Student model bares all for art

Model for the Art Department Ruby Froom ’16 poses for budding artists attending the College. --Nathaniel Boley/Photo Editor
Model for the Art Department Ruby Froom ’16 poses for budding artists attending the College. –Nathaniel Boley/Photo Editor

If the $12-an-hour paycheck isn’t alluring enough to reel you in, I’m hoping that by the end of my feature, you’ll be convinced to give nude modeling for figure drawing classes a try.

Here’s how it goes: The class files into the studio while you stand off to the side in your robe, waiting for the big reveal. The professor calls for order. You walk into the center of the circle of desks, where your props await you (these typically include a stool and a rug). At the professor’s command, you drop your robe. That’s the only scary part, I swear – the moment where you feel like everyone’s looking at your body outside of the context of drawing.

Then the professor hurls the students into the flow of class, and it’s sink or swim. No one cares about you anymore (not that they did to begin with), and they’ve got dozens of sketches to make. You are not just a naked being in front of them, but a collection of lines and shadows. You go through a series of poses, standing, sitting and reclining. You can make up your own, but the professor will also give you some guidelines as to how he or she wants you to pose. My first pose ever was an exposing number where I stood with my arms and legs splayed out like a starfish, wondering what I had gotten myself into. I also once had the opportunity to moon an entrymate as I stood in a forward bend for three minutes. Good times.

It can be difficult to keep a straight face as you hold fairly ludicrous poses for extended amounts of time, or as you listen to the professor comment on the bulge of your belly or your “conical breasts” (not “comical,” as I hastily explained to my horror-stricken, hearing-impaired mother). I try not to do anything too distracting. However, I once heard a horror story about a nude model that stared straight into my friend’s eyes whenever he was rotated to face her, distracting her and preventing her from getting any work done. That is not what models are paid to do. Maintaining professionalism is essential for any job, and this especially holds true for nude modeling. Dangerous levels of awkwardness could ensue otherwise.

Now that I’ve sufficiently freaked out some readers (I can’t have too many of you stealing my time slots!), I hope to bring some of you over to my side. There are so many wonderful things about the job besides the funny stories and surreal experiences. One of the great joys of modeling for me is the knowledge that I am directly helping artists hone their craft, as hundreds of nude (and clothed) models have throughout history. I cannot think of an analogous job in music (the art form closest to home for me) that serves as direct a function and involves so little ego. Turning pages, singing background vocals, accompanying someone on an instrument … None of these options are as immediately gratifying, easy and essential to developing artistry as modeling.

Also, if you’re an art history geek like myself, you’ll revel in the opportunity to both enable the continuation of the nude tradition and pick up the little nuggets of art history hidden within the professor’s lectures. I had never been exposed to minute technical comparisons of the drawing mechanics of Vasari and Raphael before, nor would I have been if not for the little breaks in between poses where I hang around in the kimono my mom sent me (“You wear a bathrobe in the class?! If you’re going to do this, you have to look nice, at least!” she exclaimed before promptly sending the kimono over).

But art modeling is not just a valuable experience for artists or art enthusiasts. Standing in front of people naked and striking poses for three hours has the potential to be uncomfortable, but if you look at it right, it can be incredibly liberating. I stop thinking about my body in cultural terms for those hours. I started to see that the shapes and spaces that comprise me, or anyone, are interesting and worth looking upon. Their own beauty is grounded in physical properties. I’m grateful for these realizations; they’ve had a lasting influence.  I wouldn’t say that I was a particularly self-conscious person to begin with, but modeling has certainly broken down inhibitions that I once had.

You also get to see dozens of sketches of yourself. I guess that could be seen as a positive or a negative, but even if people make my head too small (a frequent problem), it’s really cool to see yourself brought to life in someone else’s reality. There are some truly talented art students at Williams, and I feel privileged to have seen their depictions of me and to have helped them as artists.

So do it for the stories, the money, the experiences, the rush, anything. Nude modeling is a great avenue to explore, especially in as safe an environment as Williams. I’ve gotten a lot out of it, and I believe most other people would as well.