Friday, July 10, 2009

The Final Channel 4 Life Class in Series 1

...or is it?

The fact that Channel 4 have been referring to this as Series 1 made me think they must have more planned - but nothing more was said at the end of the programme.

Friday's class was interesting because of who the tutor was - John Berger. Berger takes a much more philosophical and academic approach to drawing - albeit in the interests of helping us to see - as indeed he tried with his book and programme "Ways of Seeing": Based on the BBC Television Series. See also my post Ways of seeing art on television. It was very odd seeing him today when the visual image of him that I have in my head is probably a few decades old!

Widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, John Berger began his career as a painter, having studied at Chelsea and London schools of art. It was during his career teaching drawing that Berger established himself as an art critic.

Berger's model is his good friend the danger and choreographer Maria Muñoz, who he draws for Life Class in the Compagnie Philippe Genty dance studio in Paris.

Maria Muñoz - Life Class with John Berger Channel 4 (8-10 minutes each)
On a Degas Bronze of a Dancer
pencil on heavy cartridge paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Berger used a technique I quite often use in my drawing a head class - which is to keep the same pose but view it from different angles. He stayed in the same place whereas I move around in class (you can see the results of my drawings from multiple angles - such as Three perspectives on Ben - here in Drawing the Head.)

I personally find it much more interesting than doing different poses. You also seem to end up focusing much more on anatomy. Not that this was difficult today. As a dancer Munoz had an incredible muscled and taut frame and could obviously hold poses which would defeat most models. I'm currently writing a review of Robert Beverly Hale's "Drawing Lessons from the great masters" for my reviews blog and kept being reminded of the models drawn by a number of the artists in that book - who include Degas.

What was also fascinating is that he had chosen a bronze of a dancer by Degas as the starting point for the pose. I've not seen that done before in life class but it's a neat idea and one which has the potential to be very interesting.

I found I was listening much less today - challenged both a by a voice which I find terribly soporific and by a body which was significantly but subtly muscular. I am however absolutely 100% convinced that Berger was reading some of the passages as a voice over when he wasn't drawing. I just don't see how he could have quoted long passages of texts about drawing if he was drawing at the same time. The brain just isn't wired to make that possible! Given the 'wiring problems' I was also rather puzzled about how he expected us to hear him given we were focusing on the drawing and only a few of his comments actually related to the pose. I find when I'm drawing that I usually become deaf to everything that isn't relevant to what I'm doing. I don't know if it's the same for other people. It's certainly helps me a lot when drawing landscapes or street scenes in public!

However - as before - here are the tips from John Berger which I did make a note of.
Let yourself go into your own confusion (talking about how people start and navigate round a body finding out how it works)

The eraser is connected to the idea of a mistake needs to be wiped out. We make mistakes all the time. Sometimes erasing refines the essential to discover what is worth saving. It's a paradox taking things away discovers what's worth saving.

I've always thought bodyscape is a useful word
You can see what Vivien Blackburn did here "Life Drawing with Channel 4". If anybody else has been blogging about Life Class leave a comment and a link below and I'll reference your efforts in my blog post on Sunday.

UPDATE: Apparently John Berger continued - and there is now an exclusive recording by John Berger on the Artangel website (the people organising the programmes)
After the filming of the programme was complete, Berger continued to work on his drawing of her, refining and correcting it from memory for a further two weeks. In this exclusive recording (also available as a text transcript), Berger reflects on the story of the finished piece, on his friendship with Munoz and on what it means both to dance and to draw.

Here's the link to this last programme in the series - Series 1, Episode 5 and the series as a whole. It's unclear whether there's going to be another series. I gather there's been quite a lot of comment in certain arenas about nude models on daytime television.

My drawings can be be found in Life Class, Channel 4. The Group Admin of the Flickr Group has woken up and my drawings can now be found again in the group pool (but will be withdrawn again if s/he does not exercise appropriate moderation after today.)

A Making A Mark Guide: Life Drawing and Life Class is available from my Making A Mark website. You can now read it on the website without downloading it.

Meanwhile over on Travels with a Sketchbook you can find Another way of drawing people


  1. I thought it was just me!

    I realised at the end that I'd barely registered a word he said as i was focussed!

    It was a very soporific voice as you say.

    Ways of Seeing was one of our text books at uni - the soft porn, Victorian image of a naked woman with apples on a tray at chest height was hilariously parodied by a naked gentleman with fruit and a banana on his tray held lower!

    He had certainly aged since the pic in the book!

    I hope they do continue this - it was an excellent idea.

    The model was very muscular and rather androgynous and quite an interesting one to draw.

  2. It interesting you bring up the point about the eraser. I was just contemplating that issue yesterday after reading you last post.

    There are many different approaches to life-drawing. Some artists emphasize lines and edges.

    Personally, I stray away from lines and focus on value and form. Also, I use the eraser a lot, not to make corrections, but to take away pigment to suggest highlights. I use a process of starting on a middle ground and subtracting and adding shade. The issue of the eraser being that you're making corrections if your subtracting has been something that has just not settled in my mind completely. I see it more as a style of approach and not a matter of making corrections. There's different ways of looking at it I guess.

  3. Thank you for the detailed report and the links! Unfortunately, I can't see the program on my pc. I get following message: The service is not available in your area (country).
    I like your results.


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