Saturday, September 20, 2014

Drawing from death

In this entry, I will use the word "beautiful" a lot and generally ramble a ton.
Last semester, I had class with Michael Grimaldi for the first time and I also had class with Dan Thompson where he would do a lecture in the first part of the class, using pictures from actual dissections.
Several people squirmed and mumbled during Dan's lectures and it made me very annoyed and sad, and it also made me think about stuff.
I didn't understand what was so disgusting about the human body and being able to see it beyond the skin, if anything, it became even more beautiful. I thought about how poorly we are taught about death and it made me wish we were taught differently about it, it doesn't have to be a sad, horrible thing. It made me think how beautiful nature is in life and in death.
So I gushed about these thoughts and things I couldn't keep to myself to Dan and Michael and, one time after class, Michael was talking about this Advanced Artistic Anatomy that he does in Philadelphia, where him and the class study and draw from cadavers and I asked him to please let me know when he did it again. And he did.
He sent an email with information about the class, about how the smell of formaldehyde can be a bit much sometimes, but you get used to it, and how you get used to the sounds and the bodies themselves and how I got the email, because I showed interest and some maturity to be in the class.

The experience is and isn't what I'd expected.
The class is every Friday for the fall semester, I love that it's just another class for me, I just happen to not be taking it from my school. Fridays are entirely invested in this study.
I didn't expect myself to react so sensitively. The smell of formaldehyde is the least of my issues.
The first body that we saw was an old woman that was lying face down and her body was pretty mangled, her back had been cut open and her trapezius and rhomboid muscles had been cut already. I think also her latissimus dorsi had been cut and a section of her vertebras had been cut to reveal the spinal chord (I actually saw how they did this in another cadaver yesterday).
I wasn't particularly surprised with this one, because it didn't look like a person. It looked like some kind of mannequin, it looks very fake, like what they would use in a horror/gore movie and the muscles reminded me of meat and beef jerky. Maybe a strange moment was then I saw the back of her head, her scalp and hair, that reminded me that she was a person.

The next cadaver we saw was this beautiful, slender and tall man, he had very little body fat, his skin looked lik leather, it wasn't discolored, his muscles were tight and clean. He was face down and they turned him over and I saw his face and, suddenly, this dude looked like a person and I felt pretty bad. I think if I'd have looked at his face long enough, I would have cried. While we were looking at him and talking about him, sometimes kind of wanted to hold his hand, it was strange. Still is, because there is a curious feeling of fondness towards him, I've drawn his hands several times now.

For a while after the first class and during the first class, I got to thinking about bunch of stuff. I wonder, still, if we are sick to want to study out own bodies from fellow deceased humans? I wonder if it dehumanizes us, if it makes us feel less empathy about ourselves? Or am I really aware that that is a corpse and that it's going to be me one of these days?
I feel so alive, that it's difficult for me to think that I'm going to die some day.
Are the bodies we are studying the same as objects now? What makes a body not an object is the life that is in it, so if there is no such life in it anymore, is it really just a mound of meat now?
I know that I am meat and bone and guts, because I'm aware that that is what is inside my flesh, I know that is what other fellow animals are.
It is so strange to me to visualize the two opposite sides of the spectrum meeting, the living and the dead interacting.
I know that different animals deal with their dead in their own way, some don't give a shit, some others take them back to where they live and then eat them or whatever the fuck. God knows us humans have a slew of ways to deal with our dead, I guess studying ourselves in this way, is one of the ways to do it.

What I did expect, and continue to expect, is the absolute fascination that I feel whenever I see the bodies. I'd never seen tendons, I'm not counting this kind of stuff from the meat and animals we eat although it's the same shit, I'd never observed muscle fiber, I'd never listened to what knocking on a naked rib cage would sound like. I'd never listened to a chisel sinking into vertebra, I'd never pulled on the tendons on the forearm. It's all so specific that I think, even without having seen or listened to these things, I'd have known what it was. And pulling on the tendons of the forearm, although dry and rigid, the slight response of the fingers reverts them back to alive and human.
The muscle underneath the skin, the wires and ropes that tightly bind our bodies together over bone, it is all such a beautiful construction. One of the first things I remember thinking how delicate and pristine it was, was the illiocostalis and longissimus muscles that ride the middle of the back, along the sides of the spine, up to the neck and head. Tiny and fragile looking tendons branch out to hold on to other muscle and do whatever movement they do.
The anterior ribcage, with the sternum, looks like a facehugger, kind of, with each of the ribs slightly changing angle as they go down, like spider's legs.
I wonder, seeing the design in nature and seeing the design in our bodies, I wonder why everything that humans build is only straight lines? There are no straight lines in nature, but curves, like in our bodies and in nature, are definitely better design and more resistant.
Bones are far from straight, there are slight curves that makes them better for taking weight, because if they were straight, they would break under the pressure.
Tendons and muscle make me think of the ropes on a sailboat, you pull on them to make the sail taught and firm. Likewise, tendons and muscle pull on each other and on bones to cause firmness and movement.
Everything about the design of the human body makes sense, although it seems arbitrary, everything makes sense and is useful and doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing. This makes me even more sad when I see how much we hate on our bodies, with all the magazines and people that like to talk down on the human body, looking for ways to make it "look better" rather than doing things to take care of our vessel.

At first, when I drew, I had no idea what to do. There is so much information, there's so much stringy shit, so much tissue everywhere, muscle fibers that have been torn, that I didn't and still don't for the most part know what to do, but I am learning and I expect myself to learn much more.
Yesterday, I experimented a little bit with chalk and it was helpful to draw with a big section of chalk to kind of explore the form of a muscle. So, in these pictures you can see my ID card and the drawing book on which I'll draw throughout the entire semester some of the first drawings I did in the class and the last colored one is with chalk. Also, the three drawings of hands are of that same guy that impressed me so much, because he still looks like a person.