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The Undressed Art: Why We Draw


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About the Author

Peter Steinhart is a naturalist and a writer. For twelve years he was an editor and columnist at Audubon, and his work has appeared in Harper's, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones and Sierra. He has twice been a finalist for a National Magazine Award, and his essays have been widely anthologized. He has published four books, the most recent of which is The Company of Wolves. He lives and draws in Palo Alto, California.

From the Hardcover edition.


In this meditation on the meaning of drawing (primarily figure drawing from the nude), naturalist/journalist Steinhart brings a measure of science to understanding the perceptions and actions that engage the human mind in the act of drawing. But the book is as much about the activities of the human mind spontaneous, direct, and unencumbered as it is about drawing itself. The more successful autobiographical parts of the book are based on Steinhart's several decades of avocational figure drawing. Although there is a bit of concise history about artists' models, this topic, again based on the author's experience and interviews with models over some years, is fresh and highlights the dynamic relationship that can be captured on paper. The virtues of this essentially solitary activity are focus and escape from time, but the resulting object, at its best called art, can speak to others. For Steinhart, drawing can capture our humanity and connect us to nature no small accomplishment. For general and art theory collections. Jack Perry Brown, Art Inst. of Chicago Libs. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Richly enjoyable. . . . Lucidly written, delightfully illustrated. Steinhart considers the phenomenon of drawing from practically every conceivable angle and the result is as stimulating as it is enlightening."-Los Angeles Times

"Steinhart is one of those lucky writers who can't help being entertaining, even when he's making a serious inquiry. He reminds us that there is something 'innate and human' about the impulse to draw what we see. I wasn't long into the book before I felt I was in the presence of a friend." --Edward Sorel, The New York Times Book Review

"This rare, transcendent book . . . deserves to be part of the rarefied canon of nonfiction that ventures-gracefully, delightfully-far beyond its expected scope." -The Plain Dealer

"Fascinating. . . . The overall effect of this engaged and engaging book is to make its lucky readers feel that only by picking up a pencil and drawing can we tap into 'a repository of wisdom and energy, purpose and comfort' that is larger than all of us."-The Washington Post

With the triumph of photography and the retreat of representation from "serious" visual art, the place of drawing as a central and necessary human activity might appear to be under some threat. Yet naturalist Steinhart's lively and gently polemical book shows it to be positively thriving, most passionately (and unexpectedly) in "drawing groups" that meet all over the country to sketch models and discuss technique. Steinhart (The Company of Wolves) is himself the enthusiastic member of such a group, and details of their rearguard defense of drawing traditions are the affectionately rendered center of the book. Moving from his own experiences to art history, science and the lives of the artists and models with whom he comes in contact, Steinhart examines this resurgence not only as an exercise in cultural self-expression but a collective response to a fundamental human need. Along the way, he gives quick but informative sketches of the world of children's drawing, the physiology of facial recognition and the evolution of photography. But the book's true milieu is the studio, and its core subject the complex relationships between hand, brain, eye and subject in the drawn depiction of the human figure. The fascinating life of the figure model Florence Allen (who not only posed over a period of many years for everyone from Diego Rivera to Richard Diebenkorn, but helped organize her colleagues into a professional guild) shows a side of the art world rarely explored with such sympathy and depth. And if Steinhart partakes a little of the "Us vs. Them" opposition to the contemporary art world common among his peers, he doesn't make a big deal out of it. For him, a drawing bound for the fridge door is taken as seriously as a painting in the Prado. 31 illus. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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