An art model poses for any visual artist as part of the creative process, providing a visual reference for the human figure in a work of art. However, more than being simply the subject of art, models are often thought of as muses, a source of inspiration without whom the art would not exist. The most common types of art works that use models are figure drawing, figure painting, sculpture and photography, but almost any medium may be used. Art models are often paid professionals with skill and experience but are rarely employed full-time, and artists may also rely on friends and family to pose. Paid art models are usually anonymous and unacknowledged subjects of the work. Models are most frequently employed for art classes or by informal groups of artists that gather to share the expense of a model. Models are also employed privately by professional artists. Although commercial motives dominate over aesthetics in illustration, its artwork commonly employs models. For example, Norman Rockwell used his friends and neighbors as models for both his commercial and fine art work. An individual who is having their own portrait painted or sculpted is usually called a "sitter" rather than a model, since they are paying to have the work done rather than being paid to pose.
- Nude modeling
- Etiquette in academia
- Suggestive poses
- Modeling in private
- Alternative views
- Clothed modeling
- Training and selection
Throughout the history of Western art, drawing the human figure from living models was considered the most effective way to develop the skill of draftsmanship. First, it is best to draw from life, rather than copying two dimensional images such as photographs. Second, an artist has a connection to drawing another human being that cannot exist with any other subject. Models for life drawing classes are usually nude. In the classroom setting, where the purpose is to learn how to draw the human form in all the different shapes, ages and ethnicity, there are no real limitations on who the model can be. In some cases, the model may pose with various props, one or more other models, against real or artificial background, in natural or artificial light and so on.
The role of art models has changed through different eras as the meaning and importance of the human figure in art and society has changed. Nude modeling, nude art and nudity in general are at times subject to social disapproval, at least by some elements in society.
Poses can range in length from seconds to many hours. There is a drawing exercise were the model slowly but continuously moves, but the shortest is usually one minute. Short dynamic poses are used for gesture drawing exercises or warm-ups, with the model taking strenuous or precarious positions that could not be sustained for a longer pose—just long enough for the artist to quickly capture the essence of it. Drawing sessions proceed though groups of 5, 10, 15, or 20 minute poses generally for a total of three hours. Active, gestural, or challenging standing poses are often scheduled at the beginning of a session when the models' energy level is highest. Specific exercises or lesson plans may require a particular type of pose, but more often the model is expected to do a series of poses with little direction. The more a model knows about the types of exercises used to teach art, the better they become at posing.
Poses fall into three basic categories: standing, seated and reclining. Within each of these there are varying levels of difficulty, so one kind is not always easier than another. Artists and life drawing instructors will often prefer poses in which the body is being exerted, for a more dynamic and aesthetically interesting subject. Common poses such as standing twists, slouched seated poses and especially the classical contrapposto are difficult to sustain accurately for any amount of time, although it is often surprising what a skilled model can do. The model's level of experience and skill may be taken into account in determining the length of the posing session and the difficulty of the poses.
While posing, a model is expected to remain essentially motionless, and usually remains silent. Exact requirements may vary depending upon the artist or instructor, but an experienced model will not speak, wriggle, scratch, or readjust during the pose. To accommodate the physical limitations, a schedule such as 25 minutes of posing, with five- or ten-minute breaks is observed. These breaks—during which the model usually wears a robe or puts on clothing—allow the model to stretch, relax and attend to other needs.
In art schools classrooms or studios, the model usually poses on a raised platform called the model stand or dais. In sculpture studios this platform may be built to rotate to allow for a 360° view for every artist. Long poses are generally required for painting (hours) and sculpture (perhaps days). To aid in resuming a long pose after a break, chalk marks and/or masking tape are often placed on the model stand.
Models for life drawing classes usually pose nude, though visually non-obstructive personal items such as small jewelry and eyeglasses may be worn. In a job advertisement seeking nude models, this may be referred to as being "undraped" or "disrobed". Art models who pose in the nude for life drawing are also called life models or figure models.
Etiquette in academia
During art school classes or in other academic settings, strict rules are observed to maintain decorum. Photography is forbidden, and in some schools students are not allowed to also be models, as it creates the possibility of conflict for the institution. Admission to and visibility of the area where a nude model is posing is tightly controlled. Disrobing is done discreetly, and the model wears a robe when not posing. It is generally prohibited for anyone (including the instructor) to touch a model. Very close examinations are only made with the permission of the model. Some institutions allow only the instructor to speak directly with a model.
Experienced models avoid any sexually suggestive poses. Art instructors and institutions may consider the incident of a male model gaining an erection while posing cause for termination, or at any rate, grounds for not hiring him again. Any of these policies may vary in different parts of the world. In Europe and South America attitudes are more relaxed, while in China and Korea attitudes are more repressed. In non-academic settings, models may pose as requested by professional artists within the limits of the law and their own comfort. For example, the French artist Yves Klein applied paint to models' bodies which were then pressed into or dragged across canvas both as performance art and as painting technique; and in 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art, a retrospective of the work of Marina Abramović included two nude models standing in a narrow doorway through which visitors passed.
Modeling in private
The conventions for professional artists working in private are much less defined, especially as the models are often friends or family. However, artists who regularly hire strangers tend to observe art school standards in order to make models feel more comfortable, and to avoid possible legal issues. Professional artists often hire the same models on a regular basis. When a comfortable working relationship is established, many artists relax their standards and models do the same. This may be something as simple as not undressing in another room, or not wearing a robe during breaks. In addition, silence is no longer necessary if the artist is comfortable working and conversing with the model. A more collegial relationship may develop where artist and model feel that they are collaborating. However, in a private studio environment, with an artist on a deadline or with commission guidelines, stricter work standards may apply regarding punctuality and holding longer, more demanding poses, but also require higher rates of pay.
Artists frequently have used family members as models, both nude and otherwise, in creating their works and the role between male photographers and their wives as models is studied in Arthur Ollman’s book, ‘’The Model Wife. It focuses on the photographers Baron Adolph de Meyer, Alfred Stieglitz, whose model wife Georgia O’Keefe was a celebrated artist in her own right, Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Lee Friedlander, Masahisa Fukase, Seiichi Furuya, and Nicholas Nixon.
In Western countries, there is generally no objection to either sex posing nude for or drawing members of the opposite sex. However, this was not always so. In 1886, Thomas Eakins was famously dismissed from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for removing the loincloth from a male model in a mixed classroom. Similarly, Victorian modesty sometimes required the female model to pose nude with her face draped ("Masked Nude" by Eakins, for example). European arts academies did not allow women to study the nude at all until the end of the nineteenth century. Even today there remain some schools where the employment of nude models is limited (male models wearing jockstraps) or prohibited, usually for religious reasons.
All of the above is based upon a moderate position regarding the value of figure studies and nudity in art. There are also schools or studios that may be more conservative, or more liberal. Many art programs in Christian institutions consider nudity in any form to be in conflict with their beliefs, and therefore hire only clothed models for art classes, which may bring into question the completeness of the art education offered. However other Christian institutions see no conflict but rather maintain the need for nude figure studies as part of a complete classical art education, and recognize that an appreciation of the beauty of the human body is compatible with a Christian education.
James Elkins voices an alternative to classical "dispassionate" figure study by stating that the nude is never devoid of erotic meaning, and it is a fiction to pretend otherwise. Even the staunch advocate of classical aesthetics, Kenneth Clark recognized that "biological urges" were never absent even in the most chaste nude, nor should they be unless all life is drained from the work. However, most models maintain that posing nude need not be any more sexual than any other coed social situation as long as all participants maintain a mature attitude. However, decorum is not always maintained when either a model or the students are not familiar with the often unspoken rules. Most models dread posing for incoming freshmen who, having never encountered classroom nudity, respond immaturely.
Acceptance of the erotic is apparent in the work and behavior of some artists, for example Picasso was also famous for having a series of model/muse/mistresses through his life: Marie-Thérèse Walter, Fernande Olivier, Dora Maar, and Françoise Gilot. The painter John Currin, whose work is often erotic, combines images from popular culture and references to his wife, Rachel Feinstein.
A feminist view is the male gaze, which asserts that nudes are inherently voyeuristic, with the viewer in the place of the powerful male gazing upon the passive female subject.
There has been controversy regarding the status of photography as a fine arts medium that is reflected in the unwillingness of some nude models for other fine art media to also pose for photography. The experience of nude modeling for an amateur photographer is different from that of posing for figure drawing/painting. Traditional media create a single image that is not a true likeness of the individual model, but photographs require a release in order to protect the model's right to privacy. The hourly rate of pay for models posing for fine art photography is much higher than for other media, although less than for commercial photography.
Occasionally the distinction of participating in Fine Art may make a young amateur model willing to pose for a photographer, with unexpected consequences; examples being Vanessa Williams and Madonna. A signed print of one of the nude photographs of Madonna taken by Lee Friedlander in 1979 sold at auction in 2012 for $37,000. Although largely a result of her fame, the model does not share in this increased value of the artwork.
Painting classes, and professional artists doing finished works often require clothed or costumed models who take poses that may be sustained until the work is completed. This creates some demand for clothed models in those schools that continue to teach academic painting methods. Some models may promote their services based upon having interesting or varied costumes. Clothing is required in public venues, such as Dr Sketchy's Anti-Art School, but occurs in more traditional settings as well, such as the fund-raising marathons sponsored by the Bay Area Models Guild. Other than costumes, the work requirements and conditions of clothed models for art are identical to that of nude models.
Professional portraits generally have a client or "sitter" rather than a model as the subject; and are now often done from photographs at least in part, although artists prefer to have at least some hours of live sitting particularly at the beginning to better capture the personality, and at the end for final touches.
Training and selection
Most models learn on the job, but many have experience in the performing arts, athletics, or yoga that provide a basis for posing, such as strength, flexibility, and a well-developed sense of kinesthesis.
In some countries there are organizations which concern themselves with the competence, conduct and reliability of art models. An example is the Register of Artists' Models (RAM) in the United Kingdom. Some basic training is offered to beginners and membership is by audition – to test competence, not to discriminate on grounds of physical characteristics. RAM also acts as an important employment exchange for models and publishes the 'RAM Guidelines', which are widely referred to by models and employers. A similar organization in the United States, the Bay Area Models Guild in California, was founded in 1947. Groups also exist in Australia, Sweden, Washington, D.C., and several other cities in the United States.
These groups may also attempt to establish minimum rates of pay and working conditions, but only rarely have models been sufficiently organized to go on strike.
Unlike fashion modeling, modeling in an art school classroom is for the purpose of learning how to draw humans of different shapes, ages, and ethnicity. Thus, there are few limitations on who the model could be. However, younger and better looking models are often more likely to be hired and re-hired, other things being equal. Elderly or obese models are not well received by classes of young students, although they may be in demand by experienced artists.
Children are genearally excluded from modeling nude for classes. The minimum age can vary, but is often 15 to 18. Despite being nonsexual in nature, this may be influenced by the age of consent (i.e. at or slightly below). Children are not good candidates for art modeling since they lack the ability to hold still. A small number of photographers have done fine art works of nude children, under special circumstances, such as Sally Mann photographing her own children. Less well-known photographers have been charged as criminals for photos of their own children. Jock Sturges photographed entire families of naturists which lead to an FBI investigation. Some writers characterize many of these images as sexualizing children regardless of artistic merit.
Gender roles and stereotypes in society are reflected in a different experience for male and female models, and different responses when those not in the arts learn that someone is a nude model. However, both male and female models tend to keep their modeling career distinct from their other social interactions, if for different reasons. Attitudes toward male nudity, issues of homosexuality when male artists work from male models, and some bias towards the female form in art may lead to less opportunity for male models, and works of art that include male nudity are much less marketable. However, historically this has not been the case (See below).
The Greeks, who had the naked body constantly before them in the exercises of the gymnasium, had far less need of professional models than the moderns; but it is scarcely likely that they could have attained the high level reached by their works without constant study from nature. It was probably in Ancient Greece that models were first used. The story told of Zeuxis by Valerius Maximus, who had five of the most beautiful virgins of the city of Crotone offered him as models for his picture of Helen, proves their occasional use. The names of some of these models of the era are themselves known, such as the beautiful Phryne who modeled for many paintings and sculptures.
The nude virtually disappeared from Western art during the Middle Ages due to a combination of civil disorder and the attitude of the early Christians. This changed with the Renaissance and the rediscovery of classical antiquity, when painters generally made use of their relatives and friends as models, of which many examples might be quoted from Venice, Florence, Rome and other places, and the stories of Titian and the duchess of Ferrara and of Botticelli and Simonetta Vespucci, go to show that ladies of exalted rank were sometimes not averse to having their charms immortalized by the painter's brush. The story of the love between Raphael and his mistress-model Margarita Luti (La Fornarina) is "the archetypal artist-model relationship of Western tradition".
Art modeling as an occupation appeared in the late Renaissance when the establishment of schools for the study of the human figure created a regular demand, and since that time the remuneration offered has ensured a continual supply. However, academy models were only men until the 19th Century, as were the students. The status of nude models has fluctuated with the value and acceptance of nudity in art. Maintaining the classical ideals of Greece and Rome into the Christian Era, nudity was prominent in the decoration of Catholic churches in the Renaissance, only to be covered up with draperies or fig leaves by more prudish successors. The Protestant Reformation went even further, destroying many artworks. From being a possibly glamorous occupation celebrating beauty, being a nude model was at other times equivalent to prostitution, practiced by persons without the means to gain more respectable employment. The costumed models used to create historical paintings may not have been a distinct group, since nude studies were done in preparation for any figure painting.
In 19th century Paris, a number of models earned a place in art history. Victorine Meurent became a painter herself after posing for several works, including two of the most infamous: Manet's Olympia and Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Joanna Hiffernan (c. 1843 – after 1903) was an Irish artists' model and muse who was romantically linked with American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and French painter Gustave Courbet. She is the model for Whistler's painting Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl and is rumored to be the model for Courbet's painting L'Origine du monde. Suzanne Valadon, also a painter, modeled for Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and Edgar Degas. She is best known as the figure in Renoir's Dance at Bougival, and she was the mother of the painter Maurice Utrillo.
When Victorian attitudes took hold in England, studies with a live model became more restrictive than they had been in the prior century, limited to advanced classes of students that had already proved their worthiness by copying old master paintings and drawing from plaster casts. This is in part because many schools were publicly funded, so decisions were under the scrutiny of non-artists. Modeling was not respectable, and even less so for women. During the same period, the French art atelier system allowed any art student to work from life in a less formal atmosphere, and also admitted women as students. Live figure studies only returned to its classical status in art education throughout the England, Europe and the United States with the approach of the 20th Century.
In the postmodern era, the nude has returned to gain some acceptance in the art world, but not necessarily the art model. Figure drawing is offered in most art schools, but may not be required for a fine art degree. Peter Steinhart says that in trendy galleries, the nude has become passé, while according to Wendy Steiner there has been a revival in the importance of the figure as a source of beauty in contemporary art. Some established living artists work from models, but more work from photographs, or their imagination. Yet privately held open drawing sessions with a live model remain as popular as ever.
While there have been movies that exploited the artist/model stereotype, a few have more accurately portrayed the working relationship.