I think I took my first life drawing class, drawing from a nude model, when I was in high school. I think, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Anyway, it was either high school or my first year at Nassau Community College where I went right after high school. Which ever it was I don’t remember being embarrassed by having this naked person in front of me that I was supposed to stare at so I could accurately draw them, but I do remember not being sure what to do when it came to the male models genitals. It’s easy with the female models, a simple triangle will do. But for the males, you have to decide how much detail you want to include. I can remember not wanting to spend too much time staring at and drawing the males models genitals, but I also didn’t want to ignore it. Because you’re drawing in a room with all the other students and the teacher walking around, I’ll admit, I didn’t want to appear to be too interested in the models penis, but I also didn’t want to appear to be a prude.
I was reminded of all this when Jon and I visited the Fine Arts Museum in Boston last week. We walked into a large gallery with a bunch of portraits, most of them of Andy Warhol and Rudolf Nureyev. And there was the same dilemma, as if I was back in my first life drawing class. Amongst all the portraits was one of Nureyev from the top of his head to just above the knees, naked and glaringly well endowed. So well endowed, it was impossible to ignore. And a part of me is thinking that I don’t want to look at the picture too long because people (you know all those people who are watching to me to see how much time I spend looking at a painting, because they’re not here to look at art, but pass judgement on me) will think I’m just looking at Nureyev’s penis. But I don’t want to not look at it because I don’t want those same judgmental people to think I’m a prude or disapproving. And another part of me is thinking, don’t be a jerk Maria, its art, just look at it for the beauty and skill blah blah blah…. But even with all that, it’s still the elephant in the room. And there’s no way that both Nureyev and Jamie Wyeth didn’t know that.
So as I’m standing there, looking and not looking, when Jon walks up next to me and with out a moment’s hesitation says, “He’s well hung isn’t he.” I know I laughed and I could have kissed him, maybe I did kiss him. Because, well, that’s just the truth of the and there it is. I bet everyone who looked at that drawing thought the same thing, how could they not, I know I did. But Jon said it out loud. What a relief, with those magic words, I felt like the spell had been broken. I could now look or not look at that painting and it didn’t matter how much or little time I spent doing it.
I like to believe I’m mature and professional when it comes to art and nudes. And I’m not rattled by so much of the art that came out in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s that dealt directly with sexuality and sex. I guess I just didn’t expect this painting, thrown in with the presidential portraits, landscapes and hay bales. But I’m also not likely to forget it. And it truly is a beautiful painting of a beautiful man no matter how large or small his penis is. But it’s also a very honest painting. Even fully dressed Nureyev exudes sexuality, it’s a big part of who he was. And this painting reflects that, not just by the size of his penis, but by his posture and expression and the way it’s painted.
I was surprised to find that, more than 30 years later, and after many life drawing classes, I still have some of those same feelings that I had in my first life drawing class. Embarrassed and concerned about what other people might think of me when it comes to the human body. But I also don’t think it’s who I really am and how I really feel. I think it’s about the stuff I was taught and the way I learned to feel about my own body. Hopefully, before another 30 years pass, I’ll be able to stand in front of any picture anywhere and not care what someone else might or might not be thinking. And say out loud what ever I might be feeling. Who knows, maybe someday, I’ll even find myself stitching nude men on my pillows and wallhangings.