By Rachel Vinciguerra
Tucked away in Edgar Hall, on the edge of campus, few students outside of the fine arts department have even heard about the student employment opportunities for nude figure models, one of the highest-paying jobs on campus.
Figure modeling gives students self-confidence when classmates depict of their human forms.
There are usually three models for the figure drawing classes employed through the art department, according to Frank Hobbs, associate professor of fine arts. Traditionally they take three-hour shifts posing for classes on weeknights. A position becomes available when a current figure model graduates or steps down.
Hobbs said the requirements for modeling are minimal, but a talented model can bring a new level to the figure drawing class.
“The entry level qualification for modeling is simply the ability to sit without moving for a long period of time, and to mentally deal with the tedium of doing nothing for long periods of time,” he said. “But a really great model is so much more than just a body to draw. They can be truly inspiring.”
Sophomore Katie Butt took the job a few weeks ago and has posed three times this semester.
She said she heard about the opportunity through her roommate, an art major. She is the third figure model hired for the semester.
Butt said she has always been comfortable with her own body and that was never an issue when she took the job. She said there is a deliberate reason there are always three figure models at a time.
“They want different models who pose differently and have different body types so the artists have different things to draw,” she said.
Butt said she has found the experience empowering and makes her feel good to be able to take on this job.
“There’s a big difference being comfortable in your own body and being able to share that image with so many people,” she said.
Butt said when she tells people about her new job, most people agree that it’s empowering, but a few will reply with snarky or sexual comments.
She said she thinks if more people on campus knew about the position it would be more accepted—it is more work than many students might think.
“Being that still for that long is hard on muscles,” Butt said.
Hobbs said winter temperatures can also be a challenge for the models but he doesn’t think that takes away from the empowering experience most students have.
Junior Katasha Ross agreed. Ross has been a figure model for almost a year and took the figure drawing class before she became a model. She said she always wondered if she could be brave enough for nude modeling.
Like Butt, Ross heard about the position in the spring of 2012 from a friend and current model. She said she was nervous and excited for her first modeling experience.
“No one had ever seen me naked before,” she said. “I already had pretty good self confidence, though, and after posing for the first class I wasn’t nervous anymore.”
Ross said when she is at work as the model, she is “objectified in a good way.”
“There’s always a wall,” she said. “I’m the model and I’m on the podium. It makes it a safe environment.”
Ross said the honest environment also makes her vulnerable. Out of common courtesy to the models and to the students in the class, she said there are some rules.
“Because you’re exposed and vulnerable there are unspoken rules, like don’t touch the models or don’t take pictures,” she said.
Ross said the concern is that pictures could be spread and that is not art and opens up the discussion of naked or nude.
“It’s the process that makes figure drawing art, not photography,” she said.
Senior Danielle Muzina said she has taken three levels of figure drawing over her four years at OWU because she loves the human body and wanted to study how it works through drawing.
“I love to work from life because it offers a dynamic viewpoint as opposed to photography,” she said.
Senior Andrew Wilson is a fine arts major with a metals concentration. He said he has never taken figure drawing and dislikes it as an art form—he prefers a camera, clay or paint.
But like Ross and Butt, he heard about the position from a friend and inquired because he has always been comfortable in his own body as a swimmer. He began figure modeling his sophomore year and is still modeling as a senior.
Wilson said the students in the class aren’t looking at the models sexually; they are looking at them as human forms.
“I just kept thinking, ‘What can they do—look at you?’” he said. “They’re looking at movement in space and light in space. They’re not looking at you as a sexualized object.”
Muzina said figure drawing is “a search for the most truthful way” to examine and portray the human body.
“Viewing nude models is a deliberate exploration of the shapes, lines and tones that make up the human form,” she said.
Ross said an artistic eye is empowering for her body image at times.
“If I gain weight, for example, when I worry about five or ten pounds it doesn’t matter to anyone else,” she said. “I can look at their drawings and be impressed that someone sees me that way when I might feel a little bloated that day.”
Wilson said he’s had an empowering experience like Butt and Ross—although everyone has issues with their bodies figure drawing erases some of those concerns for him.
“With figure drawing it doesn’t matter,” he said. “They still need to get the human form. It’s not about idealization; it’s about honest forms and shapes.”
As a male figure model, Wilson said he comes up against issues of masculinity and gender when figure modeling. Because “male genitalia functions differently,” there are different necessities that go along with it.
Senior Alyssa Ferrando did not know there were nude figure models employed at OWU, but she does not have a problem with it.
“As long as the figure model and the artists are both comfortable with it and it’s professional,” she said. “I think drawing and painting people is different from other objects so it allows them to develop those skills as an artist.”
Wilson said professionalism is critical for his job.
He said the models are there as objects to be drawn, but are also allowing themselves to be vulnerable, and the students and the professor are very aware of that.
Ross said the class and her professors maintained their professionalism, even when a stinkbug landed on her stomach.
“I made panicked eye contact with the professor’s wife and one student asked the professor and very carefully reached over and flicked the bug off…very careful not to touch me,” she said.
All the current models said they were comfortable in their own skin before they began modeling.
Senior Kathleen Dalton isn’t currently modeling because of scheduling conflicts with classes, but she said she’s found the experience liberating. Dalton said she feels comfortable with her body because she is a dancer.
“As someone who’s very involved in dance and the human body it wasn’t entirely foreign to me,” she said.
Hobbs said dancers often have an easier time adjusting to the position.
“Dancers usually make great models because they’re used to thinking about the body as an expressive vehicle,” he said.
“For anyone who is new to fine art modeling, it can be a real learning experience about the body.”
Freshman Daisy Glaeser said she thinks figure modeling is an empowering experience, but she can see where others might think differently.
“I think students have one of two main perceptions: either they judge the models for being easily unashamed of their bodies, or they think they are commendable for having the strength to be looked at naked for an extended period of time,” she said.
Hobbs said he imagines that some students might “raise an eyebrow” when they hear that other students are being paid to model nude.
“We have long-standing societal ‘norms’ about nudity and modesty which modeling seems to violate, so there’s a possibility that a student who disrobes for an art class might be misunderstood by her peers; but college students are all about testing norms and inherited dogmas, and for the most part I think everyone is pretty understanding of the purposes of it,” he said.
Hobbs said he thinks that having nude models, aside from their obvious necessity in an art department, allows students to tackle some of their preconceptions about nudity.
“We’re culturally programmed from childhood to equate nudity with sexual exploitation, and a drawing class may be the first time we’re forced to question that assumption and see that there’s more to the story,” he said.
Muzina said she has been friends with all the models for her classes and it doesn’t make her look at them any differently.
“If anything, it just makes all parties more comfortable with themselves and their bodies,” she said.
Junior Amy Lefevre, one of Ross’s close friends, said she was happy when she heard Ross was taking the job, and that it has only made her think more highly of her.
“I got a text that said, ‘I finally found a job on campus, want to draw me naked this weekend?’” Lefevre said. “I was impressed. I thought it fit her personality and it takes a lot of courage to do something like that.”
Ross said she has loved her time as a figure model.
“I’m naked and it’s a pretty honest environment, but I love doing it and its been empowering in so many ways,” she said.