Life Drawing (aka Naked People in Schools)

I know, I know – three of my four posts now have involved sex or the human body in some vaguely unsettling way.  It really isn’t all I think about.  But as an artist, the human form is very important to me.  Try to keep an open mind.

This post is about nudity in art, and why students should be allowed to draw naked bodies.

I don’t know if it’s parents or teachers or school boards who refuse to allow students to view the naked form, but whoever it is needs to take a moment and really think about this issue.  I have developed a helpful numbered list of the reasons nude drawings should be allowed.

1) I’m talking about high school students.  Say fourteen, fifteen years old and up.  They are not little children.

2) These people have been through sex ed at least once or twice, and it is highly likely that most of them have engaged in romantic, if not sexual, activities, or have at least thought about it.

3) They’ve probably seen a naked body, even if it’s just by virtue of looking in a mirror.

4) Most of them have been on the internet.  At fifteen, anyone who has been on the internet for very long is probably not an innocent little baby anymore, unless they really do have the kind of parents who sit at their shoulder and monitor everything they look at.

5) Most forms of advertising are sexually charged in some way.  Teenagers, like everyone else in society, are under enormous pressure to conform to a certain image of beauty, which most of them feel unable to do.

6) Teenagers are not adults yet, but they’re getting there.  They’re growing out of the need to be protected, and they’re growing into the need for mature and reasonable guidance from the adults in their lives.  Their relationship to the human body is one of those areas in which they need guidance.

The way I see it, this is exactly the same issue as sex education.  As adults, it is highly likely that the students we teach will one day engage in sexual activity of one form or another.  But sex doesn’t make up their entire lives, or at least it shouldn’t.  I feel that being able to view the human body in a non-sexual way is just as important as understanding the sexual aspects of it.  Life drawing such as I would advocate involves looking at a wide variety of shapes and sizes of people, and I think it’s important for everyone – especially teenagers – to understand that not everyone looks the same, and that there isn’t one standard image of beauty.  For young people who are still changing and oftentimes uncomfortable with their own bodies, I think it is exceptionally important for them to come to terms with the wide variety of beauty in the world.

Keeping students from drawing naked bodies in art class is not protecting their innocence, it is reinforcing their ignorance.  If all you want is for your children to be protected, you might as well burn all the books and tear down the museums before they get infected with any actual ideas.  Personally, I would prefer that they grow up to be intelligent, mature, well-rounded individuals with the ability to think for themselves, interact with one another in healthy ways, and be confident in their own sense of worth.


Okay, I should calm down.  Education is important to me, and I know that I get kind of up in arms over it.  I do not mean to imply that you’re a fool if you don’t want your child to look at naked people, but since the chances are high that they already have/will at some point, would you not prefer that they learn to do it in a mature, respectful way?

I know I would.

One thought on “Life Drawing (aka Naked People in Schools)

  1. I completely agree with you. One time I would pose for drawing/pictures for a group of high school art students. I was in my underwear, but I know that the following week they had a nude model.
    I think that getting students to draw naked bodies (a variety) can teach them (with a good teacher by their side) that body is beautiful, no matter what canons of beauty are there. The art students that I knew loved drawing bodies in general and they would say that body is the most amazing and most interesting thing to draw. You know what was the vote for the ugliest part of the body? An elbow 🙂

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