A Matter of Course: Life Drawing

By Rory Nachbar, '15  |  Photos courtesy of Christopher Lonegan

A Matter of Course offers a snapshot of a current University class.

Life Drawing, taught by Christopher Lonegan, Ph.D., affiliate assistant professor of fine arts (studio arts), examines the structure of the human figure and anatomy by developing students’ artistic and cognitive understanding of its form and concept.

What are the objectives of this course?

Drawing by Megan Kern, ’15

Life Drawing concentrates on the skills and materials of figure drawing. We study the structure of the figure and superficial anatomy, augmenting our exploration of figure drawing with readings and discussions. Students experiment with a variety of approaches to a basic life drawing problem: creating the illusion of three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface by using values and color.

The goal of Life Drawing is to improve drawing and thinking by situating the discipline of figure drawing within broader intellectual contexts.

What is one of the topics you discuss in class?

Our class discussions take many forms, as does the body. There is a semester-long discussion on anatomy and the relation of internal structures to surface form. This in turn leads to a discussion of the various manifestations of the material body as a compound of superficial form and subcutaneous meaning.

Topics of discussion range from the body as an aesthetic ideal, as a genre of art history, as an ideological projection of gender and power to the body as machine, or as a vessel of spirit.

Is there an unusual aspect of the course?

The view that art is inter-textual shapes the course, alternating anatomy lectures with assigned readings that discuss themes represented within the depiction of the human body.

These readings are the subject of class discussions and prompts for a semester-long, life-size homework drawing inspired by one of the assigned essays, “The Cyborg Manifesto” (pictured above right and below).

At the beginning of the semester we trace a silhouette of each student on a large sheet of paper, ultimately filling that silhouette with a series of drawings inspired by the class readings and discussions.

Drawing by Nicole Ruszczynski, ’15

By supplementing the considerable number of in-class drawings done from the model, the “Cyborg” drawings give students an opportunity to experiment with subject matter, scale, and an expanded definition of ‘drawing’.


What do you hope your students will take from the course?

I hope that my Life Drawing students realize that what we do in class is more than just marks on a page ‘mirroring’ superficial appearances.

‘Life drawing’ is not an outmoded vestige of academic art. It’s more than a mercurial flash of ‘talent’ and ‘inspiration,’ and art is more often a product of sustained thought an research. Figure drawing isn’t an anachronistic practice. It includes a broad range of methods that respond to a lived experience.

Most of all, drawing the human figure is a deeply philosophical act; representing our being as physical beings involves profound ethical as well as aesthetic determinations. Our Being is rooted in the ideologies of our bodies, and art is the primary site for imagining what it means to be human.

Drawing by Camelia Rojas, ’16

What is different about teaching at Loyola and at a Jesuit institution?

Generally, Loyola students are more adroit at text-based research and a little less familiar with the technical practices associated with a studio discipline. This presents an interesting challenge: How do you engage the scholarly predisposition of Loyola students while advancing their ability to express the results of their research?

I see this challenge as an opportunity. It is possible to engage my Loyola students in meditations on the spiritual, philosophical, and scientific contexts of figure drawing. This engagement with the themes of Life Drawing compels students to expand their technique in order to express their ideas.

A Jesuit education emphasizes the importance and significance of art as an indispensable aspect of human experience. This view accrues to life drawing the spiritual and intellectual gravitas it deserves, both within the University and during life after graduation.

Lonegan earned degrees from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. As a student, he attended anatomy lectures by Robert Beverly Hale and study anatomy at the Philadelphia College of Art with Walter Erlebacher
both experiences that influence the design and character of Life Drawing.

“I grew up in a family of voracious readers and ferocious teachers who encouraged a career as an artist and philosopher a noble vocation,” he said. “My earliest recollections involve a fascination with the mysterious power of art as an intellectual puzzle and seductive alchemical practice. I was lucky to attend a high school in Connecticut with an extraordinary faculty who encouraged intellectual curiosity and artistic creativity.”

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