Suki the life-modelArt & Life3. Drawing bodies: erotic, not spiritual?


3. Drawing bodies: erotic, not spiritual? — 1 Comment

  1. These were the 24 Responses from the original blog. They have been copied here to the newly revised website. However, unfortunately some of the original comments contained images that have sadly been lost. It is possible to add further comments below.

    1. Hilda Sheehan says:
    May 11, 2012 at 2:55 am
    Really enjoying your site. It is totally fascinating, surprising and confronting my naked difficulties!
    2. Nic Carlyle says:
    May 11, 2012 at 5:44 am
    I remember one course (and I always get the awkward positions) where I primarily had to “paint the smile on her lips”. A technical challenge, including how not to graft a gynaecology textbook illustration on to a bodily context. Each person has their limits and this is mine. I’ve read anthropology textbooks with illustrations of primates’ bodily sexual overtures: and I’ve thought a) I couldn’t draw such a behaviour and b) how did you keep the monkey still?
    3. Nic Carlyle says:
    May 11, 2012 at 4:55 pm
    … Actually, the above instance was the one and only time (to date) when I’ve felt …er …uneasy in the studio with a life model.
    The model was not a professional life-model, though she had been an acrobat and was fantastic at holding vibrant, energetic poses. It was an extra-mural course, for the newly retired and nearly dead. They were quite happy doing postage-stamp paintings of youthful fantasies of Rita Heyworth. I was the youngest male by about thirty years.
    The model was in a recumbent, half curl – lying on her back, breasts pendulous, with one leg crooked over a straight leg below. Anyway, I had the awkward pose of viewing the model looking straight down her body to me, and my view of primarily two buttocks framing perfectly rounded labia et al. Bizarre, as the facial smile was parallel with… the other smile.
    As the session went on, I felt really uncomfortable as the model got bored, relaxed, and stared at me. I honestly got through the session by thinking ‘I’m British, I’m married, and there’s tea and cake in forty minutes’ time’. Laugh if you will, but really it was quite unnerving. The model can wield quite a bit of power.
    ◦ Bel says:
    May 11, 2012 at 10:12 pm
    “and stared at me” (From Nic’s comment above)
    I wonder where the life model looks? Is it a faux pas to make eye contact with an artist? As an artist, it must be unnerving to have a model staring into your eyes as you try to draw or paint.
    Why is that? Is the model just an object – a still life? Does eye contact break that illusion? Does it remind the artist that there is a real person there? Should not the model’s personality become part of what is being represented?
    As a photographer one often wants the model to stare directly into the lens and thus into one’s eye through the lens. It can give power to the photograph. Though of course there are many different examples where the model also becomes an object in photography.
    Should not artists and photographers be confident in knowing they are representing a person and not just an object?
    ▪ Suki says:
    May 12, 2012 at 6:16 am
    Re: the model making eye contact: there are the famous examples of this such as ‘Dejeuner sur l’herbe’ which have merited much analysis; the analysis typically going – ‘she’s staring out at the viewer because she’s a prostitute’. Bel draws attention to an interesting difference between photographic and life modelling. The moment of ‘capture’ for a photographer is a moment; it is quite different from the hours-long pose of the life-model in which the eye contact of the model with the artist would forge a rather different relationship…
    ◦ Suki says:
    May 11, 2012 at 10:29 pm
    Thanks for these comments, Nic and Bel. When in pose I never stare at anyone. Normally I go (eventually) a very long way away in my head from that room and its people. I never pose smiling (did she really smile, that model?) and I never consciously catch anyone’s eye.
    I won’t deny that there is nonetheless an engagement, on some level, between myself and the draw-ers. Certainly there is. That’s what this blog is essentially about. There’s giving and taking. Sensuality.
    I hope, though, that I never unnerve anyone so much that they have to think about their marriage vows and cups of tea while drawing me. Whichever detail of me is being drawn, this pasty white, ratty body under strip lighting is no turn-on.
    4. Nic Carlyle says:
    May 12, 2012 at 7:07 am
    As mentioned, the model was not a professional life model… which is perhaps the subject of a future post: what constitutes ‘professionalism’ in the practice of modelling?
    ◦ Suki says:
    May 12, 2012 at 8:19 am
    Interesting point, Nic. How to define a ‘professional’ life model? There’s no training. How I behave in the life room is instinctive: I have decided what is appropriate behaviour. Others might decide differently. Maybe ‘professional’ can only be defined as – ‘this is the main way I earn my crust’.
    5. Cal Wallace says:
    May 12, 2012 at 11:43 am
    I’m not an artist and have never drawn a nude model. I admire and adore the female form, though I have to be truthful and admit that I’m seeing it from an erotic viewpoint. I expect if I was to draw a naked woman I would probably find it either exciting – if I was attracted to her.
    As for the direct stare – I’ve seen some work (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) from the Dutch masters, where the eyes follow you across the room – surely those models had to be looking at the artist? There must be occasions when the model is required to maintain eye contact, so the artist must be able remain objective.
    6. SUKI says:
    May 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm
    Why are no women chipping in to this discussion? Does drawing naked bodies only throw up issues for men? Does your sexual preference (whichever gender you are) always shape your experience of drawing from life? I suppose I mean, do you draw differently if you are drawing a body you are attracted to? We are now circling the taboo subject…
    7. marilyn brophy says:
    May 13, 2012 at 10:46 am
    Spiritual or erotic? I am definitely on the side of spiritual. ‘Trust’ in spade-loads is, for me, what its all about. In a world where it is increasingly difficult to trust other peoples’ motives I find a couple of hours spent in a room full of artists with a life-model revives my spirit enormously. As we are the only ‘animals’ on earth who clothe ourselves so comprehensively it is a real privilege to have another human being who is not only prepared to disrobe in front of us but actually happy to do so and then stay still long enough for us to study every nook and cranny.
    Whatever the quality of my work at any given session, I always leave with a warm glow, having had my faith in human nature revived. A big thank-you to all models but especially to Sue who is so uninhibited that I would defy any artists to feel embarrassed in her presence.
    8. Suki says:
    May 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm
    Thanks for this Marilyn. Your comment veers off in a different direction from the men’s contributions. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
    9. Nic Carlyle says:
    May 13, 2012 at 3:35 pm
    Cats from the moon and dogs from Pluto.
    10. gerard says:
    May 15, 2012 at 11:28 am
    could Courbet have painted his ‘Origin of the world’ without sexual feeling/acknowledgement from both artist and model? I was awestruck when I came across it in, is it, the Musee d’Orsay ?
    11. Helen Wheatley says:
    May 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm
    It does not really make much difference if a model makes eye contact unless one is drawing the eyes. Otherwise one is too absorbed to notice. Even drawing the eyes the concern is to get the shape right, the way the lid falls over the round ball and the shadow in the socket.
    Whether there is erotic tension between artist and model is not so important – one kind of drawing comes from eroticism, another kind from an impersonal response. Each can be good or bad as drawings go. What’s important is for the drawing to be good, to express or describe what interests. The viewer may respond differently, but that tells us about the viewer.
    ◦ Suki says:
    May 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm
    Thanks Gerard and Helen for your comments. Again I feel that a gender divide – gulf – is being illustrated here.
    Or maybe I am looking too avidly for differences in male and female attitudes to the naked model? As you say, Helen, “one kind of drawing no doubt comes from eroticism, another kind from an impersonal response” – but perhaps this is to do with artists’ differing personalities, not their gender…
    12. John R Gordon says:
    May 16, 2012 at 4:59 pm
    As I recall, when doing life-drawing, the only moment that had frisson was the model (whether male or female) actually slipping out of his or her dressing-gown: that seemed somehow the erotic moment to me: dis-robing. Once that was done, it quickly became nudist/naturist & so (to me) wholly un-erotic & matter-of-fact – & then you’re at your work thinking, oh, bollocks the thigh’s too long or oh dear, something’s gone wrong with this foot…
    For myself, believing the spiritual to be manifest within the physical I think it is a modest spiritual experience. Though much of that is about one’s own spirit, as the contemplation of drawing a tangle of greenery would also have its spiritual aspect, I think. To really look is an usual activity in these glancing times…
    13. Ali Mantle says:
    May 16, 2012 at 9:47 pm
    Neither erotic nor spiritual really, for me. I always feel very privileged to be in the model’s company and to have the opportunity to explore the human form by drawing the person before me. I feel a huge amount of respect for the model… for their self confidence, for the way they stay still and hold amazing poses. I think it’s a skilled job.
    I become totally absorbed in the process of drawing and observing. It’s rather like a meditation. I think the model has every right to stare back if they want to. Why should it be one way? Surely the artist needs to learn to sit comfortably in their body and their role as well…
    ◦ Suki says:
    May 17, 2012 at 9:33 pm
    Thanks for your replies John and Ali.
    Re: de-robing being the single moment of erotic tension: I am SO AWARE of this, and always have been, and for that reason I pull off my teeshirt dress really early on and wander about for a minute unclothed because I don’t want there to BE a tantalising moment of de-robing. I do not want it to be noticed.
    As to the parallels with meditation, Ali: yes, I totally agree that life-drawing is – or appears to be, from my perspective – a meditative practice on the part of the draw-ers. I love to witness that total absorption. Comes back to the term ‘spiritual’ again.
    14. Lois Brothwell says:
    May 23, 2013 at 3:13 pm
    What woman wouldn’t want to be painted by Colin Morgan.
    15. Francis says:
    July 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm
    It has never been mentioned by any artists drawing or painting me that they found the experience the least bit erotic. That said, I did notice from one woman’s smile and thanks that she seemed to have enjoyed the last but one session and the (woman) organiser was quick to want to rebook me. And after my last session a young woman told me that she had ‘enjoyed’ the last pose. But maybe I’m reading in things that aren’t there, easily done.
    As for me, I am sometimes aware that I’m on full view in front of a lot of women, young and not so young, and sometimes afterwards I think … did I really do that? But then I think that I have to keep doing that so that I get so used to doing that that I don’t question whether I did that or am able to do that.
    And for this post that’s that.
    ◦ Suki says:
    July 30, 2013 at 7:22 pm
    Would it not be breaking a huge taboo in the life-room to even draw attention to the topic of erotica? WHO is ever going to say – I found this evening’s session erotic.
    Generally I feel that I’m in a workplace in which people are slaving hard. It’s about as erotic as the production line in a car plant.
    16. Francis says:
    July 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm
    I think we all have private thoughts that we don’t reveal, so we can never be quite sure what someone is thinking, or not, or what their motives are. Artists are human, they might be busy working on something but they can still think, gosh he/she is nice, oh that’s a nice whatever. As can models.
    ◦ Suki says:
    July 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm
    Yes I think this is undeniable. And I am really not troubled by people having erotic thoughts in the liferooms where I work. It’s just humans being human. So what. I might be having my private thoughts too.

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