I am saddened and disturbed by the University of Oregon's decision to put an end to the Saturday Figure Drawing sessions. As an artist, I am offended by the suggestion that participants "might have the wrong thoughts" and that the model "might be an exhibitionist." Such assertions demonstrate ignorance and intolerance of the artistic process.
First of all, these are outrageous, unfounded claims. Secondly, they smack of rape-culture sentiment, as they echo the assertion that women ask to be raped when they expose skin.
All of the life models I've ever encountered have been entirely professional. It is uncalled for and unreasonable to suggest that they "might be exhibitionists!" You could just as easily assert that police officers 'might be sociopaths,' or that teachers 'might be pedophiles.' There is no basis for your unfair assumption, except, perhaps, your own misconception of figure drawing.
Struggling to render the human form in an academic setting is unlikely to evoke what the University of Oregon deems "wrong thoughts." Unless thoughts are monitored, judged, and policed, thinking is not a crime. Thought-prevention is the exact opposite of an educational institution's responsibility. If inappropriate thoughts are bound to result in inappropriate actions, then there have been none in this reputable environment. The comfort and safety of the artists and models has always been paramount in this group.
Responsible, respected artists volunteer as monitors for the Figure Drawing Group, but the University of Oregon is suddenly insisting a staff member must oversee the sessions. How would that person be better qualified? If not a seasoned figure artist him/herself, he/she would be more likely to have "wrong thoughts" about the models, artists, and drawings! I find it difficult to believe that the UO is unable to afford to provide a chaperone of their choosing for a mere three hours per week.
The Figure Drawing Group's offer to pay for the model was rejected. Rather than discuss possible solutions in a respectful, professional manner, the UO slammed the door on the group, without warning. A final determination was reached without observing or consulting artists or models.
Paranoia about an imagined predator does not justify this extreme action and its far-reaching consequences. Ending the Figure Drawing Group deprives students and community members of a valuable resource. Using such defamatory language ("exhibitionists" and "wrong thoughts") hurts the upstanding artists in our community. Suggesting that the Figure Drawing Group might be a den for the depraved pits the public against the arts and makes the University of Oregon the laughingstock of the global arts community.
If, indeed, there was reason for concern, the Drawing Group could have considered creating a members-only policy, requiring screening and fees to deter perverts. If the UO was worried about liability, why not give the group an opportunity to create an LLC or non-profit so they could qualify for their own insurance? Either no thought went into this decision, or the thinking behind the decision is worse than the community suspects, so has not been revealed. We deserve to know the truth!
Artists already struggle to be taken seriously. The Head of an Art Department should understand and defend artists, models, and practices, not denigrate them! A University should strive to improve its art community, as it enhances its city, which attracts students, commerce, events, etc.
If The University of Oregon is concerned that nudity might encourage exhibitionists and "wrong thoughts," it should also limit all Internet access, as naked bodies are just a click away. Art and anatomy books should be burned. Locker rooms should not exist. A dress code should be enforced. Cheerleaders should cover up. And, for God's sake, put some pants on your mascot!
Special thanks to model/exhibitionist extraordinaire, Lindsey Belleau
Photography by me