The Socumentaries – Art Soc

Hello there, my name is Alex. Nottingham University has like, 200 societies and the kids at Impact thought it would be a laugh if I went and tried some of them out and told you all what I think. Not sure if you want to pay that membership fee? Whether it’s BladeSoc or BlowSoc, I’ll be there interviewing the president, attending the socials and getting involved so you don’t have to. You bunch of ingrates.   

Soc-umentary –   A factual article about a society, presenting the facts with little or no fiction.  As in, ‘Did you see that socumentary about Bellringing? That shit cray.’

Socumentary #5 – Art Soc

Art’s a tricky one, isn’t it? For a long time I would tell anyone who was listening (or at least pretending to) that I simply didn’t ‘get’ it. Walking around a gallery, I would be relieved when I found a piece with one of those pretentious little explanatory bits of writing next to it. ‘At last!’, I would think, ‘now I know exactly what he/she was getting at. That’s nice. Where’s the gift shop?’ If, god forbid, I would enter a gallery full of seemingly arbitrary blotches of colour with no adjoining explanation (I’m looking at you here Rothko), I would briefly scan the room and leave proclaiming it all ‘rubbish’ or possibly ‘pointless’, and head to McDonalds.

Only recently have I come to the conclusion that maybe art has a wider meaning outside of the artist’s precise intention. That maybe it is up to us as consumers to forge our own meanings from the direct impression it has on us. Any explanation proffered by the creator would therefore only then serve to confine us. You take from art what you want, and your interpretation will be completely unique to you. If a piece isn’t saying anything to you, fair enough, it might mean the world to someone else.

With this recent epiphany in mind, I headed over to C11 on a cold Thursday evening to partake in a little life-drawing with Art Soc.


The atmosphere when I arrived was intense to say the least; a smattering of people were quietly sat around what appeared to be a very low rent version of Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’, whilst Mozart and pals trickled out of the speakers.


The group seemed to be a mixture of moustache-twizzling foreign exchange students and girls who hadn’t done art since A-level. Some had come with their own pencil/pastel sets, but the majority were grouped around a table at the front.


Supplied were coloured pencils, normal HB’s, pastels, crayons, biros and plentiful amounts of paper. I didn’t really know what I was doing – I gave up art in year 9 so I could pretend to be a tree in GCSE Drama. So grabbing a couple of the sharpest pencils, and very importantly an eraser, I settled down with a piece of paper ready to go.

It was around then I notice this unassuming little guy in a dressing gown sitting in the corner.


Now there are only two types of people who can wear a dressing gown in public; Hugh Hefner and life-drawing models. Noticing a distinct lack of playboy bunnies in the room (something Art Soc should really address) I concluded he was probably the model. I didn’t ask him to hold that pose in the picture. He just did it when I whipped the camera out. What a pro. His family photos must be a hoot.

It was then time for the robe to come off and the drawing to commence. It’s not often you see another human being stark naked in real life, and I was half expecting a few little titters and sideways glances, but fortunately I was alone in my schoolboy ways.

The first few poses were pretty short, something I wasn’t prepared for. I’m a slow drawer, so my first few attempts were mostly solitary limbs.


With the longer poses I was able to get a bit more done, as long as I didn’t draw the head. That takes bloody ages.

…and voilà!


The first hour absolutely flew by. Seriously, you don’t realise how quickly the time has gone until they call the interval for the model to have a little stretch. Focusing on the contours of a strange man’s butt cheek really eats up the hours.

I used the interval to chat to my neighbour, who totally turned out to be the girlfriend of Simon Cass, president of BandSoc, previously featured on the Socumentaries.

This was initially a little bit awk. I wasn’t very nice about BandSoc, but she was actually really friendly. She was also way better at drawing than me. After the second set of poses she let me take a photo of some of her stuff.

Here’s the original pose:  


Her interpretation (significantly better than mine):


I was feeling more chilled out than I had in weeks. It’s truly surprising how therapeutic sitting in a room full of strangers and drawing a naked guy for two hours is. The fact they were playing some real tunes helped as well.

At the end everyone was very quick to pack up, which is a shame because I would have liked to have seen what other people had come up with. The model made a hasty retreat, now fully clothed, and I sat down with Art Soc president, Katie Smith-Press, for a quick chat:


So Katie, what exactly is Art Soc?

It’s more of a fine art soc, we don’t do very much art appreciation. It’s more about drawing and painting and studying styles. We have a life drawing class every week which are very popular. We also offer workshops with oil pastels and jewellery making classes; we experiment with lots of different mediums. Unfortunately we can’t do paint classes in the union though because of the mess.  We’re also planning a trip to London next term, and hopefully an exhibition for some of our work.

Do you sell the pieces made in the weekly classes?

Usually it will be stuff started in an evening, but completed at home. Our exhibitions give our members the platform to get their work up and potentially sell it.

Why should budding artists join?

We provide all the drawing materials and it’s just a really chilled out environment; great for getting away from hectic University life. Usually life drawing classes cost around £30, but ours is £2. Membership is £3 for the year, the workshops are around £1.50 and you pay for anything you make. The most expensive thing on our calendar is our planned gallery trip to London, and that’s going to cost around £10. It’s good if you want to get back into the movement of drawing things in a chilled out environment. We get a lot of post-grads and non-students who love it.

Is there a social aspect to your society? I noticed that tonight everyone was pretty insular.

We did try to organise a social recently, but no one was interested. The trip to London is our next attempt, so hopefully more people will take advantage of that. There’s not a lot of interaction in the group. I think by their nature artists are introverts.

Do you need to have any experience or background in art before coming?

I think you need to be aware what life drawing is, but otherwise no. You just need to be able to sit and have a go! There’s no instruction, and some people want that, but we’re finding it difficult to find someone who will come and teach life drawing. I wouldn’t recommend coming if you want to learn how to draw properly, it’s more of a recreational art class.

Lastly, who’s your favourite artist?

Tamara De Lempicka – she’s very art deco. I studied her at school; she uses beautiful colours and blending of tones.


So there we have it, Art Soc. As you might have worked out from my sketches, I’m not a natural artist; my attempts are more Chris Simpsons Artist than Da Vinci, but this didn’t really matter. There was no pressure to be creating ground breaking pieces. That said, I think it’s a real shame that the members of Art Soc aren’t encouraged to be more social. From what I briefly saw, there were some really stunning pieces created that evening, and I can’t help feeling that if everyone knew each other a bit better they might be more open to sharing what they’d created.

Art Soc is very good at providing a relaxed, open environment in which to practice your artistic skills; but if you’re looking for a friendly community to meet another Hirst, Rembrandt or Matisse enthusiast, you might have to keep looking.

As I said in that quasi-philosophical rant at the beginning of this article, in my opinion the understanding of an individual artwork is an inherently solitary experience. No one will interpret something in the exact same way. This doesn’t mean however, that the appreciation and creation of art has to be similarly singular; something that Art Soc could do well to take advantage of.

Art Soc

Good: if you want to chill out and practise sketching peepers and veepers whilst you do it.

Bad: if you wanna meet similarly minded artistic purists, hell bent on revealing Banksy for the over hyped peddler of hilariously ham fisted attempts at social commentary he is. Or something.

Alex Mawby

Like what you see? Read more Socumentaries:

The Socumentaries: Freshers’ Fayre

The Socumentaries: Hide and Soc

The Socumentaries: NU Surf

The Socumentaries: BandSoc

The Socumentaries: Swing Soc


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