Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Be A Nartist

I originally posted this in 2007, and am showing it again with editing.

I found the ad above in a 1957 Mechanix Illustrated magazine. It was aimed at guys who liked to do mechanical things, or at least read about doing mechanical things. Something you didn't often see in the pages of this type of journal was the softer stuff. How to be an artist was among the subjects you wouldn't find. It didn't stop the art school from advertising, though.

I noticed something over the years: When showing an artist, the ad invariably shows the artist drawing or painting a girl. Not just any girl, but a girl in a bathing suit. A pin-up girl, a sexy girl. This is as subtle as a brick upside the head: artists got to draw girls. Sometimes nude girls. That’d be enough to entice some guys to part with money for the course.

When I went to art school I remember thinking that we’d be drawing from a live model, a beautiful woman, but the model they provided for us was a male dancer who was past his prime. He was quite wrinkled in the face, but his physique was still good for his age. I don't think they’d invite him to dance in the ballet again, though. No nude girls for us. It may have been because our life-drawing class was taught by a woman.

The twentieth century was the time of the artistic pin-up, from the earliest years of the century and the Gibson girl to the calendar girls, drawn by commercial illustrators like Gil Elvgren or Peter Driben. Around the time this ad for the art school was published in Mechanix Illustrated the pin-up art was beginning to fade and wind down. The magazines were going like Playboy, with photo covers. Not like these really cute Driben covers from the forties and early fifties.

Paintings of girls in cheesecake poses acting coquettish were replaced by photos of real-live girls. Or as real as an airbrush makeover by photo retouch could be. The painted pin-ups looked way more appealing to me. I knew they were idealized females; the Playboy models were idealized, also; their photos were doctored, but not so the readers would know. As far as the young men who read Playboy were concerned, women had no moles or warts, no scars or varicose veins. Not in those pictures, anyway.

There are modern pin-up artists who work in the old style, but the golden age of calendar girls and pin-up art is still the benchmark by which today’s artists are judged.

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