There has been a seismic shift in the life room, a velvet revolution and I can pinpoint the exact moment it arrived. Watching the SkyArts, ‘Portrait Artist of the Year Award’ one of the contestants silently slipped out their i-pad and began taking photographs, no word was spoken and then quite shockingly they placed the i-pad next to the canvas and quite simply began to copy the photograph, the live model was now all but redundant. I think there was an audible gasp across the country as artists nationwide witnessed this blatant breach of one of the fundamental pacts between artist and model. The pact can be summarised as, ‘I will remain very still and you will record me to the best of your abilities’. This elemental agreement forged through centuries of art making was now broken, the model had become merely a temporary vehicle, a convenience to be referred to now and again instead of the lodestone forged in the crucible of ferocious looking and passionate recording.
So now we have to think, what of the classics, the squinting and measuring, the thumb assiduously sliding up and down the beleaguered pencil like a deranged slide rule, the huffing and puffing as line after frustrating line was rubbed out to eventually create a glistening patina, a delicate palimpsest of fragile dots, dashes, scribbles and scuffs, marks plotting a unique journey of discovery. Knowledge hard won, the life room used to be the sacred space in which you joined that select club of those who could draw stretching back centuries. You were communing with the ancients, touching the hem of Rembrandt, grasping the sleeve of Michelangelo, walking hand in hand with Leonardo, quite literally in the footsteps of giants. The life room was one of the few places left where past practices barely unchanged for centuries informed the present. When Michelangelo picked up a piece of chalk and drew a reclining man in order study the alignment of muscle, bone and limbs so as to better understand his figure of the Libyan Sybil whilst painting the Sistine Chapel he was using life drawing to inform his practice. When Ingres was looking to inject authenticity into his sensuous tondo of the Turkish Bath he drew from the model incessantly having her twist and contort to realise the full extent of his erotic dreams. For generations the model / artist relationship has been sacrosanct but now there is an insidious interloper, the i-pad.
I feel something of a hypocrite, as the Americans say, I’m conflicted. I love technology, I accept shortcuts, I can see how for some the use of the i-pad has made a tremendous difference, giving confidence, allowing more time for detail, supporting failing eyes, I use binoculars for heaven’s sake, so what’s the difference I hear you say. I suppose it’s the shift in priority from working drawing to finished piece. I always thought the life room was a place of study, an experimental space but now it appears to be drifting towards a place of finished goods. The completed, resolved piece seems to be in the ascendency and I’m worried that experimentation, individuality and downright eccentricity will be downgraded, basically I’m worried we’ll stop learning and having the confidence to express ourselves as individuals.
Let’s hear some opinions on this issue, I want to hear your voice, i-pads in the life room, good or bad and more importantly why? Use the comments link below to share your views.
by Tom Wood
Paintings and drawings by Jane S, Jane, Judi, Sue, Tom, Tony and selected artist Hadyn.