Saturday, October 27, 2007

Thoughts on Art Modeling

So you’d like to try art modeling, eh? I think that’s great. No, seriously, I do. Years ago I realized that as an actor I wasn’t really competing with other actors, so much as competing with myself, and this is even more true when it comes to art modeling. Art schools and studios like to have as many different models and body types as they can, they all complain in particular that there aren’t enough good male models, so there just isn’t any reason to feel competitive. Even if you’re another scrawny white guy in his forties, the differences between us are still likely to stand out more than the similarities. So dive on in, the more the merrier.

That said, however, let’s discuss your motivations, 'kay? Now, I could spend some time dispelling any illusions you have about this being a quick, easy job to break into or make money at, but let's be honest, shall we? There's really only one reason you're intrigued by this job, isn't there. You're dying to find out what it feels like to be naked in a room full of strangers. You’re wondering if it will be scary. You’re wondering if it will be freeing. You’re wondering, if maybe, just maybe it will be charged with the teeniest bit of erotic tension.

Well now, yes, you will learn what it feels like to be naked in front of strangers. I can’t tell you how you’ll react; maybe it will be scary, maybe it will be freeing, maybe you’ll learn all sorts of wonderful, fascinating things about your body image and your psyche and your place in a Judeo-Christian body-hating culture. Will you find it erotic? If exhibitionism alone does it for you, then yes, you might. If it matters who is looking at you, I can say that the vast majority of the time your audience will either be hip, retired grandmothers or pierced, sullen, purple-haired undergraduates. If either of those categories does it for you, then you’re in luck, but even so you’ll want to know one important fact:

They won’t care in the slightest that you are naked.

Figure drawing is a centuries old tradition, and sexuality has largely been removed from the whole proceedings. They will approach drawing you with the same excitement and focus they brought to drawing a bowl of fruit last week. Most of the time it will feel like you might as well be wearing a burkah for all the reaction you will get.

Okay, it’s possible one or more of them will be secretly thinking for about thirty seconds "dear god, that person has no clothes on!" but then habit will take over, and they’ll only be seeing lines, angles, shadows and shapes that they want to put on the page. If individuals do secretly find you sexy, the chances are virtually nil that they will let you know. Schools and studios make it clear that this is crossing a line, and could result in them being banned. I know that sit-coms are fond of the scene where some hunky guy (it’s always a guy, because naked guys are funnier than naked women) disrobes to appreciative gasps and admiring glances, but in the real world that doesn’t happen. Okay, to be fair, it’s never happened to me. Or anyone I’ve ever talked to. Maybe you’d get such a response, but frankly, if you inspire this reaction, I doubt it will be telling you anything you didn’t already know.

This brings me to another tricky topic, the whole body image thang. Perhaps you’re hoping that posing for artists will help you address the poor self-image you’ve struggled with for years. Artists make art, after all, so in using your image to create a thing of beauty, they will see beauty in you that you couldn’t see on your own. See above re: they won’t care that you’re naked. They also won’t care about making you look good. They’re unlikely to care what you think at all. If you don’t like what the mirror is saying to you, you’re unlikely to have a different reaction to someone else’s view of you. If you’re having a day where the mirror tells you that you’re a hippo, say, a chinless hippo with spindly, hairy arms and an unfortunate patch of fur at the base of your spine, well, chances are that’s what you’re going to see in the drawings done that day as well. Even if an experienced artist does make you look beautiful, you’ll dismiss it as mere flattery, a series of little white lies the artist has put on the page that bares minimal resemblance to you. Nope, the chinless hippo will just seem more honest somehow. If you’re looking to this job to provide some sort of emotional healing, I implore you to think again. Having a fat day? Got a boil on your shoulder? Is your hair looking exceptionally stupid? Tough shit, strip and get on the model stand. Occasionally people will say "you must be really confident in your body, to do that." Nah, not so much. I just know they really, really don’t care what I look like.

What's more, while you’re up there, be prepared for the instructors to talk about your body in non-judgmental ways that may still manage to focus on your greatest insecurities. I once had an instructor point out a useful shadow under one of my love handles, and no insult was meant by it ("couldn’t you use some sort of Latin term for them, you know, like quadriceps or glutes or something?" I asked, but apparently Romans didn’t have love handles). That’s just what was there to see, and was useful to note in the drawing. If you’re likely to take such comments personally, this job isn’t for you.

I feel compelled to add that at this exact moment, I don't have love handles. See what I mean? This job has done nothing for my neuroses

Now, for the guys reading this, I have some special advice. First off, if you find modeling is something of a turn-on, make sure to keep it to yourself, if you catch my drift. Getting an erection is considered very bad form, and is likely to get you canned and black-listed pronto. If it’s any comfort, keep in mind that the studios are frequently freezing. I’ve only ever heard of one drawing group that aimed to create an erotic environment, and it should come as no surprise that it was for gay men. I’ve never heard of any lesbian or heterosexual erotic drawing groups, but maybe they exist. I have to say, if I were a woman, I would be very wary of a straight erotic drawing group. If I participated at all, I’d do so only after reading three or more reassuring testimonials from trusted sources.

Guys should also keep in mind that while the nude male might have been the epitome of beauty during 5th century Greece and the Renaissance, those days are long gone. Nowadays most people, regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation are simply more comfortable drawing the female form and would rather be in the room with a nude woman. I have seen some change over the years; it’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone draw me wearing little imaginary swimming trunks (usually, but not always, this was done by college-aged guys), but people are still pretty honest about the fact that they’d just rather look at naked women. If this is going to be a blow to your ego, you’ll want to reconsider this job.

I would also argue that people generally want male poses to be more vigorous and active. The reclining female form is a staple of figure painting, in part because the curves of women’s bodies make such poses beautiful and dynamic, while men’s bodies, lacking those curves, are harder to draw lying down, but I also think our culture just finds the reclining form very feminine. It suggests sexual receptivity, to be frank, and seeing a man that way makes most people very uncomfortable. I was asked once by the (gay male) leader of a painting group to do a four week reclining pose. After the first week, none of the other men in the group came back; for three weeks it was just me, the leader, and the two women in the group. Art modeling is not ‘just lying around’ for either men or women often, but if it happens at all, it’s less likely for the former.

Okay, this entry has already gotten really long, and despite my opening paragraph, I seem to be discouraging people from trying this job. I could explain how a class is typically run, what you should expect to do, how often you should expect breaks, and many other bits of advice to help you with your modeling career, but you know what? Let me tell you the best things you can do. I can say, in all humility, that I am a very popular model, with lots of instructors. I can claim that I bring a lot of skills, training, experience and insight to the job, but here are my secret weapons, the real reasons I think I work so much.

1.If I book a class, I show up for that class.
2.I show up on time.
3.I show up in a good mood, or able to fake it.

I cannot tell you how far ahead of the pack this puts me. Any weird job will draw a fair number of flakes, but art modeling seems to get them in droves. Seriously, showing up on time by itself has earned me reactions of such surprised delight, it almost didn’t matter what I did for the rest of the class. It's not unheard of for models to be over an hour late for a three hour class. One thing about working in a job with a high flake quota, they set the bar nice and low.

So that’s just some of my thoughts about this wacky job I find myself doing. If you’re still interested in giving the job a try, I hope I’ve given you a better sense of what to expect. Later we can discuss necessary equipment (obviously this job has a low overhead), classroom etiquette, and the importance of stretching, but I think this will give you a good start.


tornwordo said...

That was a very interesting read. And those three work habits have given me the same ahead-of-the-pack contracts in my business too. Like Woody Allen said, 90% of success is showing up.

Cooper said...

This was really interesting, Patrick. I had never thought about nude art modelling before. What do you mostly find yourself thinking about during those long sessions?

Patrick said...

I was trying to remember that Woody Allen quotation as I wrote this! (Couldn't remember what he thought the percentage was.) What do I think of while I'm working? All too often it's something like "dear god this hurts, is my leg/arm/shoulder/neck going to fall off, what the hell is the matter with me, I should know by now not to do this with my body, JEEZus this hurts, god, is the clock stopped? I swear to god the clock stopped." Etc.

If the pose is comfortable though, I will meditate, run lines for any script I'm working on, I've even done some writing in my head, though dogwalking (my previous job) was much better for that. Something about the rhythmic movement made it easy for the words to flow, I think.

Unknown said...

May I just add, way to lack Love Handles!

Patrick said...

Thanks, Davey, you're a doll. Another box of chocolate chip cookies though, and they'll be back.

Anonymous said...

OK, who are you and when did you invade my body? If I had been presented with your essay on modeling without knowing who wrote it, I would swear that I had written it, but had forgotten.

This should be bronzed and posted at the entrance to all modeling schools. Oh, wait! There are no modeling schools.

Then it should be linked to every art site on the web. Spot on!

Patrick said...

Soflamfigure; nice to know there's another kindred spirit out there. And what a gorgeous photo you have there. As much as I joke, I know there are plenty of responsible, sensible people doing the job too, but I'm also glad to have someone else in the 'profession' vouch for me on this.

edo deweert said...

"many rooms that are freezing"???, no , that should not be tolerated.
there is no justification for forcing someone who poses naked for artists and art students to be subjected to discomfort and pain.
the myth that someone who poses for art should endure pain for the sake of art is an absurd element of the art studio.
and yes, the whole thing is all about sex....
those who claim otherwise, or who try the "the human body - god's creation - is beautiful" line are , well, lying.
and they keep on telling us that they want "all human types: skinny, rotund, young old male, female", but that is not true; most of them want nubile young females.
those of us who pose naked for artists should expect that our dignity be observed: the "pretzel" pose should be eliminated from the artists' demand of those who model - no great drawing is dependent on the pain and discomfort of those who pose naked.
and the pay should reflect respect for our dignity as well: at least $25/hr, for a minimum engagement of 3 hrs.
note that i have not used the term "model"....that is because i am not a bowl of fruit, or a lifeless mannequin from macy's...
i am a living, human being.
to those artists who ar so annoyingly finnicky and keep asking us why we cannot always find the exact pose we left when we broke, i always ask:" are you sure you have not moved your easel, or, are you sure you stand exactly on the same spot as before?"
and remember: it truly is all about sex.

Patrick said...

Wow, this one hasn't seen any activity in quite a while.
Edo: come on, you must have realized the 'freezing' comment was a joke. I will say that in NYC, where artists often end up taking over old industrial spaces, the rooms often are cold, but in EVERY case I've run into this, the comfort of the model was the artists' first priority. Heaters were provided, drafts blocked, anything that could be done was. And if that wasn't enough, I was given the option to pose clothed.
My experience in general sounds like it's been easier, less conflict-filled than yours. NO artist has ever told me I had to suffer for his, her, or my art. My comfort has always been acknowledged as necessary and non-negotiable. I don't know what the 'pretzel' pose is, and certainly no one has ever demanded it or any other pose of me. Requests are regularly made, and if I can fulfill them without pain to myself, I do so happily. Even the most comfortable pose will occasionally involve a limb falling asleep from time to time. No one has ever demanded it of me, I simply see it as one of the risks of the job.
Again, your experience sounds like it differs from mine substantially. I don't doubt there are people out there who go to drawing groups so they can ogle naked bodies, especially naked young, 'nubile' women, but I, who am not young, female or nubile, still work steadily and consistently. I have heard of studios where the people in charge are ONLY interested in female models, and I DO wonder about their goals, but obviously, I don't work there. I mention the erotic drawing groups; the only two I have heard of happen to be for gay men. I've never worked for either of them either. I have never worked in an environment that felt objectifying or exploitative. Because my work is almost exclusively with schools, I DO see a variety of body types getting hired, and every class uses men half the time. As my essay says, there may very well be people in the classes ogling me in a sexual manner, but if so, they've always kept it to themselves. No has ever crossed a line with me. So, I'm not sure what you mean by 'it's all about sex' but can still say categorically that hasn't been my experience.
I agree that our dignity must be respected, and I can say that I've been fortunate to receive this treatment in the almost twenty years I've been working.
I understand your annoyance at artists wanting to know why you aren't back in the pose as they remembered it. I suspect you're quite good at regaining your poses. I am too, it's a secret source of pride, actually, but even so I ALWAYS insist that I be marked well before breaking a pose. My reason? Because then the artist can't deny that I'm back where I was. Any temptation to claim I didn't regain the pose correctly, any risk of a lengthy debate between the artists about how I should be posed, gets quashed before it's started. Or it happens only if things are OBVIOUSLY off (hey, I'm not perfect). I know art models who see marking a pose as some kind of attack, or implication that they can't be trusted. I think that's a silly battle to pick, and chose ages ago not to bother. I get marked, the debate is ended.
I likewise think it's silly to avoid the word 'model'. The word doesn't have to suggest lifelessness. I'm not sure why you think it does. If it offends you, by all means avoid it, but I see no offense in it, it's the word that exists in English to describe what I do.
If you're getting your $25/hr, 3hr minimum, more power to ya, I say! I think that's great. My salary is close to that, and the 3hr minimum is norm everywhere I worked. I hope your work has been more satisfying than your response suggests it has been.

Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

well, what can i say?
actually, my blog says it all and then some.
and no, my comment was not cynicism drawn from the depths of a negative mindset; just well-documented experience (i used to be a newspaper reporter)
an art instructor who suggests (i suppose also expects) that "the model" pose for 45 minutes with his bare arms resting on a bare tireless bycicle rim which in turn is resting on the "model's" bare thighs, doesn't "get it", right?
an art instructor who insists that in order to have the right foreshortening lesson, the "model" lie on a hard surface for 60 minutes at a time, in my view doesn't "get it"
(and did i mention that i was 63 at the time?)
and you have, like i have, developed a repertoire of 1 minute poses, all the way up to the full length ones (with breaks, of course)
when an instructor calls for a 2 minute pose, then walks out of the room and doesn't come back for 5 minutes doesn't "get it", right?
and it not being about sex...oh, right.
i do a pose with my ass sticking up in the air, only if i can find a "blind spot" in the room...wouldn't you know it, a guy moved his easel so that he could look me right in the ass; i saw the drawing.
what about the old men, whose stick figures even are artistically challenged?
why are they there? i did not ask them.
need i go on.....check the blog