Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Drawing and Modelling Art and Anatomy at the Ruskin

Programme Feedback

Review of the Art and Anatomy Course at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art.    University of Oxford.   4th-10th August 2013

The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine art in Oxford provided a unique setting for this art and anatomy workshop.  Oxford's compactness meant it was easy to get to the important artistic and scientific collections at the Bodleian Library, Ashmolean Museum, Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums and Botanical Gardens, etc; which were only a few minutes walk away and its great architectural heritage made an ideal setting to enrich the practical studio work and critical lectures and discussions.  
I was able to go to three ancient music concerts in the evening during the week and was stimulated by trips to Blackwell's Bookshop and walks in Christchurch meadows in the early morning summer sunshine. Oxford may sometimes seem like a small provincial English town but the whole world seemed to be there on every street corner and yet this global reach did not diminish its human scale.
The 17 students on the course represented a balance of ages and nationalities and all were serious and focused throughout in the friendly and sociable atmosphere set by the tutors and the generous supplies of tea, coffee, biscuits and cake provided by the Ruskin support staff. 
Some of the younger students were preparing for college applications but my own interest as a mature student was to reinvigorate a critical approach to drawing practice as part of a four month sabbatical designed to enrich my teaching of art at St. John's International School in Belgium and I was not disappointed.
We were taken through a series of formal lectures alternating with practical studio sessions, drawing and modeling directly from the skeleton and excellent live models in the studio. These activities gave an accumulative critical insight into the development  and culture of scientific and artistic anatomy and its images, placing them into both historical and contemporary contexts by reviewing key examples. Professors Brian Catling, Sarah Simblet and Eleanor Crook also generously shared examples their  work and expertise in slides and handouts and recommended reading lists as well as by bringing in actual examples of their own work. It was a great privilege to see the clarity of Sarah's jewel like botanical drawings for her books and her enormous early dreamlike anatomical drawings first hand. Indeed seeing this work and hearing Sarah talk about drawing opened up so many possibilities for understanding and practicing this great universal visual language.   
With both group and individual tutoring placing an emphasis on the process of looking and drawing throughout the pace was rigorous and challenging but the atmosphere was positive and enjoyable and we covered a large amount of material in only one week and everyone was productive - I made two wax models with facial and torso musculature and around 12 large drawings of the skeleton and human figure informed by Sarah and Eleanor's clear explanations of the human anatomy and critical reading of it in various contexts.
For me this course was about so much more than learning to draw the human body by studying bones and muscles, although it achieved this aim successfully in the limited time.  I found I was also stimulated and inspired to connect the topography of the human form in a pivotal way with a whole matrix of connected critical ideas and understandings of biology, geometry, language, architecture, geography, social, ethical and cultural history, religion, mythology, psychology, etc., that opened up a world of potential meanings and possible further investigation of cross-curricular connections that underline the importance of this subject - indeed without a human body/mind to experience it there is no world. 

All in all it was a wonderful and memorable experience that will continue to inform and enrich my own thinking, studio practice and teaching for some time to come and for this I am grateful.

Alan Mitchell
August 2013

Links to Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art and Tutors of the art and antomy course

Below is a selection of drawings and models I made during the course.

No comments:

Post a Comment