The Aesthetics of Anatomy

We often encounter naysayers when it comes to the importance of anatomy for the artist. This is common advice from the mimesis minions.

At face value, it is easy to scare the novice into believing that knowledge of anatomy will hurt their drawings. It appears far to medical, to complicated, and to Latin.

To aide their argument, they reference anatomical drawings done by zealous beginners. Yes, they are wrong, as are all drawings down by the novice.

Even in Academies and Ateliers, where the study of Anatomy is given some relevance, it is not a significant part of the core curriculum. Anatomy at these institutions is an elective for students to take in the evenings or weekends. These are often poorly attended due to the lack of support given by core instructors. Their focus is on surface detail, with knowledge of anatomy deemed mostly unnecessary.

One only has to look at a few aesthetically pleasing Master works to understand the fallacy of this dialectic diatribe.

Medical Anatomy most is separated from Artistic Anatomy, and Artistic Anatomy has to be understood as the Structural Design of the Human Form.

It is about treating the structure of the human form as pure design.

How well versed does one need to be in the structural design of the human form? Moot point. If one intends to have the figure as a central element in their works, they will need to explore and memorize the design of the human form.  If one wishes to become a master draughtsman in any genre, studying Figure Structure is where they start.

The Chinese say that if a drawing is weak, it lacks bones, i.e., it has no structure.

The beginning student needs to consume as much knowledge of Figure Structure as possible; what is unneeded can be easily cast aside later. 

The pitfall is that the design of the human form is intricate, and the overly ambitious student can become too fascinated with individual parts and lose track of the whole. When one learns of the sternocleidomastoid  muscle of the neck, they overemphasis it for a long time. They become delighted with each discovery and bring to much focus on it in their work. 

One must never lose sight of the whole, and all added information must be subjugated to it.

Kurt Koffka’s ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ is not an accurate translation. ‘The whole is something other than the sum of its parts.’ would sum it up better.  Some parts are not as important as other parts, and some parts are not needed at all.

Accuracy is greatly overrated.

The novice should concentrate on accuracy but be fully aware that accuracy is greatly overrated. It is not a matter of being correct is a matter of being convincing.

The goal is mastering the structural design of the human form so that dependance on what one sees and the stillness of the model becomes irrelevant.

Anatomical truth does not a drawing make. Michelangelo’s drawings are not anatomically accurate, but they have design integrity. If one’s efforts still look like anatomy charts after they have been at it for a while its time to regroup. 

A drawing does not have to be anatomically correct to be good drawing, it is likely better if it is not. Accuracy, in and of itself, has little virtue or interest. Deviances from the literal are what makes one’s work personal and exciting.

The draughtsman should have such command of form and function that drawings take on an identity of their own. The human form is a masterfully designed, and that design has to be explored, memorized, and woven into the fabric of the subconscious to be fully available when called upon. 

To those who would profess that studying anatomy will harm one’s drawings, it would indicate they know little or nothing of the true nature of drawing.

One thought on “The Aesthetics of Anatomy

  1. After dissecting a dozen or so cadavers over a 3 year period, teaching Anatomy for Artists for many, many years and teaching (and doing) life drawing for several decades – I would submit that “Structural Anatomy” (alla Brigeman) is the correct study for the first few years of drawing from the live model. After a few years, one might get around to a little Osteology and Myology, should it amuse one to do so.

Leave a Reply