The Act of Being Naked, the Art of Being Nude…


-In my tenure as a life model, I have found many correlations and overlaps with my experiences and background as an instructor, both in the opportunity to create an effective delivery of the subject matter. and in the underlying larger cultural lesson inherent in the unique venue of social norms and behaviour; in this case; acceptance of public nudity. And so, I find myself driven to question the traditional structure and academic norms associated with the conventional treatment of those of us who choose to be “life models.”

-Throughout my experience, whether in academic classes, for individual artists or private commissions, every artist, instructor, and student has stated that a “good model” is one who is comfortable with his or her body, they appreciate their skin and are willing to explore its properties through movement, tension, texture, shadow, and light. As well, models must possess the discipline and concentration necessary to allow others the opportunity to explore the visual aspects of their bodies, to display and exhibit themselves as the vehicle, if not the object used for the communication of the artists’ vision, skill, and unique interpretation.

-As a result, it is inherent in the character and ability of an accomplished model to be able to set aside convention and self consciousness, to establish an atmosphere of openness, confidence, and professional respect to ensure a comfortable creative environment. And yet, those very academic institutions which profess to imbue the artistic study of the “human form” with creative respectability seem to undermine the role of the model at almost every level.

-One of the primary examples of this inability to openly give credibility to life modeling would be the exclusion of a faculty contact number or address for those who might wish to offer their services. Yet, I’m constantly told by instructors and artists that there seems to be a shortage of reliable, conscientious models of both genders to ensure a variety of subjects for their courses. At the same time, I have found that more often than not, the secretary, receptionist or office responsible for the hiring of models rarely seems to be competent or conscientious, much less supportive, responsive, enthusiastic or appreciative.

-On more than one occasion, I have found that those “responsible for booking models” have little or no artistic experience of their own and often lack the rudiments of basic office protocol or management. They often don’t answer emails or do so in a dismissive manner, cannot be bothered to facilitate the bureaucratic necessities of contracts and wages, because the “fax machine” isn’t working or they haven’t been in the office etc. Yet, when I contact the instructors themselves and offer my resume, they are punctual, enthusiastic, and, dare I say; appreciative of the interest and ensure bookings.

-It is through pursuing these “personal contacts” on my own initiative that I have been able to build a reputation as a reliable, professional, and creative model who collaborates with the instructor to facilitate the desired outcome for the classes and have been asked to “fill in” at the last minute for my less conscientious colleagues. I once worked nine hours over a twelve hour period to help cover three different classes where their models couldn’t attend…it was tiring and yet exhilarating at the same time! It would be the ideal for me to have consistently full days like that; like running a successful marathon!

-Conversely, I have also been in the situation where a new instructor has booked me and then cancelled or postponed at the last minute without consideration for my time, preparation or travel. Though he did offer alternative bookings, my schedule could not be rearranged to accommodate him and so I lost the income. One wonders if they treat their other colleagues in a similar fashion.

-This brings me to another concern about how some colleges and institutions treat their “modeling staff” as they profess to appreciate them, some of their protocols seem to entrench the notion that they are on the “fringes” and are doing something disreputable. If that is the case, then does it not behove the institution to help dispel the prevalent notion of something forbidden or out of the ordinary rather than legitimizing it? For instance; in one institution’s hand out for models it goes into great detail about how one is not to step out of the lit area undraped or talk to students during an instructional classroom break. If anything, I have found this protocol to be humiliating and dehumanizing.

-I usually will take a stretch, step out from under the hot lights and reach for my water bottle and towel; which I wear on the back of my neck. I then like to take a look at the artists’ work with my hands behind my back and we often chat about how the session is going or what they’d like to see. I also make a point of speaking with the instructors and ask their preference as to poses, duration, and their direction for the rest of the session.

-In this way, I find I begin to “demystify” the notion of the “naked form” as I am a person, not “the nude” and begin to build a rapport with the artists and the instructor who then considers me as a colleague, rather than some objectified “instructional aide”. Similarly, I’ve been told how this helps to create that atmosphere of comfort, collegiality, and respectability without the necessity of creating an unassailable wall between the model and the class, thereby not allowing myself to be treated as “the nude”, but rather that other professional who is working towards their goals in the classroom.


18 thoughts on “The Act of Being Naked, the Art of Being Nude…”

  1. I am interested also and started practicing being still. It is harder than I thought. Being motionless with an arm extended is truly hard work.
    There are many other steps to be done but all the "help" sites are very positive.

  2. Not at all surprising. The person(s) responsible for hiring, booking, contracts etc in a university atmosphere is likely to come from HR/Personnel or an art student. The HR/finance people may have their own deeply held religious bias and fail to do their job for same reason, and art students likely have little secretarial training. Best wishes and thanks for posting this!

  3. The natural condition of humans is naked. Doing anything else is an act. The act is covering up our nature. Without a positive and deliberate act we are naked like all the other species. Naked is not an act. Naked is without a deliberate act.

    Artists draw "nudes" because they want to draw actual human beings, not some body cover. Our culture is to well trained to cover ourselves that we often believe that being covered is normal and going natural without the body covering is a deliberate act. Like many ideas that "everyone knows," that's not only wrong, its backward.

    I have thought about modeling, but didn't want to put up with the hassle you describe being hired and retained.

  4. I have for some time thought about having a go at life modelling, but I have never had the courage to put myself forward. Who would I contact anyway? Would they even want me? Am I too old? I know that I am comfortable in my own skin and you have confirmed that is one important part of becoming a good model, but could I actually hold a pose for long enough? Would I understand what is required of me regarding poses? So many questions and so much self-doubt…

    • A couple of things you can do. Contact local colleges and universities to get the information for the art department, and start asking there. Also contact local galleries to see who in the area offers art and drawing classes, then contact those people to see if they need models. Legitimate classes are comfortable with all ages and body types, since they're trying to learn to draw people, not idealized sex objects.

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