The traditional, “old-school” perception of an artist’s model is that of a plump, curvy, “zaftig” woman. Indeed, a great deal of the art from centuries past feature those kinds of models. Apparently, that heavier look represented robust health, wealth, sensuality, etc. I get it. But must those women have a lock on our profession? I say no way, Jose.
It’s bad enough that when it comes to my mother, I suffer a “double-whammy”, and by that I mean she is both an artist and, well, my mother. So it’s fairly often that I hear her remark that I am a little “too skinny”. I have posed in front of my mother at Spring Studios, and while she always compliments my work, she still manages to mention that I look thin up on the platform. So as an artist she’d prefer a few more curvy lines to draw, and as a mother she, like many mothers, would like her daughter to have sufficient meat on her bones. Ok, I confess that in some poses one can see my ribs quite visibly. And my sternum. And when I sit for long periods it can get a little uncomfortable because I lack enough, um, “padding” on my backside. So someone (a meanie) could call me bony, but personally I prefer “anatomically well-articulated”. (Euphemisms rule!)
My mother is not alone in this. More than a few times, I have heard from elderly ladies in painting classes that it wouldn’t kill me to “put on a few pounds” and been asked if I’m “eating enough”. (once I was almost forcibly fed a jelly donut by a concerned lady). I don’t take offense, really I don’t. I like to think of them as my Mom’s “substitutes” when she’s not there. They mean well, and they’re from an older generation where body image was different than it is today. I’m not saying better or worse, mind you. I’m a big fan of Marilyn Monroe who, I believe, proudly wore a size 14. That’s pretty cool. I love her.
But I am most certainly not Marilyn Monroe. When it comes to art modeling, I am thin for some. I know this. On the flip side, however, I can serve an instructor’s anatomy demo very well. (Just ask Frank Porcu at the Art Students League) Also, my light, thin frame allows me to express graceful gestures, while my long torso helps to create long, uninterrupted lines. Not bad, right? I think the good art models know their bodies well, know what their physical assets are and, therefore, know how best to utilize them – “play up” their strengths, as it were. My good friend Dan Gheno put it best when he told a student during instruction that I have an “elegant body”. Yes, Dan, you rock! Many thanks, my friend.
The 20th century artist Modigliani also saw elegance and beauty in a thin figure. Here is his “Reclining Nude” from 1913: