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« Do We Call Them "Movies" or "Videoclips"?? | Main | Inexcusable Self-Congratulations »

November 29, 2003

Guest Posting -- "J" on Modeling for Artists

John Leavitt, our "True Art School Tales" correspondent, is on vacation. During this hiatus, we're pleased to run a guest posting by a conpirator and friend of John's, "J," a student and artist in her own right. J's site, where you can enjoy some of her art, is here. The cartoons accompanying J's piece are by John, whose site is here.


***

Confessions of a Naked Model, by "J"


The woman is a beauty -- red haired, voluptuous, and naked. Pity she's a hundred years old.

One hundred and seventeen to be precise. Edgar Degas painted "Bather Stretched out on the Floor" in 1886, and for all the years since her creation, she's lost none of her charm.

When I visit her in the Met's Impressionist room, I like to listen to the comments my companions make. Fellow art students go mad over the crayon strokes, while my father's academic friends use words like "objectification" and "male gaze."

I think about the crick in her back. I am a naked model, one of those generous women who fold, twist and contort their bodies to serve as the raw material for Art. And if I never had to take a pose as torturous as Degas's bather, credit not my employers' kindness but their lack of imagination.

Like most decisions made in art school, my choice to become a nude model was fuelled by caffeine, poverty and bullshit. Though college is the high point in an artist's economic life (when your parents still support you), a Chinese food spree had sapped my bank account into the single digits. My friend L. had just bought me a coffee he promised would be my last, and we were bemoaning the lack of jobs for illustrators.

"You have another option" he told me, flipping the brim of his fedora.

"Whoring and petty crime?"

"Sort of."

In art school, stripping naked for cash doesn't raise the eyebrows it might in the Brigham Young College of Theology. In life drawing, students are in constant proximity to bare bodies of both sexes -- though these are often lumpy, ill-proportioned, and with curves in all the wrong places. Most are pathetic. Eighty-year-old Polly comes to mind. With breasts down to her belly and a habit of falling asleep -- Polly convinced me that I could be a model. Wasn't I better than her?

naked3.jpg

A few days perusal of Craigslist yielded a lead: "Human statues, we need you! Come to Maison DuPont's Danse of Decadence. $20, tips and all the absinthe you can drink." I rang the loft buzzer in high hopes. Madame DuPont opened the door -- but instead of the darkly beautiful dominatrix of my imaginings, she was an aloof, middle-aged women whose ass-less corset fit her like a winch. My stomach rumbled in dread.

Despite thinking myself a Sexually Liberated Woman, I was convinced that the world would crumble when my skirt hit the floor.

"Your spot's on the couch!"

The world remained intact as I stripped and smeared on body paint. My fantasies of being pretty did not. With white grease paint to the hips, I looked less a marble goddess than a mime escaped from the Parisian Home for Lunatics. As I settled into the couch, trepidation turned into the glow of narcissism fulfilled. All these people -- looking at me!

The night overflowed with benign disasters. A man threw an ice cube at me to see if I would move. PVC clad models tried to seduce me and a distinguished gentleman asked if I wore panties beneath my sarong. I ignored them all. Madame DuPont had forbidden me to speak. It was the best party of my life. No small talk. I left with $150 in tips and my modesty on the floor.

naked1.jpg

I would soon find that modeling wasn't simply a nude and high-paid sprawl on the chaise lounge (for that you have to turn to its illegal sister profession). It's hard work, akin to being a dancer. Twenty minutes stretch to infinity when you stand still. Add ten more -- and only discipline prevents you from falling like wet laundry from a line. Effortless poses of grace aren't so effortless. While everyone from icy Degas to libidinous Rodin bent necks and crushed spinal disks searching for the perfect position, history doesn't record the groans of their models. Then there's boredom -- to which I credit the glazed look in Mona Lisa's eye. Behind every thoughtful face at the Art Student's League is a woman asking, "When will it be over?"

Worst is the unrelenting dodginess of the profession. Legions of men await the prospective model -- ones who breathe moistly and run their hands over your shoulders. Artistes. Professional photographers who lost their portfolios in tragic studio fires. Men who can do great things for you, if only you take risks, tell them you most intimate thoughts. Remember that they want models that do it for passion, not pay, darling.

It's no surprise that a nude woman should attract heavy breathers. Historically, the difference between posing and prostitution was membrane-thin. The queen of 1920's Bohemia, Kiki de Montparnasse, started as a streetwalker before becoming Man Ray's muse. Rosetti picked up Jane Morris beneath a lamppost, and Suzanne Valdon, model to the Impressionists, caught their eye while riding bucking broncos naked at the circus. When a girl wrote to Rodin asking to be his model rather than enter a life of whoredom, he responded that they were one and the same.

naked4.jpg

To skim the worst dregs, I meet all clients before posing. Some of my friends aren't so cautious. One showed up at the house of a female photographer who turned out to be a gentleman. Another photographer wanted to be photographed himself -- while the model spanked him. My friend L. told him to keep the masturbation mental. Of course, some men just come out and say it -- for instance O., a wheelchair-bound illustrator who chain-smoked and wore a jaunty fedora. He took one look at my chest and announced, "Women's breasts are delicious, nutritious, and make me feel ambitious." The voice was so lewdly innocent that I posed for him. Out of arm's reach. The session passed without incident, though my eyes widened at his towers of Hustler. On the way out, he told me that my "peachfruit" was very enticing.

For all its dodginess, modeling offers a high that keeps even the most jaded practitioners hooked. It's communion with another artist, as well as with your own body. I had this with S., the first photographer I worked with. When I first saw his portfolio, I shuddered at the overexposed pictures of red-footed, lumpy women. What would my mother think she saw me in a similar shot? But as the months passed, I goaded S. into trading his point-and-click camera for an antique medium-format, and he goaded me into contortions I haven't done since six.

Each session ended with us sipping apricot juice and going over S.'s contact sheets. I would walk home, exhausted but flying from the conversation, despite the grumbling of my back. At the end of a summer, S. turned into an accomplished photographer with a stable of beautiful models, whose perfect breasts he lights to look like metal. He told me I was a large part of his success.

But S. helped me as well. Like all good artists, he made me feel like wet clay. One joy of modeling is that on the stand, you don't have to think. You arch yourself into a torturous backbend, or arrange your limbs into a languid odalisque, and that's the end of it. In a life full of school and work, running after subways, tracking down bureaucratic documents, modeling is something simple. You stay put. Nothing else required.

Oh Degas, I muse, standing in the Impressionist room. Were you paying that girl enough to hold that pose? With one look, I see that he wasn't -- not that she cared. It was better than doing laundry.

But enough of Edgar. I turn my back on the wing and walk towards the Venetian masters. Ah, Titian. That's a man who knew how to pose a girl. On pillows. Lying down.

naked2.jpg

-- by "J"


Our thanks to J.

posted by Michael at November 29, 2003




Comments

That might be the most entertaining post I've read on 2BHs ... talk about stealing the show.

2BHs would be wise to never work with children, animals, and nude models with enticing peachfruit.

Brilliant posting, J. This made my day.

Posted by: bk on November 29, 2003 02:38 PM



Hey, we love having the spotlight stolen, especially by artists' models.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 29, 2003 03:06 PM



Visited her site (Mike, you do need to redo the link, I had to enter the URL manually) and found a spare place that's under construction. Still and all, I like what I saw, and I urge "J" to keep up the good work.

At the same time, from her 'self-portrait' I got the impression she's shy. So why would a shy lass pose nude? The money?

Not entirely. It's probably not even the reason. More likely it's the excuse that allows her to pose nude, it being the need for validation. The fact people will pay money for her to go skyclad in their presence affirms her worth as a human being. She is of value as a human being.

That's the thing about us. We need affirmation. Confirmation that we are creatures of worth. We mean something. Some may look askance at a young lady exposing her body to gain approval from others, but it's a trait young women have shown from item immemorial. For all the disapproval shown by some there is a thrill to being admired.

Then too there is the fact that while young people are good at rationalizing what they do, they are not what you'd call rational people.[fond smile]

Self-centered, emotional, in need of constant reassurance. This is the typical young adult. With age a confident, mature adult will emerge.

"J", have fun with your modeling, post more art to your site, and remember, that when a sour old soul complains about the 'objectification of the female form" either he is expressing embarrasment of his urges, or she is exhibiting a sublimated distaste of her own body. In other words, they're scared of good, healthy, let's wear out the bedsprings sex.

[evil grin]

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on November 29, 2003 03:55 PM



Link now fixed. Thanks, Alan, for alerting me to it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 29, 2003 04:33 PM



I've been an artist's model for 22 years. I've posed mostly alone, and occasionally with other models, both male and female. I can relate about the pain factor. There are still many, outside the art school world, who believe that posing nude for art students is on a par with being an exotic dancer,,and with similar results. Adult video world notwithstanding, you will not find a more CLINICAL atmosphere than an art class.

Posted by: Michael Serafin on November 30, 2003 01:20 PM



Nice post. Well written. But this stay puff marshmellow man leaves his clothes on.

As much for his sake, as for the sake of those around him.

Posted by: Shipshape on November 30, 2003 01:39 PM



Thanks "J" for a lovely post. I'm not sure about Alan's summation on your motivation for posing nude however. (talk about a complicated male) And I'll not continue this aspect of the discussion by adding my two cents. It's a little pejorative I think.

Your style is beautiful, entertaining, and sounds comfortable, like you were lying on pillows while writing.

Hey, when the tail muscles begin to sag, and they really never need too, you could check out writing as a career. Sounds like you're gathering an armload of stories that will be marvelous reading. Possible book title: "Behind the Nude's Eye, Thoughts from an Art School Model."

Posted by: laurel on November 30, 2003 07:58 PM



I too disagree with Alan's take; but that isn't what drives me to comment. Immediately prior to reading this post, I read the interview with the Jewish Playmate (linked in Michael's Elsewhere post below). The contrast between the two articles raises some interesting questions, along the lines of where is the line between porn and art, and perhaps more interestingly, whether and why we seem to consider the attitude of the audience in deciding whether a given piece is art or porn. Take the peachfruit illustrator, for example. He had towers of Hustler in his studio, yet I (and presumably other readers, and even J herself) assume a distinction between the photos in the magazines and the drawings Mr. Peachfruit was creating from J's poses. Hmm... I'm not feeling particularly articulate here. Perhaps I'll mull it over a bit longer and post something more coherent on my webpage in a few days. I'd be interested to see, in the meantime, whether anyone else has thoughts on this connection.

Posted by: Dente on December 1, 2003 04:57 PM



Just finished Gunter Grass, "The Tin Drum" (not sure of the title in English, I read it in Russian translation) and one of the themes in the book is the nude modelling. Interesting panopticum (sp?) of the various "artistes" 'takes thru the eyes of the model - in this 1959 gloomy satire the model is 1m 21cm hunchback, although there is also the beauty opposite the beast- long-legged Ulla, whose opinions are not told.

Only in post-war Germany this work would be considered easy income, that's my conclusion.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 1, 2003 05:31 PM



tick tock
i am the kitchen clock

Posted by: wfwfwefwefw on February 9, 2004 04:37 AM






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