Naked at 9:00
A firsthand account of what it's like to model in a live art class.
(originally published in "Lines" from the Art Student's League of NY)
By Pigeon | 10.17.18
Pigeon posing at Sadie's Valeri's
asically, it's beautiful. It's a beautiful experience. The things I loved about it the first time: the stillness, the quiet, and the focus are the things that I love about it day to day. Some days the stillness is really difficult though. I think it's the stillness that's my favorite part but also the worst part for the same reason. Because, when I'm completely still, I can feel
my emotions and thoughts very intensely. They're pure and clear. Which is not always a pleasant experience, by the way, sometimes it's overwhelming. An emotion can be so overwhelming, that it rushes throughout my entire body, and the next thing I know I'm in fight-or-flight mode but I can't move because there are 25 people staring directly at my face! I pretty much have no choice but to embrace this intensity, try desperately not to move no matter what (including itches and muscle spasms and random, physical irritations of all kinds), and buckle-down for the roller coaster ride of emotions an adult goes through on an average day.
Painting by Robin Smith
The first, most important thing is a Before every pose, I ask myself "Alright Pige, what're you feeling right now?" and, then I try to avoid my logical mind and let my subconscious show me the pose. Then, I'll either get a picture of it in my head, or just let my body fall into it. After that, it's, "How long can I actually hold this?" Poses can be anywhere from 30 seconds to over 50 hours total. So, it can be hard to predict which part of your body will be hurting in this pose 2 weeks from now, and something is going to be hurting 2 weeks from now; it's a question of what's tolerable discomfort and what's too much pain. Yes, pain! People often say, "But, you're just sitting there"- and it's kind of annoying. It's true that sitting down for 20 minutes (the normal interval a pose is held) doesn't hurt,
but not moving at all while sitting down for 20 minutes can be quite uncomfortable. Especially if 3/4 ths of your entire body weight is thrust onto one little part of your body. And if you're twisting -forget it- then your nervous system starts going crazy sending incessant messages your brain: "Move dude!!! What're you doing?! This is crazy! Move your leg right this instant!!!" At this point, I know I've got about 13 minutes left in the pose. What a weird job. All of a sudden, the only thing my life is about is fighting every instinct I have to move, not letting the pain show on my face, and making it 13 more minutes, just 13 more minutes. Finally, the timer goes off and there's a burst of joy until I realize how much it's going to hurt to move out of the pose. Art models need a good reason to do this job. The main motivation for me and many other models
I know is a creative interest, or need, to use our bodies to express our feelings. Using poses to "output" thoughts and feelings all day is pretty incredible. Which leads us to consider the relationship between artist and model. The gaze of an artist is talked about a lot: the male gaze, the female gaze, basically anytime someone is "gazing" they are visually interpreting the information offered by the subject. Being looked at, really looked at, sounds intimidating and sometimes it is. Most of the day artists are intently studying my face, or trying to understand exactly where my knee is, or what my bones are doing. But they also see whats happening inside my thoughts and feelings. It's communicated somehow, even if they don't realize it.
Painting by Odd Nerdrum
Mostly, in the classroom the student is not consciously trying to depict the model's emotional state. However, most artist's I'e worked with privately are very aware that they are relating their interpretation of the model's experience directly into their work. Our bodies are constantly communicating what we are thinking. Always. There's no way to escape it. Essentially, every gesture we make describes one feeling or emotion. I love that the body has a truly abstract way of doing this, especially if I'm feeling a lot of different things. Sometimes it's hard to verbalize what the gesture is saying, but we can just "get it" on a gut level. When I get on the stand my first concern is showing my current, emotional state. People assume that's it's the nudity that's revealing, but it's actually allowing my true feelings to show. It's not only the gesture that communicates the internal state of the subject, it's their mood, it's their vibe. It's the look on their face. I try really hard not to hide. I want to reveal everything I'm feeling. This is where I appreciate the nudity, because the body has such a brilliant way of conveying emotions. For example, the sensation of my ribs descending into my pelvis is meaningful to me, because there are so many ways the torso can express an attitude or feeling. So many feelings: awkwardness, sadness, confidence, trepidation. And, that's just the torso! The pelvis alone can say so much with just the smallest movement.
Again, the nudity is so key here. With clothes on, I feel like most of my vocabulary has been taken away. I can communicate much, much more if my bones and muscles are available to me. That said, the gesture of a drape can be full of emotions as well. I just adore the purity of BOOM--here're my ribs, here's my pelvis, here's my attitude. Be it demure or bombastic: nothing contrived or pre-meditated: "here's the truth right now-DRAW IT!". I'm getting excited just thinking about it - can't wait to get on the stand today.
One thing I do want to say about posing clothed that I like, is that the focus is less on the overall gesture and expression of my body, and more on what's coming out of my eyes or my overall "mood" during the pose.
Drawing by Missy Dahl
And, again, absolute stillness is essential. That's when the emotions are the most potent and intense. I'm always trying to keep my mind on something engaging because whatever is on your mind will show on your face. It's obvious that divulging my true feelings- in real time- to come through on my face is the best way, the only way. I'm constantly saying to myself, "don't pose, don't pose." Meaning, I want those feelings to pour out of my eyes. That's what artist's are looking for, right? Someone who's experiencing life. So, that's my job: to show people how I'm responding to life in this moment. It's beautiful; when they relate to what I'm feeling (at least, what they perceive I'm feeling) it makes a powerful piece of work. Then the viewer can feel it too. It only works, however, if we're being honest and sometimes I really have to fight myself to let the truth show. But, I have to or it's just not the same.
I could go on and on forever trying to describe what an experience it is to model for artists. I often feel overcome with the romance of the body. It's the subtle things that push me over the edge - the way the fingers just barely wrap around the back of a chair, or the toes curling under shyly. Or how my neck is pulling away from the rest of my body and how my head tilts tells me everything about how I feel right then: is it dreamy, languid, irritated, confrontational?
Basically, it's beautiful. Being painted, sculpted, and drawn is an intoxicating experience. My favorite part from the beginning was the stillness, and it still is. The stillness, the quiet, the focus. Feeling a moment over and over again, going
Painting by Ellen Eagle from "Pastel Painting Atelier"
deeply inside myself in that moment, and revealing it is profound.
Painting by Harvey Dinnerstein