New perspective on the human figure

Carolyn Mackenzie, Contributing Writer

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New adjunct art professor Rachel MacKenna sees The Human Figure as a fundamental part of the human experience. Above, art major Amelia Florian sketches in her room. Photo by Kaity Chaikowsky.

The beginning of the spring semester marks the arrival of new adjunct art professor, Rachel MacKenna. MacKenna brings both a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Drawing and Painting, several years of teaching experience at the University of North Texas, and a background as a figure painter and portrait artist for ten years. MacKenna will teach the art course, The Human Figure.

All art majors must take Human Figure, which, according to the syllabus, involves the use of anatomic models, a skeleton and live models — clothed and unclothed — in order to master the many artistic issues involved in drawing the human figure.

“Something that I think is a really fundamental part of the human experience is just an appreciation for the figure,” MacKenna said. “We kind of talk about a philosophical way to approach the figure from the very first couple classes, and then from there it evolves on to get more specific,” says MacKenna. “We talk a little bit about anatomy and about the bone structure. I’ll be borrowing some bones, as well as a skeleton, from the [biology] department. We also talk about the bust, one of the most classical ways that we think of the figure.”

MacKenna sees the introduction of live models as the most exciting part of the course. Aware that the University of Dallas is a Catholic community, she addresses concerns with the course and its incorporation of nude models.

“With the environment right now and with the examples that I’ve seen preset at UD, it seems like there’s a willingness to maybe be more open to things like that: especially because it’s for academic purposes,” MacKenna said. “The nude figure, just from a completely objective standpoint, is something that has shown up throughout the entire trajectory of art history, including religious imagery, and I think it’s something that is of great historical value and is something that is worth keeping in the curriculum.”

MacKenna hopes that the course will foster discussion, both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Whenever I have the nude figure, I look at it, and I hope that my students look at it as [a] completely academic experience,” MacKenna said. “The way that I speak about it is completely different from the way we might talk about it just in popular culture. And I think that that’s something that’s definitely worth talking about but I hope that it’s something that’s kind of inherent in the atmosphere of respect in the class.”

Amelia Florian, a sophomore art major returning from Rome, shared her opinions on the use of nude models in the course.

“People have drawn nudes since the beginning of art. It’s not something new,” Florian said. “I think that in art it is absolutely, 100 percent necessary, if you’re going to be a good artist, and you’re going to draw people, to see nude figures. You have to not only understand the human body, you have to understand the anatomy, the curves, the proportions.”

And though she admits the experience could be awkward, Florian is excited about the opportunity to learn more about the human figure.

“You’re not doing it for any other reason than to learn how to be a better artist, even though our society has taken something that is considered very differently in other countries and has made it very sexualized,” Florian said.

MacKenna also clearly outlines her approach to the subject matter.

“The whole idea that we’re dancing around is the potential sexualization of the nude figure because they’re nude,” MacKenna said. “And that, I think, is a completely separate thing. It’s sort of something that’s imposed by other people. If you’re approaching a subject matter like that with the intent to sexualize it, that’s something that’s outside of my control.”

MacKenna looks forward to her first course at UD and is already becoming familiar with the unique student body.

“I’ve already noticed on my roster that there’s some people that are in philosophy, and there’re some people that are in economics,” MacKenna said. “So I think that it’s just going to be a really great experience and probably a good learning experience for me as well.”

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