“I used to work at a psychiatric hospital … You’ve heard the old joke about how to tell the patients apart from the doctors, right? The patients eventually leave.”
This was my reintroduction to the regularly scheduled ‘Drawing in the Galleries’ night at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Every Wednesday a clothed model poses for various lengths of time in one of the galleries in the museum. Visitors are welcome to come and sketch for a whole three hours. I had not been for several years but decided to give it another try. My welcome back? Being hit on with corny jokes by the model during a break.
Being a rather stubborn person, and not one to pass up free figure drawing opportunities, I did not, in fact, run screaming from the room. Generally the models are not quite so, um, interesting. Mostly they are ordinary working folk with a slight flair for drama and the ability to hold very still for up to twenty minutes or so. And ‘Drawing in the Galleries’ does have many charms. You can peek over your neighbor’s shoulder to see what they are doing - visitors just strolling through the galleries do this frequently. Ah, the wonder of the artist at work! Everyone gets up, stretches, and chats during breaks. It’s a good crowd of artists at all levels scratching away at their drawing boards.
Best of all are the local students. Classes of college and high school students will often appear midway through the session, flooding in to fill every remaining space around the model (it is a popular event and floor space fills quickly). Their teachers come around and make suggestions. They draw earnestly, get stumped by an unusually positioned arm or places where foreshortening is necessary. They are talkative during breaks and in awe of us ‘old timers’ who can capture a pose with a few strokes of the pencil.
And of course you are IN the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Just walking to the gallery where the sketching is happening (it changes every week) can be inspiring. I always stop to see a few things I had perhaps never noticed before, or I visit an old friend like John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark (why does the shark have lips?)
Living in Boston I often take cultural institutions for granted. Since the MFA is free every Wednesday evening and there is sketching going on there it’s a win-win.
You should try it sometime.