Trust the Model

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

29 thoughts on “Trust the Model

  1. Jeff says:

    Claudia

    Seems like some of the blame here has to go on the instructor. I’ve seen things like this happen at some open studio sessions, but usually the moderator is good about squelching it. It’s one thing to offer input in some settings before or while posing, but it’s rude to complain about a pose once taken. In a class, especially a lower-level class, it doesn’t seem like the students should have any input and that should be made clear by the instructor when it happens.

    I can sympathize with the little rush of panic those students felt – I’m no great shakes at drawing poses with extreme foreshortening myself, but there’s only one cure for not being able to do something, which is to keep trying until you can. No matter what the pose is, I give it a try. If I try and get frustrated because it’s just too far beyond my ability, I start over, focus on a single body part, or move to a new position. It would never occur to me to complain and it seems like rather a broach of etiquette.

    When you’re sitting in a room with between 10 and 30 other artists, you have to realize you’re not always going to get what you want with every pose, but every pose is an opportunity to learn.

    So, in other words, you’re 100% right. Shut up, and draw!

    Jeff

    P.S. that pose in the picture is delightful, thank you for sharing!

    • artmodel says:

      Jeff,

      I’m glad you brought up the role of the instructor because I was rather annoyed she didn’t take better control of the situation. Come to think of it, she kind of encouraged it a little! Not good.

      You also make a great point about how no drawing session should ever be considered a lost cause. Like you said, there’s always SOMETHING to do when a life model is posing: practice a hand, practice the portrait, or just brush up on proportions. There are so many options, and it’s another opportunity to learn.

      Great comments, Jeff, thanks! And I’m glad you liked the photo 🙂

      Claudia

  2. Mark says:

    As a student of life drawing I have to agree and I share your frustration. The amount of time wasted in sessions by changing poses is remarkable. I have never understood the ‘too hard’ argument – how else do we learn?

    The pose is great, I wish we had poses like that.

    • artmodel says:

      Mark,

      I agree totally. The time wasted “testing out” poses is ridiculous. And it really irks me, as the model, because I know that if they just back off and let me decide the pose I will give them something good. Some people just can’t trust the model with that decision, even though it’s what we do!

      Thanks so much for your comments.

      Claudia

  3. Andrew says:

    The absurdity of the situation is highlighted by all of the random suggestions. As you say, that’s chaos. Everyone can’t get their choice.

    That reminds me of a session with a drop-in figure drawing group. I did a variety of 20 minute poses. One woman was obviously frustrated with a foreshortened pose, and afterward she suggested a bland pose sitting in a chair. Fortunately the monitor intervened and told me my poses were very creative. It is interesting how one person will try to bring the whole session down to the lowest common denominator without considering the other 15 artists.

    • artmodel says:

      Andrew,

      Oh I hear that. So true. Good thing that monitor intervened. Like you, I’ve seen the same thing. There’s always that one person who perceives a group session as a private one all for themselves. I sometimes tell those people that they should just hire a model privately on their own time if they want something specific to their liking. That’s what private work is for!

      Glad you commented on this post, as I thought (and hoped) you would! Thanks.

      Claudia

  4. Ron says:

    That’s a beautiful shot, but I hope that wasn’t the pose you took. Leaning over that box looks to be very uncomfortable for anything longer than a photograph.

    • artmodel says:

      Ron,

      That photo was taken a few months ago in Fred’s studio, but the pose is similar to the one I did in the FIT class, which is why I posted it to accompany this story. Of course it’s not exactly the same.

      No, the box setup would be quite difficult for an art session. However, this kind of thing can be replicated for a long pose drawing session. Substitute the box for thick cushions to achieve the arched back and raised hips and it’s not so bad. The arms can be held like that, albeit with some pain in the raised one. The neck in the photo is really the hardest part, and I don’t think I’ve ever held it THAT severely for a long pose. But for shorter ones, yes.

      Claudia

  5. Bruce says:

    For this kind of class the instructor should lay down the law! The model and instructor decide, end of story. Not that I had a great education, but if you are in school, you should be there to learn to do things you can’t do and improve what you can. Prima donna art students drive me nuts! Especially with such a tremendous model, nobody goes wanting! Great rant!

    • artmodel says:

      Bruce, YOU DA’ MAN!! You tell it like it is, baby! 🙂

      I couldn’t agree with you more, and I know you’ve had to deal with your fair share of this when monitoring at Spring Studios.

      So can I assume that when I come over on Thursday I get to decide ALL the poses?? <– just kidding. Let's collaborate, my friend.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Claudia

  6. Bill says:

    Agreed. The objection to the difficulty in drawing the pose is particularly bizarre — I frequently change my position in an attempt to increase the level of difficulty. How else am I going to get any better?
    P.S. Great photo — thanks!

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      You are the best kind of artist, seeking out the challenging angles. I love that. Indeed, it’s the only way to learn and improve skills. Unfortunately, I don’t think some of the students at the undergraduate schools are fully grasping that concept.

      Glad you like the photo! Thanks for commenting.

      Claudia

  7. “So please, don’t shout shit at me when I’m trying to work! ”
    I won’t.
    You feel better now, Claudia? -grin-
    -and it was the student’s loss, 10 minutes of drawing time.
    -and and maybe one or two of them learned something.
    -and and and your intelligent, talented and beautiful, Fred took a great pic!

  8. fred says:

    Pardon me for tooting my own horn, but those students need to learn the lesson I discussed in my recent blog post “The Secret of Practice”. If you avoid what’s challenging and only do what you already know how to do, you aren’t gaining anything from your practice! It’s annoying when the old geezers at Spring Studio act that way but a student that acts that way is wasting their tuition money!

    • artmodel says:

      Fred,

      Your blog post should be required reading for those students. But I do think that some of these instructors are responsible for communicating the value of practice and attempting new things. If they indulge the students’ reluctance then they’re not very good teachers. The FIT class seemed afraid of the horizontal lines, which is why they were asking for an upright pose. But do they expect to never learn horizontal lines?? Wtf?

      Instructors are also, in my opinion, responsible for setting an example on how to treat models. I see it all the time – classes with students talking during the pose, having conversations, texting, etc. The teacher doesn’t put a stop to it, so it just continues. The FIT instructor should have shut down the students’ complaints about the pose right away and taken a stand, “This is the pose and we’re not changing it.” But she didn’t.

      Thanks for commenting Fred-o!

      Claudia

  9. Vishinsky Designs says:

    If you can’t challenge yourself and only do whats simple, then you will never learn or grow as an artist. I love to be challenged and say bring it on, give me a difficult pose!

    • artmodel says:

      Vishinsky,

      Amen to that. It’s a timeless principle and can be applied to almost all creative and intellectual endeavors. It’s called “growth”, and after all the initial frustrations it’s worth it in the end. Here’s to difficult poses! 🙂

      Claudia

  10. Everybody’s already agreed with you, but let me at least add – I agree with you too! Right on! And yeah, the instructor is responsible for setting the tone; that that kind of behavior is unacceptable, for all the reasons described. Can I add one other thing that drives me nuts in life-drawing workshops? Niggling little complaints about how the long pose isn’t *exactly* the same after the break. This has been a problem in every life-drawing workshop I’ve ever gone to, and it’s always the people who aren’t very good at drawing who are the fussiest about it. I suppose I could be more empathetic – I look at their drawings and think, “What does it matter, it’s not like you can tell in your work,” while they are probably thinking, “I can’t progress at all without having the exact same point of reference.” But really, if the hand has moved over by a centimeter or two – you can correct for it in your work. Part of learning to draw a living person is learning to remember and to accommodate change. Roll with it!

    Anyhow, I hope you don’t run into that problem again anytime soon. And beautiful photograph, Claudia and Fred!

    • artmodel says:

      Daniel,

      The other issue you raise – about models resuming the same pose after a break – could be a blog post all its own! I could write plenty about that topic, but you did a good job yourself. I think the concept of “life” drawing is lost on some people. And a model’s best retort to those complaints is, “I’m not a bowl of fruit. Try still life!”.

      Thanks for your comments Daniel, and I’m glad you liked the photo 🙂

      Claudia

  11. Rog says:

    Wow. They were given a terrific pose to stare at, absorb, and draw. And they complained? Wonder what those same students would do if they had to destroy their own work, in front of their comrades. Probably have a little more respect. Yes, there is an art academic center that requires this.

    • artmodel says:

      Rog,

      Is that true about the art school and the art destroying? Wow. If so, that’s some hard core education!

      The pose in the photo is similar to the one I did in class, but not exact. Close enough though.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Claudia

  12. Jennifer says:

    An interesting bunch of responses! When I first read this, I felt suitably annoyed at the class and the instructor, as I’ve never been to a life drawing class or MeetUp where the group has had any particular input into the pose – as you say, it shouldn’t be a democracy! In the classes, it’s the teacher who sets the pose, at the MeetUps it’s generally the model with some guidance from the invigilator – those model-set poses have often been terrifically challenging, but I’ve learnt a lot from them! The models are always treated with the respect they deserve, in terms of pose-setting.

    It begs the question as to why students on an art course felt so unconfident! Perhaps it’s the public nature of life drawing – or maybe just that once one started, they egged the others on and the teacher didn’t intervene in the way she should – or maybe she did feel it should be a democracy! I sometimes can’t believe the madness in education, brought about by people who’ve been out of the classroom too long (or have never been in it). While it’s not necessarily relevant to this blog, I was gobsmacked/horrified to hear on our news recently that senior school pupils are being allowed to interview and choose teachers and in some cases later allowed to video teachers on their phones and then report them (can this really, really be true?). While there are indeed substandard teachers in the state systems (I know, my kids have met a fair few of them), this is not the way to encourage more talented teachers into the system. I know the argument is that children need to be empowered – but to what end? As far as I can see, it just makes them a pain in the arse and unemployable when they go out into the non-empowered workplace!

    Anyway, I hope your next session at FIT goes more smoothly; and, indeed, the kiddies might well have found that they learnt by ‘facing their fears’!

    Congrats, once again, on bringing the model’s view to light!

    Jennifer

  13. Gavin says:

    I agree too;) There are always angles I don’t like in a pose (foreshortened feet!!) but it’s never the model’s fault and artists should try to rise to the challenge, not complain.

    I found, however, that I had almost the exact problem when starting out modelling, with artists not willing to suggest what they wanted to draw. I’ll go in with a repertoire of poses but I’m there for the artists, who should be able to suggest poses too.

  14. John says:

    I’m a teacher but not of art. We have a generation of people who have been raised to have self esteem. This in itself is good. Unfortunately, these folks generally have a diminished capacity to learn from the more experienced. I think you and the teacher handled this very well. Young folks should have self esteem and confidence. But they should also have the capacity to respect the judgment of people who are more experienced than they are–if not ultimately better than they are.

    • artmodel says:

      John,

      Thanks for this comment! I agree 100%. The balance you described – between confidence and humility – is key. I also think that the learning process kicks into gear with challenges. And challenges can look scary at first. Students mustn’t be afraid to break out of their comfort zones. It’s the only way they will make progress.

      Claudia

  15. derek says:

    I luv this beautiful pose and what grace and beauty and full of soul.
    I use to have a model that I mentioned that her name Allison and she did that same pose that you did. luvely body shape.
    You must do a lot of research on the art of posing .

    Derek

    • artmodel says:

      Derek,

      This is an oldie but goodie. I know you’ve always liked this pose and picture. I’m glad you think it’s “full of soul” 🙂

      I just realized that I’m three years older from when I did this one. Hope I’ve still got it. Might have to practice!

      Thanks for your comments.

      Claudia

  16. Ken says:

    I once had an instructor give me free reign to pose. I struck the pose and heard “No!”. It was her! So, I learned to ask her regardless. All was fine after that.

    In the exact opposite situation, I’ve been wonderfully shocked after a session of poses for a first year college class – to receive applause! Now that was awesome! I made a point to memorize all of those poses. I ponder those classes from time to time and still get the same thrill. THIS IS THE BEST JOB EVER!

    Fortunately for me, I’ve only had the occasional grunt or groan, because of foreshortening. But I know they need to learn to deal with it or they’ll never get any better. From time to time, an artist will make a one-on-one recommendation or comment on why one was not a favorite pose. Now, I gladly accept all constructive comments in that fashion. But the equivalent of catcalls and heckling from the students should have been immediately stopped, followed by a lecture on proper etiquette for artists drawing from a life model. Absolutely wrong, wrong, wrong for the instructor to have let that persist. It should have been stopped DURING the first comment! You showed amazing restraint in your posting.

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