Students liven drawing classes by undressing the nudity taboo

When Corey Watts ’10 reports to his classroom in the Spencer art studio, there are a number of marked differences between him and the other students in his class. While his peers come to class ready with pencils, charcoal and paper, Watts is conspicuously empty-handed. When the students saunter to their respective seats, Watts simply stands, waiting for class to officially begin. Most strikingly though, is that while the rest of the students are appropriately clad in their daytime attire, Watts is stark naked.

Watts, as you might have now guessed, is in fact not enrolled in the class, but rather is one of the numerous students that the art department employs as nude models for figure drawing classes. While a common practice among undergraduate institutions, having students pose nude for their peers can garner varying degrees of acceptance and can undoubtedly present some rather uncomfortable scenarios.

“My first day on the job was pretty awkward,” Watts said. “When I got there, I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be nude modeling, so on my way up, in stride, I kind of whispered and asked the prof, ‘Is this all nude?’ It was, so I got nude, but then needed a hairclip, and had to walk around naked asking students to borrow one.” For Watts, this marked only the beginning of the awkward situations that he would have to overcome as a nude model. At the first shift that he signed up for, he was completely shocked to find that his girlfriend, Alessandra DeMarchis ’10, was in the class that was to be drawing him. Luckily, the class had requested a female model, and thus Watts had to cancel, but he went on to say that he “frequently models with [his] girlfriend drawing in the room next door.”

Although often overlooked, the phenomenon of drawing nude figures can often trigger similar feelings of awkwardness among the student artists. “During one session, there was an older woman who was modeling, and I looked over at my friend’s sketch pad, and because his drawing just looked way off, we exchanged a couple chuckles,” said Ken Flax ’09, who was enrolled in Drawing 100 last semester. “We’re convinced that she thought we were laughing at her, because the very next pose, with her back towards us, she just bent over and completely mooned us.”

Amanda Reid ’12 shares in this sentiment of awkwardness. “I don’t know. It’s just strange when you see people who you’ve only seen naked in class walking around campus,” she said. “You’re just not sure if you’re supposed to say hi or what not.”

Contrary to these experiences though, most of the modeling sessions are rather comfortable and professional. “The professor generally walks around, commenting and critiquing,” Watts relayed. “And because I’m in a really different position from the students, we really don’t interact much at all.” Flax agreed and said, “No one is like, ‘Oh my god, I just saw her naked!’ It’s completely artistic, not sexual at all.” Despite the professional atmosphere, however, Watts admitted that modeling nude did in some ways alter his later interactions with the students from the class. “I talked with some of the people from the class afterwards, and it was kind of like there was nothing left to hide between us.”

One large incentive for the nude models is the pay, which at $12 an hour is significantly higher than that of the majority of other campus jobs. The lofty remuneration might be in part due to the awkwardness of the job, but is more likely simply because of the physically demanding nature of the work. Models typically work between two to three hours on a raised platform, and are asked by the professor to take poses for anywhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes at a time. “It’s pretty strenuous and works your muscles as well as forces you to think about your body and where you’re putting your focus and energy,” said Dalena Frost ’09, a veteran nude model.

Another reason for the abnormally high rate is that the nude models are really fulfilling a crucial necessity within the art department. They allow the department to bring their curriculum to life and give students the chance to draw real figures, thus constituting a vital part of the College’s art classes.

In addition to their comfortable pay, the exhibiting models get a chance to encounter and work alongside some of the school’s most talented art students and faculty. “It really makes me focus artistically on what might be interesting to see in a drawing,” Frost said. “It encourages me to think of my body in a beautiful way, as art, and embrace it.” Watts agreed that he appreciated having the professor comment artistically on the different curves of his figure and the contours of his buttocks, but added that at times he wants to say, “Hey, those are my buttocks’ contours that you’re talking about!”

As much as we may resent it, clothing remains an unavoidable fact of life, but as the nude models here at the College demonstrate, such a fact doesn’t mean that there aren’t situations in which we can defy societal norms and expose our physiques freely. While there is unquestionably a stigma that surrounds seeing our peers in the nude, even in scenarios that are deliberately non-sexual, we can learn a good deal from the example of our nude model fellow students.

“Modeling nude has helped me embrace the fact that although we don’t all have media-certified perfect bodies, we are all admirable and beautiful in our own way,” Frost said. “Plus, it’s fun because I get a kick out of defying social norms in an ‘appropriate setting.’”

It’s easy to see why nude modeling may be one of the most exciting and rewarding jobs on campus. And the best part of it all is that there isn’t even a dress code.