From Life review – lacking a vital spark

By Laura Cumming

Royal Academy, London
A confused survey of life drawing offers little in the way of fresh observation, or hope for the future of a dying art

You cannot draw, and yet you are an artist. Might this be a contradiction in terms? It would have been, a century ago. Even comparatively recently, art students were required to study anatomy, sketch classical casts in the sculpture court and stand for hours drawing professional models as twilight fell in the studio. To draw was to see, to understand, to learn. Drawing was the vital underpinning of every other art. For the artist, wrote John Berger, drawing was pure discovery.

But this great skill was gradually required less often. Conceptual art, performance art, land art, video, installation, digital and film art: they all made drawing (supposedly) redundant. Photography, what's more, appeared made to catch the living figure. By the 1990s, the life class was fading out of art schools and Goldsmiths had even banned the practice, lest it objectify the female model. Those of us who wanted to draw or paint the human body were better off in a local evening class.

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Source: From Life review – lacking a vital spark