Job Insecurity

For the past few weeks I’ve been posing for a life-size sculpture class at the New York Academy of Art. The instructor, Harvey Citron, who I’ve worked with before, tells great stories and shares interesting anecdotes about sculpture history. Last week, as the students carved away, he talked about Rodin and his model for his sculpture “Eve”. She was an Italian woman named Maria Abruzezzi, who was already pregnant, but not yet showing, when she agreed to pose for Rodin. Then, as the lengthy modeling assignment went on, Maria began to show, and Rodin obviously noticed the change; “Maria, dear, is there anything you want to tell me?” 😆

According to Harvey, Rodin was willing to continue sculpting from his model, pregnant belly and all, believing that a ‘pregnant Eve’ would carry powerful symbolic weight. But it became too difficult for Maria and she had to discontinue her posing. And who can blame her? Long term standing poses are grueling for models under normal circumstances. I can’t even imagine doing it in the third trimester of a pregnancy.

A few years ago at Spring Studio, Minerva Durham did a quick sketch of one of my short gesture poses. She showed it to me later and said it reminded her of Eve being expelled from paradise:

The story of Rodin and the pregnant model got me thinking about the practical realities of art modeling work, and really any livelihood that is ‘freelance’ in nature. We’re not true employees. We have to work to get paid. We have no sick days, no paid vacation days, no pensions. If a model gets the flu and has to cancel a job they lose the money they would have made that day. In my many years as an art model, I have worked with colds and pounding migraines, sprained ankles, a black eye, severe menstrual cramps, and oh so many days of depression episodes and emotional stress. It would be wonderful to take a “personal day” during those times. But that’s simply not how this kind of profession works. Now I won’t be getting pregnant anytime soon, but I totally understand why Rodin’s model didn’t disclose her pregnancy when he first hired her. It’s very possible she didn’t want to lose the job, and needed the job.

Because modeling is my sole source of income, I carry around a trembling seed of fear in the back of my mind that if something catastrophic were to happen to me, something that would put me out of commission for weeks and weeks, I’d be royally screwed. I could break my leg. I could get seriously sick and become bedridden. We artist’s models don’t have the convenient option of “working from home” like many people do. We have to commute there, physically be there, do the modeling, and get that time sheet signed. Don’t feel well? Too bad. Deal with it.

But the upside remains; that art modeling is awesome. So awesome that it motivates us models to carry on in spite of sore throats and allergies and cramps and aches. No sick days is the trade off for participating in such unique, liberating, and gratifying work. Here’s a photo of some works-in-progress of my standing pose in Harvey Citron’s class. It’s not an “Eve-like” pose, but a basic contrapposto:

In mid-January I received a jury duty summons in the mail. The date on which I was supposed to start calling was the Friday before my second Monday for this sculpture class. I was worried that if the recording told me to report for jury duty on the next Monday I’d have to let the Academy know, and then would most likely be replaced for Harvey’s class with another female model. That would mean seven consecutive Mondays of lost work and lost pay. For a single day job it wouldn’t have mattered much. But this class is a multi-week booking. The model is expected to be there for every session. So I postponed my jury duty, which we are allowed to do only once, until May. And again, this is an issue that affects us freelancers and independent contractors much differently than those with ‘regular jobs’, who are allowed jury duty absences when they’re called. I’m glad I was able to postpone, because I want to serve but also want to fulfill my modeling duties.

Sculptors work with lots of tools, but you know they’re really getting into it when they bring out the knives and hammers!

And finally, the photo you needed. My foot! Specifically, the foot of my weighted leg in the contrappposto after three 20 minute sets. I did not filter it black and white for a reason, as you can see. Can I please get some bath salts and a basin of warm water? 😆

10 thoughts on “Job Insecurity

  1. Indigo says:

    I loved my modelling work, and wanted to keep it up until I dropped off the perch. But unfortunately I’m dealing with some circulation and joint issues which means I can no longer do long poses. But I do miss it. Luckily I’m now in a more secure financial position that you are, but this post bought it all back. Best of luck with the jury duty etc.
    Indie

  2. Jury duty! Thank God they let you reschedule. To the summer, when (at least my) bookings are virtually nonexistent. And the daily pay for jury duty is probably less than you make in an hour of modeling. Ouch!

    A black eye. Yikes. I don’t want to ask, but hope there was no drama involved. But the artists might have appreciated something out of the ordinary to draw.

    I think that freelancers of all descriptions and many entrepreneurs either need to work to eat and/or simply can’t say no to any work that comes their way – fearing that if you ever say no, they’ll never call back. Fortunately, I’ve found that when I don’t have many bookings, that is when I need to make contact. I’m almost always rewarded with bookings, as if they had forgotten about me or just had a cancellation and were trying to figure out who to call. Or, probably more likely, they want to help and hate to say no. Just like me.

  3. Bill says:

    I think that we have to distinguish between part-time models who are doing this to supplement their income and models who are actively pursuing a muse of their own. While both are praiseworthy, the latter really do risk both physical and financial well-being to follow a calling — and the game is to minimize the damage to both while following it. In the end, though, we artists root for you guys to be able to continue — not just so we can continue to draw you (although there is that), but also because we (hopefully) realize that you are assuming those risks.

    P.S. Let me see if I can read your fortune from the lines on the sole of your foot. Hmm . . . no . . . you wouldn’t believe it 🙂

  4. artmodelandrew says:

    First, very cool work-in-press photos of the sculpture!

    I’ve received more than my share of jury summonses over the years, so I can relate the to issues this creates with lost earnings and potential disruption of already-scheduled gigs.

    I can also relate when you describe the potential for a substitute model to step in at the middle of multi-session pose. I’ve substituted for a painting class where I had to replicate the pose of another model. Not the ideal situation.

    Finally, I can relate to the bone-crushing torture (at least it feels that way) of standing in a contrapposto pose for too long. One particular experience with two back-to-back 3-hour classes comes to mind. I wonder if they’ve considered this as an alternative to waterboarding at Gitmo?

  5. T Fife says:

    Damn, you are amazing . . .

  6. jiminalaska says:

    Way back when I was a latter day card carryin’ beatnik in East Village I worked as a private contractor (read handyman) for a while. One important lesson I learned back then was when the work’s available, grab it and do it, ’cause it’s always feast or famine & most definitely not a dependable 40 hour week.

    Since then I’ve worked for the feds, the state, local government, in private industry and often for myself as a private contractor (read private contractor), but I never forgot when the work’s available, grab it.

    Good on yer, Claudia!

  7. Betty Sword says:

    Hi Claudia ;
    Thanks so much for sharing / writing such an honest essay
    on Surviving as an Artist’s Model.
    Currently, there are so many more stupid changes / rules going on that I didn’t see coming – such as CUNY requiring fingerprinting (reflects overall social paranoia) and models (ANY Freelancers) are expected to eat the $200 fee which means I’ve dropped the solid long term relationship I had at Brooklyn College.
    The Art Students League is currently morphing into a corporate style school – complete with a computerized Punch-in payroll system.
    ~ ~*~ ~
    I am inspired to share this / your blog entry with other models but
    I see I won’t be allowed to do so directly as a HOT LINK via Facebook
    — > ” Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive. ”
    But, as with everything else now-a-days One must survive by thinking outside the box !
    Thanks so much again for sharing your experiences and insights.
    – Betty

    • artmodel says:

      Betty!

      So great to hear from you. Now I’m not on Facebook and don’t really know how things work over there, but why would the link to this post have been reported as “abusive”? That’s totally bizarre. I am just bewildered these days with social media, and how clearly harmless things are being flagged. I can’t figure it out.

      I wasn’t aware of the new CUNY rules and the fingerprinting. I don’t blame you for dropping Brooklyn College because of the fee. How do they not understand that rules such as these are prohibitive for models, to the extent where the gig isn’t worth it financially? I’m sorry you’ve been going through all this. I haven’t been back to the League in years. I’ve contemplated going back but I doubt I will.

      Thanks so much Betty for your feedback and your comments! Hope to see you soon …

      Claudia

  8. pfelelep says:

    Very true and relevant notes. Thank you for sharing. As a painter and occasional model, I will keep that in mind.

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