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« TV Alert -- Black and White Special Edition | Main | Women's Magazine Editors »

February 25, 2004

Confessions of a Naked Model

We're pleased to run another guest posting by "J," an artist and art student who helps pay the bills by working as an artists' model. J's site, where you can enjoy some of her art, is here.

The Society of Illustrators runs a Jazz-and-Sketch session once a month where three girls pose together and a live band blasts swing. I showed up at my first one a month ago. I came in wearing a red silk robe that I hoped conjured images of opium dens, but which may just bring to mind the Chelsea Salvation Army. Despite my efforts, I got upstaged. On the stand with me stood a blonde with a newsboy cap and diamond collar, using a mink coat as a cover-up, her lips smirking and tomato-red.

In good models, exhibitionism runs deep. This isn't something talked about in our profession. We are supposed to be posing for the money, or to demonstrate shoulder-joints, or for some other mature, sterile purpose. We're not supposed to be doing it to show off. But the high of being looked at isn't something I can deny. I fly when I'm on the model stand; afterwards, I'm bouncy and exhilarated, and more flirtatious than I'd ever be in normal, subway-riding life.

Being on the stand gives you a persona. It lets you slip into the role of Kiki de Montparnasse (here), or at least of some beautiful wench secure enough to take off her clothes. This exhibitionistic drive gives us the energy and commitment it takes to twist ourselves into horrible poses,spend entire session's wages on props, and serve as inspirations rather than just demos of how a hip joint turns.

When the blonde and I were twisted together for twenty minutes, she whispered to me "I wonder how many guys are going to go home and think of us tonight."

Posing at a sketch club differs from posing at a school. Private sketch sessions have to attract participants -- to add some honey to the vinegar of work. They canít afford the dourness that comes so naturally to universities. People wonít show up. Schools can do with you what they want; once youíve signed over your four years and $35,000 tuition, you can't complain. Also, attendees of private sketch sessions are hobbyists who go to socialize and feel creative, or else professionals on their goof-off hours. They aren't earnest students. At the private venues, we models get to talk to the artists. We flatter and flirt. Cards get distributed and a good time is had. No matter how intense the atmosphere gets at a private sketch club, pleasure is in the air, while at universities, the what's in the air is resolutely work.

When I pose in a new place, I have to sound out how much liberty I have. Can I talk to people during breaks, or sit in the corner reading? Can I joke when I'm on the stand? Many universities want models to be like furniture. While this is supposed to ease a model's fears about sexual harassment, the enforced silence makes me feel awkward. "Are they pretending Iím not human?" I tend to feel. "Or at least that Iím not a naked girl?"

What puts me at ease is laughing with me, looking in my eyes (rather than lower down), and in general treating me like person. Saying "You did great," or "You look great," doesn't hurt. And then thereís that fail-proof friendship-starter: Buy me some caffine! One of the most charming customs of private sketch clubs is that they often end the session with applause for the model.

Modeling changes you. You start to accept your flaws. After seeing naked bodies, lovely and otherwise, on the stand, and not having onlookers shriek at your own, you start caring less about cellulite-y bottoms and sagging breasts. You see that your naked bodyís something worth paying to look at. And noble or not, this brings a smile to my face.

It's a treat to see yourself transformed in a drawing. One way art makes beauty is by taking things out of time and removing realityís messy complexity. When you look down onto an sketchpad and see yourself thus altered-- it feels achingly good.

The music wasnít the only thing interesting at the Society. Usually itís the artists who come on to you, but that night, my blonde coworker decided to break convention. For the last twenty minutes, she stroked my back (carefully turned from the audience) and whispered how beautiful I looked. Was it the boozy, jazz-filled air that made gave her confidence? I certainly wasn't offended. And I noticed that the artists present didn't seem offended either. In any case, after the session ended (and she had extracted drinks from some over-mousse-ed gentlemen), she slipped her card into my hand and kissed me, leaving a big, tomato-colored lipstick smear.

Our thanks to J.

posted by Michael at February 25, 2004


Ok, that tears it - I gotta learn to draw...

Posted by: jimbo on February 25, 2004 1:31 PM

Having been a naked model for 20-plus years, I can relate to the "exhibitionist" aspects of it. Camille Paglia has written that ALL art is voyeurism and exhibitionism. Being a male model, I can't "flirt" with any of the artists, for obvious reasons.

Posted by: Michael Serafin on February 25, 2004 2:23 PM

It's a pleasure to see someone who is so enthusiastic about modeling. Nothing is more of a drag than to draw someone who seems alienated or hostile. Contrawise, people who have a high sense of purpose and drama as models actually manage to transfer some of that to us lowly artists.

Actually, when drawing the very best models, the excitement seems to somehow transcend sexuality. For me, anyway, if I respond to someone's 'structure' (for want of a better term), my experience is a sort of weird and unique high. Whereas, when on several occasions during my misspent youth when I found models extremely attractive in a perfectly direct sense, I rarely got much in the way of good drawing accomplished.

I remember somebody discussing this topic, which is rarely mentioned explicitly, about Ingres--on the one hand, his paintings are all about sex, and on the other, they are extremely formalistic and even chaste in their stylizations and extreme simplifications. He's not making love to his models, he's turning them into Ingres love-objects: not exactly the same thing.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 25, 2004 3:26 PM

"When the blonde and I were twisted together for twenty minutes, she whispered to me "I wonder how many guys are going to go home and think of us tonight."

This quote cancels anything I might have posted about women's mag editors....

Posted by: j.c. on February 25, 2004 6:54 PM

Just how does someone find work as a life model? It's somthing I just want do.

Posted by: gavin on March 18, 2004 2:08 PM

This confession is as much a painting as oil on canvas is, only it's with words. J has conveyed my thoughts as a model eloquently. I must confess that I fell in love with one of the artists in class and it is the most intense love I have ever known. And his love for me shows in his paintings. I wonder if the love will ever bloom or if it is best left a mystery.

Posted by: Q on May 17, 2004 2:49 AM

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