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Art School #7: "You don't have to peel the bark off a tree to find out what it looks like."

 As a freshman in college in my home town I sought out every opportunity to learn about art and practically lived in the art department. There were a few of us artists that were allowed to set up studios in a large open room that was used mostly for drawing classes. We set up dividers that were used to hang artwork and each had our very own studio space. It was a working environment and even though most of what we created would later be considered "studies" we were serious about our work. 

I decided to paint something big and made a stretcher about 10 feet long by 4 feet tall. I sized the canvas with untinted rabbit skin glue which really tightened the canvas nicely. A friend modeled for me and I drew several reclining figures in pencil. Then I enlarged the drawing with an opaque projector which superimposed the original onto the the canvas. I traced over the projected image with pencil and added acrylic color in a wash over the raw canvas. 

The result was a simple figure reclining across the horizontal canvas titled “Landscape”. Yes, it was a nude in the classical style although a very simple line drawing with subtle shading.  
                                                           drawing by Henri Mattisse

It was so large that I had no place for it and had to leave it behind when I moved on to another school. I remember seeing other cast off paintings and odd artifacts left behind in the art department. I wondered who made them and why they were left there. Didn’t the artist appreciate the attempt or feel the art was really worth anything? Selling something like that never even occurred to me so I went on my way to St. Olaf College and forgot about it. 

Then 10 years later I came back and was astonished to see that painting hanging in the student center on a prominent wall. Someone appreciated it or maybe they just thought it was cool to have a nude painting hanging there. 

Later I heard the teaching, "You don't have to peel the bark off a tree to find out what it looks like."  I still believe that today and think artists don't need shock value. The human body can be a beautiful thing but not always and not to everyone. 

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