The Naked and the Nude


A portrait of a lady – well, three ladies and one guy – who model for art classes

by Victoria Beklempis, April 23, 2008

USF doesn’t mind if students take their clothes off for money on campus – in fact, the University even pays for it.

But these students don’t strip or make porn. Instead, they’re what are called figure models – nude models whom expert and aspiring artists have portrayed in the Western world since Classical Greece to perfect their craft.

Marrissa Kaczmarek is one of these students.

The former USF student, called ‘Kaz’ by her friends, now models for art classes at the University of Central Florida, where she’s a junior majoring in studio art. She used to model on campus when she attended USF.

Kaczmarek, along with six or seven other figure models at UCF, and about 10 models at USF, said she fills a continual need in the art community – the need for people to pose and be painted, sketched and sculpted in the buff, so aspiring artists can learn how the human body is put together. The thought is that, with enough understanding of how they’re put together, these artists will eventually be able to paint, sketch, draw and sculpt bodies – be they nude or clothed – and other forms.

As traditional as figure models’ presence in college and professional art classes may be, some models said they occasionally confront misconceptions about figure modeling – such as the idea that nudity is pornographic.

Overall, though, several figure models interviewed by the Oracle said they love their work, as they feel it helps young artists develop skill and foster an aesthetic ideal – the appreciation of human beauty.

Kaczmarek said she had always been “accepting of the human body,” and wasn’t nervous the first time she modeled for a class.

After modeling on campus, a friend told her about a listing of figure models used by other schools and groups of artists.

“Getting into it isn’t particularly hard,” she said. “You just kind of want to do it.”

Her parents weren’t thrilled with the news.

“They were not very accepting of any of the nude forms in art or any in real life,” she said.

But the idea eventually grew on them. Well, a little, at least.

“It’s not like pornography in any way, you know,” she said. “It’s art – it’s beauty – it’s real.”

So figure modeling is easy to get into, according to Kaczmarek. But, when they get to a session, what do models do, how do they prepare and what exactly goes on in the room?

Ryann Slauson, a fine arts major focusing on sculpture who also works as a figure model, said she sits for one three-hour session per week. She gets to her appointments early, so she can feel comfortable in the room.

There’s usually a room where she changes out of her clothes and into a robe before the session.

And there’s usually music, and people bring in mixes they think she’ll enjoy.

For both drawing and painting, Slauson said, a session will start off with what are called “gestures” – quick poses lasting anywhere from ten seconds to a minute that get students’ hands warmed up and used to drawing for the session.

The length of the poses gradually increases – from five or 10 minutes to a half-hour, depending on the teacher.

Once, Slauson said, she did a 15-hour pose spanning three weeks: three hours per class for five classes.

“It was also really fun for me to see the outcome of the paintings,” she said.

Kaczmarek also gets to sessions early, and brings a pillow and blanket to use for her poses.

Sometimes art teachers provide blankets to pose upon, but she prefers using her own. She also has a warm robe, which she thinks is very important.

“It’s really all about staying warm,” she said.

Ginger’s modeling story lacks spice, but has a rich aesthetic flavor Ditto the bare-bones parts of the how-I-became-a-figure-model story for Ginger MacConnell.

This 47-year-old studio art undergrad focusing in sculpture was studying drawing at St. Petersburg College’s Clearwater campus when she told her professor, John Grass, that she wanted to give figure modeling a go.

“I said to him: ‘I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve always wanted to pose nude.'”

Grass told her that prospective models were put on a list and generally given work immediately.

MacConnell, a believer in reincarnation, said she thinks her interest in nude modeling stems from a spiritual connection to past lives.

“I just think there’s so many souls and we recycle them,” she said. “Perhaps I was a figure model in another life. Perhaps my paths crossed that way.”

For MacConnell, being a figure model also allowed her to see the way her body changed – and in a way she wasn’t particularly happy with.

“I really could see the weight that I had gained, so that was one more motivator for me to lose weight,” said MacConnell, who attributed her weight gain to time spent in a wheelchair.

Slauson fell into figure modeling in much the same way: She saw a flier advertising positions and decided to apply.

Unlike Kaczmarek and MacConnell, however, Slauson said she was nervous during her first modeling session, but that the support of those around her made it work – and now she’d like to do more modeling, even off campus.

“The teacher I modeled for was really nice, and she was really supportive, and I had one pose the whole entire class so it wasn’t too difficult to hold those poses,” she said. “It wasn’t that bad. I got to listen to music ? It was a good introduction.”

Now, Slauson said, her mom treats her figure modeling without concern, “like a good story to tell my grandkids.”

Erik Myxter, a figure model at a session Friday, added: “I don’t really know if my dad knows. I don’t talk about these experiences with my father that much.”

Myxter, a national exchange student from Humboldt State University now studying at USF, said he had been interested in figure modeling for a while before getting into it, and that it was his way to understand the visual arts, as he was more familiar with the performing arts.

“Stick figures is what I’m good at,” he said of his artistic abilities. “It’s my way of getting involved in the fine arts.”

Is figure modeling porn? Kaczmarek said she thinks there’s confusion about figure models, and distinguished between the motivations behind working as a figure model versus stripping or making pornography.

“I think there’s a grave misconception about that,” she said. “The most beautiful pictures are of the nude body. Strippers do it for different means, I guess you could say – because in the end, stripping is for pornography and nude modeling is for art.”

MacConnell said she feels strongly about distinguishing nudity in art from nudity in pornography, and that the latter was a symptom of our socioeconomic system.

“I don’t care for pornography; I don’t personally enjoy it or need it or partake in it,” she said. “I think it’s real crass. It’s another exploitation that happens in the capitalist world.”

More challenging for drawing the line between art and pornography, MacConnell said, is a prevailing notion that nudity, regardless of the medium, is profane.

“You kind of battle with that whole pornography thing, because by conservative standards, any nudity is pornography,” she said.

Katia Setti, who is majoring in painting, said she thinks figure modeling is necessary for artists learning to draw the body, but recognizes the controversy.

“As a painter and as a drawer, I believe any student who does focus on those majors needs to know the human body and how to represent it,” she said.

“That’s a good question,” Setti said. She explained that she still doesn’t think figure modeling constitutes pornography “unless you were trying to instigate pornography. The wrong feelings, I guess, turn somebody on by looking at the drawing.”

Setti, who is also president of the Filberts, a club that offers figure modeling sessions to the public for a small fee on Fridays, said it may be more of an issue for non-art students who are not used to figure models.

“I do think it’s important, but in my mind, it still remains controversial as a practice. You can still draw a painting from a picture, so is it necessary?”

Setti said it is, because of the differences between drawing and painting people based upon pictures and live shapes.

“Pictures tend to flatten out objects, so you don’t get to see the real lighting, or the three dimensionality of real objects,” she said.

A brief history of modeling without clothes Al Gury, chair of painting and associate professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, master lecturer at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and figure artist, said figure modeling is an integral part of fine arts education – so much so that the bulk of academy freshman and sophomore education is focused on the human figure.

Gury said figure modeling in the Western world dates back to Classical era, when Greeks and Romans used figure models as subjects for their statues. These models would often be famous Olympic athletes or great beauties of the day.

He also said that these figure models were nude, and similar to today’s figure models, “because in both cultures, the nude body was considered a reflection of divine beauty and was considered a good thing.”

This concept of the human body, like the role of nudity in art, has changed throughout the years, Gury said.

With the development of early Christian culture after Constantine in the 300s and 400s A.D., Gury said, the nudes of the Greeks and Romans were treated as “sinful and scandalous.”

Artists continued to use models, Gury said, but not nude ones, and when a nude was portrayed in art, it would not be a real depiction.

“It would be somebody from the artist’s imagination, lover or wife, but kept quiet because the idea was the nude model, it smacks of sexuality,” he said.

The nude didn’t return until the 12th century, Gury said, when Westerners – mainly those in Italy – became interested in Greco-Roman culture again.

“One of the ways they manifested that was to start studying the body – studying anatomy again, studying the nude figure,” he said.

It was the work of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci that made the nude figure a revered figure once again, elevating it “to the status they once held with the Greeks and the Romans.”

Thus the 16th century heralded the return of the nude model.

“That’s when we really see the coming back into common use of the nude artist’s model,” he said.

Since then, Gury said, figure modeling has had its fair share of controversies – which explains, in part, why there are more female figure models today even though most figure models throughout history were males, as “it was often considered unseemly for a woman.”

The big change came in 19th century France, when there was an interest in female beauty among the Impressionists, Gury said. In the 20th century, particularly in America, on the other hand, there was anxiety about the nude male figure.

The nude male figure model began making a comeback only in the 1960s, Gury said, with female painters of the 1970s and 1980s.

Not quite a sketchy afternoon Doris Goren was one of the seven artists who attended Friday’s Filberts’ meeting. The 86-year-old Brandon resident used to do fashion illustration. Her favorite art is portrait drawing, and she now attends Filberts’ sessions to keep busy.

“I do this for fun,” she said, “just to keep my hand good.”

Goren comes to Filberts’ sessions with her friend, Martha Sagues. She said she fell in love with art in her last year of college, but it was to late to switch from studying sociology.

“I started learning how to paint,” Sagues said. She has since taken art classes ranging from printmaking to ceramics through a USF program that allows seniors to take free classes.

There’s no cover-up: USF is OK with nudity in classrooms USF doesn’t mind that students pose as figure models in art classes, said Michael Hoad, vice president of communications for USF.

The basic policy for nudity on campus – be it in a play, a film or an art class – is that students should be warned and made aware of nudity.

“You know you’re walking in and you’re not going to be totally shocked that the model is taking their clothes off – that’s the intent of the practice,” he said.

Hoad also said the University recognizes figure modeling as having a role in arts education.

“From an academic point of view, there’s a strong tradition and a strong belief that in the arts, where you are attempting to sort of deal with human life and the emotions of human life, that nudity is kind of a part of that,” he said. “It’s a very powerful part of human existence.”