Perhaps it’s a bit grandiose to refer to my “life as an art model”. A more apt title for this post would be “my season as an art model.”
Over the past few months, I booked sessions all around the city of Austin as an art model. I worked with local campuses as well as the local visual arts society, and – though I am happy for the experience – it was certainly a curious one!
Despite my background working as a yoga instructor on a clothing-optional resort and despite my time posing as a body paint model for a brilliant painter, I found myself nervous. With the exception of my public speaking engagements, I have lately been shying away from the lime light and gravitating away from the center of attention. Regardless, I certainly have not been in many scenarios involving me to pose nude in a foreign environment, all the while holding perfectly still!! (Anyone who knows me knows that the last thing I do is stay still.)
I researched what the role would involve and made all the appropriate preparations: I drank water that morning, ate and used the restroom before the session, arrived early, brought a towel, robe and flip flops, greeted the professor cordially, remained still and silent during the drawing, re-robed during breaks, etc. etc. The most important part was my exuding a feeling of confidence and comfortability to make the class feel comfortable and at ease. During my first session, everyone thought that I was already an experienced art model, and they were an advanced class, too!
The format for my first class included ten one-minute “gesture drawings”, which are physically rigorous and artistically interesting poses. I used a bar as a prop for about half of these. The gesture drawings are a kind of warm-up exercise for the artists. The rest of the session was spent in 20-60 minute poses with intermittent breaks.
I had several interesting and somewhat surprising observations:
1) Art modeling takes skill! The model needs to be creative to think of various gestures on the spot, have endurance and patience in order to hold the poses and have a good bedside manner to put others at ease.
2) The professor makes a big difference in the experience of the art model! I was made to feel valued, appreciated and cared for. The professor thanked me repeatedly, remarked to the students that they should feel gratitude toward the model for this opportunity and she even set up a space heater lest I feel cold.
Each professor verbalized insightful observations on the physical form. While this felt awkward at first, it was fascinating to hear another person’s observations on the arch of my back, the distance between shoulders, the length of my neck, the fullness of my lips, my muscle tone, etc. as the professors pointed out features for the students to draw.
Perhaps most interesting were the professors’ line of questioning: ”Don’t just draw another person. This is Ayo sitting here before us. What is unique to Ayo and her features? And how are you going to capture what is original about her?”
3) I was on stage with lights! This was strange… very strange, but totally professional. And it was nice, refreshing and natural to be nude once again in a non-sexual setting. The experience was very freeing, very comfortable and reminded me of my season living in the Dominican Republic.
4) I was the “overachiever” art model! The professors were very excited that I came from an aerial and acrobatic background, so I took on poses that were much more rigorous than usual. During the gesture drawings, I opted for full wheel (a back bridge), single-leg balances and a variety of gymnastic poses. I even chose a yoga “frog” (think a sort of straddle split) for my 25-minute pose, which in retrospect was absurd, but an excellent challenge at the same time.
5) Advice to myself: Choose comfier positions next time! The short one-minute gestures were fine and the seated final pose was fine, but the overly ambitious 20-35 minute poses, with my neck thrown back and my back arched for dramatic flare were absurd, not to mention my choice of “yoga frog” (see above) where my full body weight was placed on the fronts of my ankles. Lesson learned!
6) Small classes are great. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started art modeling and I thought that there might be a large auditorium, but there were only four to eight students in each class, which was a lovely small size. It was interesting to see what I noticed about them. The male-female breakdown was about even. Of the eight students in my first class, six seemed to be college-aged while two were older. All had different body types.
I didn’t feel like the males looked at me or drew me any differently than the females on the whole, but my mind did notice that two of the male students were black. This of course doesn’t make any difference at all, except that it was my first time fully unclothed in front of a black male and so it was a new experience on top of another new experience. (I hope that doesn’t sound horribly boorish of me to remark. The thought simply occurred to me during the session, and I found it interesting to note.)
7) There was lots of individualism. It was brilliant to see how each student had their own take and used a different medium or style to depict me. One class repeatedly held rulers out toward me to take measurements and proportions, and I so badly wanted to pull out a ruler (out of who knows where) and measure them back. Ah, the humor of art modeling… there were some very comical moments! But it was very cool to inspire art. When I had previously done body painting, I remarked on how incredible it was to literally be the art. In life drawing class, I was the art in a different but equally powerful way.
8) Just for the experience. It’s always nice to be compensated for the things that I do, whether a dance performance, acroyoga lesson or strategic office work, but money is never the main motivation for my actions. Here too, though there was compensation, my motivation was for the experience and to be a part of inspiring and creating art. Still, when I was toward the end of class and tired of holding the pose, it was nice to recall that I was being paid for my time!
So, how did I fill that still and silent time? I’m not usually big on meditating, but I relaxed into the music (they had an enchanting Pandora station on), focused on my breath, stared into the distance, and sang songs in my head. Toward the end of poses, I would count down the minutes / seconds in my mind. During the long pose, I gave myself challenging math problems to keep intellectually stimulated. And during my medium poses, I davened (prayed).
I suppose that it was a peculiar place to daven – on a stage, with lights accenting my contours, fully naked and in an artistic pose while being drawn by a surrounding audience. But, it was really beautiful in a way. And there was tremendous humor in the Birkot HaShachar (the morning prayers).
During the blessing of “Pokeach Ivrim” (gives sight to the blind), I was reminded to open my eyes and steady my gaze toward the wall opposite me.
During the blessing of ”Zokef Kefufim” (straightens the bent), I engaged my core, arched my back and fixed the slouch that was starting to seep in.
And, of course, during the blessing of ”Malbish Arumim“, I just laughed. I laughed inside, not breaking the pose, but I thought about how I quite possibly have never said a more ironic bracha in my life. (“Malbish Arumim” is the blessing for God who ‘clothes the naked’.)
Seemingly, I was an ideal art model. The professors look for a combination of easygoing, friendly, responsible, creative and athletic endurance, and I was able to rise to the occasion. I have return invitations to a handful of campuses and studios should I desire and it always feels good to excel at a new skill or experience.
Practically, I’m not sure that I will be back in the studio any time soon. I don’t have the sitzfleisch (tolerance to stay still) to art model on a regular basis. I value my free time more than my modeling time, and there’s too much that I want to do!
Also, when I return to Jerusalem, much of my time will be spent with knees and elbows covered doing work in the Ultra Orthodox community. But both communities are interesting, both are parts of me and I’m appreciative for the opportunity to be ushered and welcomed into the world of art modeling this past October and November. And so, my life as an art model comes to a successful – if temporary – close!
posted by ayo