The Model

Ehrenzweig on life drawing:
“In schools the nudity of the model must not be associated with an individual person. The art student rises above any emotional involvement with the nude woman as a person; he [sic] is encouraged to study her abstract form with the depersonalized detachment of a true artist. What a debasement of a living human being! Life painting…has become a soulless exercise in which it matters little whether the model is attractive. It was supposed to improve the student’s draughtmanship. Why this should be so is difficult to guess. One assumes, of course, that the emotional interest of one human being in another will sharpen his formal sensibilities. This must have been what it did in bygone times. But today, our emotional detachment from reality has gone too far. Living models will do little to resuscitate a true involvement with reality…To escape from this impasse art has somehow to be reconnected with the dissociated intellect, and also to be involved with real objects which we can love and hate.”

The topic might seem antique, but the way Ehrenzweig treats it is hardly irrelevant to abstraction today. It is in fact a rather sharp critique, but one which contains an alternative, remarkably similar to the position taken by Frank Stella. He goes on to say that “…a cyclical movement toward abstraction, dedifferentiation, a weakening of the libidinous interest in reality has recently come to a close and…a new trend in the opposite direction moving toward a new syncretism and object love may now be in the making.” From our vantage, and knowing his dates, this sounds like Pop. The cycle seems to have turned again, sometime around the turn of the century, back to abstraction. He continues “Perhaps a mixture of both the sublime and the crudely sexual may prove potent enough to stir into action our dormant syncretistic sensibilities.” Sure, and Fontana, Ehrenzweig’s contemporary, fills the bill. We learn from him that the crudely sexual is sublime.


Paul Cézanne, Standing nude 1899

Meanwhile, this poor woman, perhaps his wife, seems to be suffering from the distortions Cézanne has inflicted on her. Is this abstraction or object love? Though she may not be attractive, there is undoubtedly something crudely sexual here.

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