How We Perceive Nudity

November 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

In my evolution of what I like to call “Gypsy Jobs” my latest addition is working as a model for the art school up the hill. I have always had a fascination with Bohemian Paris, artists and their muses, Kiki de Montparnasse. So after several months of thinking about it, I finally brought in my application.

On my first day I had two back-to-back three-hour classes. Bright and early that morning, when I usually wake up, I began with an open studio, monitored by a student. There is always that initial funny feeling when you first take off your robe, like here goes nothing. They started with 10 one minute poses, then 5 ten minute poses, and 2 twenty minute poses. During the longer poses I began to hallucinate. I was staring at a speck on the blanket covering the stage. The speck started to move. I was convinced it had come to life as a bug. In the next class, I stared out the window at a tree and soon I was a heron flying through the large open center of its branches.

I didn’t feel awkward once I was on the stage, only when I was waiting to go on. The pain however was another thing. By the end of twenty minutes, even in a basic standing pose, my feet fell asleep and my legs felt stuck when I was finally able to move. I realized you can’t rest your weight on one straight leg or else you’ll hyperextend and cause an injury. Even though it’s less striking, I’ve learned to always keep both knees slightly bent.

I’ve gotten a lot of compliments since then on my stillness as a model. Having an active mind saves me. I focus on a point, do breathing-exercises to work through the pain, and then distract myself by thinking of interesting memories or ideas for my writing. Now that I model two to four times a week, it feels completely natural, and I forget that I’m not wearing any clothes. It actually feels cozy.

Last week at a long pose session I walked through the class to see their interpretations. In the drawings my weight ranged from 110 to 160. One woman was drawn to the more Rubenesque, and said she tends to draw what she is working with, as in her own body type. The men drew me much thinner than the women. I thought of our differing perceptions – how women put themselves in the females position, and men see women with rose-colored glasses.

The experience of posing got me thinking about how we interpret nudity in our society. Years ago my friend took two of us girls to a nude beach in New Jersey. It was a gorgeous place. I found it beautiful that people of all ages, shapes, and sizes were completely out there. I swam topless and hung out with an older guy in the waves, having fun. Later on at a restaurant I saw him again with his clothes on and had to look twice. He looked like a Senator or an Investment Banker, though I’d had no way to interpret him without his clothes. Now we were back in our hierarchies and I wanted to go back to the beach where we were all equals.

I had a phase when I lived in Hoboken, where I’d drink so much gin I became inspired to take off all my clothes in the confines of my apartment with friends. I guess I liked the feeling of absolute freedom. But the guys interpreted it to mean that I was ready to go. Climb on in or take a number and come back another day. I look back on my own spontaneity in amazement – a desperate need for an adrenaline rush. And it is interesting how nudity outside of the confines of an art class, a nude beach or a hospital is interpreted as sexual. But nudity is much more nuanced than that. Nudity also brings to mind our own mortality, our equality as human beings, the mystery of existence, anatomy, art, beauty, the poetry of motion and form.

Friends and family may not quite understand my job or how I can feel comfortable without clothes. My mother still asks my husband, “Are you okay with this?” But for the first time in years I am enjoying a job and looking forward to going to work. I get to learn more about something I love – art, and be in an academic environment with enormously talented people. I take romantic walks afterwards, feeling poetic, drinking coffee and eating crepes with enough time left in the day to write for a while before dinner. When I’m not at the school, I’m thinking about the next time I get to be there, creating new poses for the students.

It’s an instance where life led me to two books. The Nude Female Figure and The Nude Figure by Mark Edward Smith. They are both visual references for the artist working without a model. I am learning the range of the human form, thinking of ways to inspire the artists. And now, I find myself returning to the place where I began – painting and drawing figures just as I did when I was a kid and was obsessed with fashion illustration and portraiture.

Artists of all ages are honored to be able to work from a live model and respect the opportunity. I get the sense that they are grateful for the model’s bravery. And in the stillness of a pose my mind is in motion, building ideas and images, undisturbed, in perfect meditation.

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