This isn’t a rant. More like a vent. I’m not upset. I just need to share an art modeling anecdote that addresses one of my relatively few grievances with this profession. A “pet peeve”, as they say.
Yesterday at FIT, I was posing for a large life drawing class. Before we began drawing, the instructor took a few minutes to explain that day’s assignment to the students. I always pay attention to those lectures because it’s also important for me, as the model, to understand the assignment, as it influences my posing. She also showed some sample drawings to illustrate what she was looking for, and those were very helpful as well.
So I listened attentively and decided that an active reclining pose would be best. The students were asked to divide their paper into several sections and draw a different body part in each one of those sections. Could be any body parts – a foot, a hand, the torso, an ear, a thigh, a shoulder, etc. With an active reclining pose, the anatomy of the figure is well-displayed. I can outstretch one arm, bend one leg, arch the back to reveal the breasts and the rib cage, twist a little, and hold my gaze up toward the ceiling so facial features can still be seen. I was going to make everything as pronounced and as interesting as I could, providing negative spaces, both horizontal and vertical lines, a cornucopia of human anatomy. I really felt, instinctually, that the pose was perfect for that project.
I shared my idea with the instructor and she thought it was terrific, so we set it up. I got into my pose and she walked around the platform to view it from all angles. Then she gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. “Looks great!”, she said. “I wish I was drawing this myself!”. I was pleased
But then, about a minute after I set my timer and started the pose, I heard a voice. “Can we just have her stand? I can’t draw this!”. Uh oh. Here we go. Then another one, “Yeah, me neither! Let’s do something else.” And another one. “This is no good! Let’s do a sitting pose.” These were the voices of students. Young, inexperienced art students, trying to undo my work and reject my well thought-out pose. I’m sorry, but that’s a no-no. And the hits just kept on coming. “How about sitting in a stool?”. “No, I want standing!”. “How about turning to the left and sitting Indian-style?”. You know what? How about shutting the hell up and letting me do my job????? Grrrrrrr
Here’s the deal. In this environment – undergraduate art school, room full of first year art students, and an assignment that was essentially a practice exercise – only TWO people should decide on the pose: the model and the teacher. You can’t have 25 different people barking out their own opinions and ordering the model around to accommodate their individual preferences. First of all it’s just rude and bad manners. That’s number one. Number two, an art class is not a democracy. I know that sounds awful and fascist, but it’s the way it has to be, otherwise it’s chaos. At places like the National Academy, the students aren’t even allowed in the room when the pose is decided. They wait outside while the model, the instructor, and the monitors set up the pose in the studio. Then the students come in and select their spot based on the pose they’ve been given.
A small, intimate group of professional artists in a private studio is an entirely different dynamic. In those situations, which are more collaborative in nature, I am happy to ask the five or six people what kind of pose they would prefer. And a consensus is always reached without conflict. Different settings call for different behaviors.
So at FIT yesterday I didn’t get visibly annoyed or raise my voice or anything like that. I never behave that way as I am the “anti-diva” But I was a bit frustrated and tried to explain that the reclined pose would work best with their assigned project. “But it’s too complicated!! I can’t see!!”. No, children. It would be complicated if you had to draw the WHOLE THING. You’re not drawing the WHOLE THING. You’re drawing parts. Any parts you want. From any angle you want. Get up and move if you don’t like your perspective! Geez.
My point is that people have to trust the model and let her do her job. I’m not an arrogant person generally, and I feel really uncomfortable even writing this but . . . I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it a long time. I’m presenting the pose, and young art students need to just be quiet, and draw, and learn. If you reject new challenges you’ll never learn anything. And art models are not indentured servants. We are there by choice, not by force. The “public debate” thing over poses is not good. I’ve seen it many times and it’s never productive, just like that saying about “too many cooks spoil the pot”.
I don’t appreciate students barking orders at me when I’m up on the platform, taking a pose that, incidentally, was already approved by the teacher. She’s paid to do her job, just as I’m paid to do mine. So please, don’t shout shit at me when I’m trying to work! Think of it this way; how appropriate would it be for me, the model, to walk around the room on my break giving critiques of the students’ drawings and telling them to make changes? Not appropriate at all, because it’s not my job and I’m not qualified.
So after 10 minutes – that’s 10 wasted minutes, by the way – of testing out inferior poses, for no other reason except to indulge the capricious whims of teenagers, we ended up with . . . the original pose. The same one I started with! There was one minor adjustment- a second pillow under my back. That’s it. That was the big alteration.
Everything’s fine. I like FIT a lot, and I like the students there. They just lack confidence, I guess. And maybe they get nervous when they see something that tests their skills, so they panic. I understand that. By the way, after all the confusion they ended up doing really excellent drawings! Even the instructor said so. I was very proud of them. Oh man, why didn’t they just trust me in the first place? :sigh:
Photo by Fred Hatt