by Steven Perkins, Anatomy Instuctor AAU
Ecorche is a French word meaning “flayed figure. When you think of those muscle man figures without the skin, those are ecorche figures. Ecorche in the larger sense is a method by which artists can study anatomy in a comprehensive and highly effective manner. Flesh coats and obscures the forms of the body, so without that, the forms become more obvious. It is this definition that artists seek in order to make their work more believable, meaningful, beautiful and capable of conveying meaning.
Glancing over the large arc of figurative art, one thing is clear. The elevation of the art form has gone hand in hand with the understanding of the artist. A large part of that understanding has been the knowledge of how to depict their most important subject, a human being. There are other subjects. Landscape if you think about it is our home and we are dearly in love with this planet in all its variety. Still life are our things, our possessions. We tend to collect things that we love as well. The human figure however, is who we are. There is no more important subject, nothing that stirs us so profoundly. We fall in love with it, tell infinite stories about it, judge everything by it. The human figure is who we are and so it is that the history of art has at its center, this most basic subject.
If we as artists are to spend a lifetime using this form in countless ways to tell stories, emote feelings, create arch types etc. then it is incumbent on us to understand that form profoundly. People know what other people are supposed to look like. We are hard wired in that way. That means that everyone is an art critic and we as artists have to be very good in order to engage them. Paint on a canvas or charcoal on paper or clay or bronze, none of these is a human being. In a sense, artists are liars, trying to get others to believe that this stuff is a person or landscape. We have to be good to do that. Michelangelo is reported to have said that Tintoretto's figures looked like “bags of walnuts”. What he meant was that each form looked like the next, rather than having its particular characteristics that make it appear as what it is. You have to know that. If you don't know it, you won't see it and you won't get it in your work.