Reviews for Undressed Art : Why We Draw
Booklist Reviews 2004 June #1
Naturalist Steinhart's previous books include The Company of Wolves (1995), so drawing may seem like a departure for him, but as he so magnanimously avers, "The naturalist and the artist are alike in their watchfulness." Each must be disciplined, observant, and ardent. Steinhart has been drawing for years, finding it an immensely beneficial endeavor, and he is not alone. Although art schools downplay traditional drawing classes, many amateurs and professionals have formed drawing groups so that they can work with a model, thus instigating a grassroots renaissance of figure drawing. Steinhart, an engagingly grounded and generous writer, seeks to explain this phenomenon, and his conclusions are as surprising as they are moving. An "undressed art" in its intimacy, drawing from nude models is an "act of discovery" and a "way of seeing" that nurtures our innate "human need to look deeply and expressively," especially at each other. As Steinhart incisively chronicles the experiences of models and artists alike, he eloquently celebrates life drawing as a communion and a source of compassion and meaning. ((Reviewed June 1 & 15, 2004)) Copyright 2004 Booklist Reviews.
Choice Reviews 2005 February
This book is a complete charmer, a set of lively, original essays on drawing. The problem is that one does not know where a library would shelve it. Steinhart is a naturalist by training (and a former columnist for Audubon) but passionate about figure drawing. The chapter titles include "Ritual," "Desire," and "Working Naked." This reviewer opines that no one has ever written about drawing from the model's point of view. Steinhart also discusses everything from visual development in children to the social dynamics of a drawing group. He writes to share with readers "the pleasure in the joy and struggle of trying to make a good drawing" (according to another review). The 31 drawings reproduced are high quality as well. Aw, go ahead and buy it and catalog it under the joy of being human! Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through graduate students; professionals. Copyright 2005 American Library Association.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 April #2
Steinhart (The Company of Wolves, 1995, etc.) finds the compulsion to make images out to be "by turns erotic and puritanical, social and narcissistic, uplifting and depressing."The act of drawing has been given a bum rap over the past half-century, he writes; it's been diminished, disparaged, and dismissed by waves of abstraction and expressionism, by video and conceptual and installation art. Like outlaws, figurative artists hole up in small groups and drop-in sessions with zero commercial incentive, responding to some innate human impulse and seeking a personal vision like any other artist. Himself a drawer as well as a writer (previously in the purlieus of natural history), Steinhart willingly accepts that he is venturing into ineffable territory, but he seeks nonetheless to find verbal meaning in this kinship between spirit and substance, the burrowing for the hidden, the intensification of experience that figure-drawing gives to him. His thoughts are as intimate as a diary (though he will also make forays into brain chemistry in his search), often revolving around specific drawing classes. He is bracingly unself-conscious about the first flash of desire and anticipation that comes when the model disrobes, yet what he really wants to chew on is the recording and manipulation of experience, the containment of details, the way in which drawing allows a communication with the world, a connection, an empathy. He provides some terrific material on how models respond to their work and plenty of good stories about drawing classes. He appreciates the way drawing forces him to focus, while also allowing him to give himself over to an urge without apology. Steinhart searches for a coherent understanding of what makes him draw, but he is also at ease when he abandons rationalism and feels the graces guiding him to a moment of emotional access.An absorbing exploration of why we put pencil to paper. (29 illustrations) Copyright Kirkus 2004 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2004 August #1
In this meditation on the meaning of drawing (primarily figure drawing from the nude), naturalist/journalist Steinhart brings a measure of science to understanding the perceptions and actions that engage the human mind in the act of drawing. But the book is as much about the activities of the human mind spontaneous, direct, and unencumbered as it is about drawing itself. The more successful autobiographical parts of the book are based on Steinhart's several decades of avocational figure drawing. Although there is a bit of concise history about artists' models, this topic, again based on the author's experience and interviews with models over some years, is fresh and highlights the dynamic relationship that can be captured on paper. The virtues of this essentially solitary activity are focus and escape from time, but the resulting object, at its best called art, can speak to others. For Steinhart, drawing can capture our humanity and connect us to nature no small accomplishment. For general and art theory collections. Jack Perry Brown, Art Inst. of Chicago Libs. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 April #3
With the triumph of photography and the retreat of representation from "serious" visual art, the place of drawing as a central and necessary human activity might appear to be under some threat. Yet naturalist Steinhart's lively and gently polemical book shows it to be positively thriving, most passionately (and unexpectedly) in "drawing groups" that meet all over the country to sketch models and discuss technique. Steinhart (The Company of Wolves) is himself the enthusiastic member of such a group, and details of their rearguard defense of drawing traditions are the affectionately rendered center of the book. Moving from his own experiences to art history, science and the lives of the artists and models with whom he comes in contact, Steinhart examines this resurgence not only as an exercise in cultural self-expression but a collective response to a fundamental human need. Along the way, he gives quick but informative sketches of the world of children's drawing, the physiology of facial recognition and the evolution of photography. But the book's true milieu is the studio, and its core subject the complex relationships between hand, brain, eye and subject in the drawn depiction of the human figure. The fascinating life of the figure model Florence Allen (who not only posed over a period of many years for everyone from Diego Rivera to Richard Diebenkorn, but helped organize her colleagues into a professional guild) shows a side of the art world rarely explored with such sympathy and depth. And if Steinhart partakes a little of the "Us vs. Them" opposition to the contemporary art world common among his peers, he doesn't make a big deal out of it. For him, a drawing bound for the fridge door is taken as seriously as a painting in the Prado. 31 illus. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.