Writing About Models

Art modeling is a unique profession. That’s one of  the many characteristics I love about it. Our work is highly specialized, unconventional, and organic. It is vastly unlike most everyday jobs and vocations, which makes it all the more awesome 🙂 Perhaps because of its unusual qualities, art modeling is all too often misunderstood or underappreciated. So the more voices that can speak on our behalf and provide enlightenment of our commitment and hard work, the better.

Regular Museworthy reader and frequent commenter Andrew Cahner is an artist’s model who has written a truly excellent volume called The Art Model’s Handbook. I am proud over mere existence of this book, and Andrew’s intelligent, comprehensive account of professional art modeling and all that it entails. While it is mainly a detailed, practical guide that illuminates the complexities and responsibilites of modeling work, the book is also, in spirit, a reverent tribute to the figurative art world and the creative relationships that drive it. What’s most impressive about The Art Model’s Handbook is its thoroughness. He omitted nothing. There is not a single question that Andrew doesn’t answer, not a single issue he doesn’t address. He literally covers everything, and covers it well, from the practical concerns of working in a studio, preparation, pay rates, etiquette, safety, and bookings, to the deeper artistic elements of poses, gestures, nudity, and the great timeless tradition of art modeling. Full of interviews, references, a glossary of terms, and personal insights, Andrew’s book is wonderfully readable, lucidly written, and a one-of-a-kind resource for art models both new and experienced, as well as artists, teachers, and students. With its very publication, The Art Model’s Handbook has solidified the legitimacy, virtue, and immeasurable value of serious, professional art modeling.

From page 47 of The Art Model’s Handbook, Andrew writes:

Throughout the years I have ben modeling, I have always been curious about what makes artists tick. Where do they find inspiration? What is their process? The most fulfilling modeling experiences for me have been when it feels like a collaboration – a joint creative effort. The more in tune I am with how artists think, the better I can support them as a model.

That is the voice of a dedicated, conscientious model, one who understands and appreciates that our distinct role in the world is all about art, inspiration, and the creation of beauty. Well done, Andrew! I am truly honored to be your colleague 🙂

It’s less common, but equally refreshing, when artists step up to the plate and write about their professional relationship with models. My friend Daniel Maidman has written an article in the May issue of International Artist magazine titled “The Artist’s Model”. In it he discusses practical aspects of a private model session from an artist’s point of view, covering such topics as studio preparation, proper behavior and protocol, and the model’s comfort. It is evident from his gracious and attentive tone that Daniel has enormous respect and admiration for models and, as a figurative artist, is clearly aware of our essential role in the creation of art. There are, unfortunately, some artists who take models for granted and treat us with insufficient respect and consideration. I’ve known a few in my day. Hopefully Daniel’s article will help awaken them to a more appreciative understanding of what we do. Thank you Daniel!

11 thoughts on “Writing About Models

  1. Hi Claudia! Thank you so much for your kind words! I kind of feel like a *lousy* friend, since you caught me the one time I haven’t checked your blog in a few days since I started reading it. In the middle of this art fair… am in zombie-like state of fatigue… I should read that book though! And I’ll comment again when I’ve had some sleep and can think of anything insightful to add. In the meantime, I’d just like to say, I never stop marveling at the generosity of models, and I feel privileged every time I work with them. I also hope the article has the effect you hope for – wouldn’t it be great? Anyhow, more soon, and lots of love, and thank you for this wonderful blog and all the great modeling…

    • artmodel says:

      Daniel,

      I had a blast hanging out with you at the Great Nude Art Fair! Your exhausted state is understandable, as you artists have a jam-packed weekend with that event and all that networking can be pretty draining. See, we models can just come to the reception, be charming for one night, and drink wine 🙂

      Thanks again for your terrific article and I look forward to the next two installments. See you soon!

      Claudia

  2. Fred says:

    Claudia, I concur. Both Andrew and Daniel emphasize an attitude of professionalism and respect, and make a strong case for the importance of good models for the artist. Andrew Cahner especially conveys how much creativity, hard work and seriousness of purpose good art models bring to their craft. But of course, anybody who follows your blog or works at the easel with you already knew that!

    Often people who are interested in art modeling ask me about what it takes or how to get into it. Since I discovered Andrew’s book, I just tell them all to read it!

    Fred

    • artmodel says:

      Well-said, Fred. You also have done an excellent job discussing models and showing enormous appreciation for us. You are a true “model’s artist”, and I mean that as a compliment! We luv u 🙂

      Claudia

  3. Gavin says:

    The Art Model’s Handbook is a great introduction to life modelling I found. I’m more an artist who occasionally poses so knew the score about what poses were expected, but there was all sorts of other handy information.

    Modelling Life by Sarah R. Phillips is a good read too. It’s less a handbook, more a brief history and essay collection with interviews with models and artists.

  4. Andrew says:

    Claudia: The Museworthy stamp of approval means much more to me than you probably realize. Thank you!

    Fred: Thank you too for recommending The Art Model’s Handbook.

    Daniel: I read your article in International Artist. Great tips! I just want to comment on one of your points: “It is entirely reasonable not to show your work-in-progress to the model. Keep in mind, though… some of the best technical critique you can get for your work will often come from your model.” I would add that seeing the work in progress is very motivating to me as a model. It makes me feel part of the creative process and gives meaning to my role. The line from p.47 that Claudia quoted above ties in with this thought as well. A model who can’t see the artwork is analogous to an office temp — somebody hired for a mundane task, but due to the short duration of the engagement nobody feels it is worth the time to explain the significance or context of the work.

  5. Hi again! I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come back to this thread, because I was honored to be a part of it and in such good company. Andrew, I wanted to let you know I’ve gotten your book and am psyched to read it. Your clarification regarding the model seeing the work in progress is really interesting. I suffer from an unnatural degree of self-confidence, so I never mind showing models my work. I can see an insecure artist not wanting to show it; would it work for you, as a model, if such an artist made a point to explain, “Hey, I’m just really insecure about my work, I think you’re really inspiring but it’s too difficult for me to show the work to you before I’m more satisfied with what I’m doing,” or would it still be problematic?

    Claudia, I am so glad you came to the opening. It was great to see you there and I’m really excited to finally work with you. The show wound up being great fun and I really liked a lot of the people I met there. And the work was good too… your buddy Janet is delightful!

    Fred, I’ll look forward to seeing you at Spring or, you know, randomly running into you on the subway…

    • Andrew says:

      Daniel: I may have overstated my point. It wouldn’t be problematic if an artist didn’t want to show me the work. The point I wanted to make is that it is motivating to see the work develop. If modeling was just about getting naked and holding still — without any interest in the artwork — it would be a boring job. For me anyway. Maybe Claudia has an opinion.

      I’m not qualified to give a technical critique, but (in a private booking) talking about the progress or challenges can lead to ideas about tweaking the pose to solve a problem or fulfill an artistic goal.

      The shyness you describe is not uncommon in a drop-in session. I completely get it and respect it. There can be a wide range of skill levels among the participants and I assume it is the novices or those with rusty skills that don’t want to show their work (but that’s just an assumption).

      I would add that modeling for beginner classes can be fulfilling as well if the students are serious, but your article was about private bookings, and that’s the context of my comment.

  6. Andrew – You may feel you were overstating, but I really do think that, in a private session that’s part of an extended work like a painting or a sculpture, when an artist doesn’t show the model the piece in progress, it is a big missed opportunity. Obviously I didn’t fully understand the demoralizing effect on the model, but I do know that models have almost always offered useful critiques to me. Even if it’s not technical, it’s generally based on a broad knowledge of how the model tends to come off in a work of art. Something as simple as “that doesn’t really look like me” can confirm a suspicion you were trying to pretend you didn’t have… and the pose-tweaking is a massive benefit as well.

    The third article in this series is coming out in June, and it has a series of drawings showing the development of a pose as the model corrected my original suggestion to bring it into closer calibration with the emotions I was trying to establish. If I hadn’t been willing to show her the work in progress, and use her ideas about how to improve it, the painting would have been a failure. So I’m deeply grateful to her for contributing, and I think it illustrates the utility of taking advantage of the creativity of the model pretty well.

    • artmodel says:

      I’m just gonna jump in here and say that in all my private modeling experiences, the artists have really welcomed and appreciated my feedback. In fact, I’ve discovered that the model’s opinion means much more to artists than most people probably think. And that’s really nice 🙂 I have not yet had the experience of an artist unwilling to show me his/her work, not in a private setting at least. If that happened, though, I would not be offended and just chalk it up to the insecurity thing Daniel mentioned. No, I wouldn’t consider it problematic, just disappointed that the artist isn’t fully engaged in the artist/model relationship and might be depriving himself of some unexpected rewards, namely a unique, mutually beneficial creative friendship.

      Of course I have only worked with wonderful people, none of whom have ever once treated me like the “lowly” model whose opinion about art is worthless. It’s been fascinating to provide the “subject’s” view of the work in progress. The artists listen! And like you said, Andrew, it’s incredibly motivating and inspiring for the model to observe the development. Often, I’ve begun private work having little or no idea of the artist’s goals, style, or vision. Then when I see the initial stages I realize, “Ah. Ok. I see what we’re doing here”. And so it deepens and refines my collaborative senses – we become better models, like you’ve explained so well Andrew.

      Daniel, the next part of your article series sounds terrific! I really look forward to that. Keep up the good work 🙂

      Great discussion thread, thanks guys!

      Claudia

  7. Hi Claudia! Sorry if this thread is getting too long… I’m emailing in the fourth and final article materials right now – they’ll be in the August/September issue. They ran all my paintings in the first three articles! So I’ve been camped out in the studio finishing everything that needed a background (I always drag my feet about backgrounds because they usually don’t need the model around, and what fun is painting without a model?).

    I just wanted to add to your comment:

    “In fact, I’ve discovered that the model’s opinion means much more to artists than most people probably think.”

    I feel like models have gotten terribly short shrift in art history. It reminds me of one of director Frank Capra’s screenwriters getting sick of Capra taking all the credit for everything in his movies. The legend is that the writer (whose name, ironically, I don’t know) walked into Capra’s office, plunked 120 pages of blank paper on his desk, and said, “Put the ‘Capra touch’ on that!”

    I kind of feel like models are in the position of the screenwriter, so I do what I can to foreground their essential contribution to the work. It’s not much, but maybe it’ll help shift the balance a little bit.

    As for not having any idea about the artist when beginning private work, that’s very interesting. In the first article, I recommended that artists approaching models provide a website of their work and offer references. It seems to me like a good policy to provide a good first layer of creep-filtering. Have you had trouble with creeps? I’ve heard from a few in response to the articles; they’re pretty easy to spot (and they’re almost always “amateur photographers”). I worry a lot about model safety, and I think Minerva’s protectiveness is a really excellent thing.

    Sorry to natter on…

    🙂

    Daniel

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