and finally appears on the same occasion every time for all mankind,then it acquires at last the same meaning for men it would have if it were the sole necessary image and if the relationship of the original stimuli to the generated image were a strictly causal one " Neitzsche.(OT 87) 'He then comments that we should have deep mistrust of idealism of this sort'. (attrib. burbules)


and it is of course helpful to think of a drawing as a choreography. But you know HW I don't think you should pick at this problem like a scab,better to let it fall off naturally. You can't put the horse before the cart,and other helpful metaphors.


nothing starts from zero it is a mathematical drawing is like dancers going to the bar . "sat in front of a nude woman"-life models are both male and female,one would not necesssarily sit 'in front of'."Nude woman" has salacious overtones; in normal life we are in the company of other naked humans babies,lovers,family-some very old,medical professionals,morticians,masseurs,prostitutes,fashion models, changing rooms ,the beach etc. "to do a correct visual copy"...a MEANINGLESS statement. Our conscious experience is 'frontal',there is roughly a 'space 'we inhabit experientially ,our outstretched arms corresponding roughly with our visual field. (the early paintings of Julian Schnabel worked with this as did say "Open heart surgery" ) The model echos if not mirrors our erm, position and presents us with what we also are ,a consciousness neatly wrapped by nature,one with an infinite number of horizons; Greek architecture was not only in the building but in every centimeter of built sculpture skin. "Explaining what is happening".. but the searching for a new thing does not well call to order! And finally from the time you indicate,lets say 60's we have Warhol ,Rauschenberg et al, media junkies,not solely the world of primary experience but taking on board the saturation of media images as big a revolution as photography had been . Bit of a jumble here,tip of the iceberg but I'm so cross,shooting from the hip.


How silly can you get!Pencil on paper was never,and is not a luxury,it is one of the few ways we have of trying to make sense of death in Somalia,Pakistan and London,stop playing games and pick up a 2B!


gawd, yes I KNOW it should be cart before the horse ! I meant SHE cannot...... that's wot artists are for; clip clop clip clop