Tom Slattery

Let's face it: to any sane responsible member of society, the most prominent single aspect of the life drawing studio is nudity. That is what raises eyebrows, provokes smirks and snickers, and generally arouses all the curiosity, creating a sort of leering mystique which hovers over the entire enterprise. Were it not for the nudity of the model -- this very special sort of explicit nudity -- life drawing would inspire about as much fascination as a knitting circle. Some feel that the life studio has to be defended lest it acquire a bad reputation, that this high-minded, collective effort at sowing the seeds of artistic expression can only be smeared by the insinuation that it could have anything to do with human sexuality. There are those who go so far as to deny that sex ever, under any circumstances, could possibly rear its ugly throbbing head in the clinical, sterile, no-nonsense milieu of the life studio.

Patrick J. Deshaye, Eroticism.


Throughout the world copious numbers of nude models are used by private artists, art groups, high schools, colleges, and universities. Most North American and European cities can claim literally dozens of professional nude art models, and larger cities can claim hundreds. In a few of these cities, like Stockholm and Dallas, between several dozen and several hundred nude art models have banded together to form virtual trade unions of expressly "nude" models. These organizations have their own websites.

Colleges and universities are the primary users of explicitly nude art models. A typical course offering from a California State University catalog looks like this:

ART 2010 Drawing the Human Figure from Observation (3 units). Studies from direct observation, focused on the mastery of traditional and modern methods of drawing from the nude model and how it is uniquely employed as subject matter and as a compositional element in visual art.

Or, from Montserrat College of Art's pre-college program:

LIFE DRAWING: Drawing from the nude model will enable students to determine proportions of the figure, basic underlying structures of bone and muscle, and elements of gesture. Emphasis on the figure will encompass contour drawing, line, tone and positive/negative forms.

In addition to college credit courses, colleges and universities frequently offer non-credit evening and weekend courses using nude models to non-students. And many non-education community groups offer open sessions and art instruction using nude models.

An example of one of these is the Evanston Art Center in a Chicago suburb. It offers three instructional opportunities using nude models on three different days for amateur artists at various levels of capability:
1. Figure Drawing and Painting -- This multi-level course centers on drawing and painting working from the nude model.
2. Multi-level Figure Drawing -- As an in-depth study of the nude, this class will focus on the anatomical structure...
3. Figure Studio - Figure Studio offers participants the opportunity to work in their choice of media from nude models.

Pay for modeling naked at high schools, colleges, and universities has been between $10/hour and $12/hour for some time. (Private groups pay more because models, needing a reliable source of pay, avoid them.) The markets are considerable. In the metropolitan area around Cleveland, Ohio, for example, there are well over a dozen different schools, college campuses, university campuses, private artists, and art groups that regularly use naked art models for drawing, painting, and sculpture. People taking off their clothes so other people can sketch their naked bodies is a widespread, ubiquitous, and well-developed cultural phenomenon.


Befitting a cultural practice with centuries of tradition, nude modeling has accumulated customs and conventions that resist adaptations required by technological, historical, and social change. Most importantly, the normal erotic reality of what a naked art model can potentially represent is generally barred from art studios. An artificial sterility has been formalized into the studio and studio classroom and the performance presentation of the nude figure, in an attempt to separate sexuality from nudity. Both dressed artists and the nude model in the studio act theatrically, as if in a theater performance, suspending their disbelief and pretending - stifling the giggles -- that the scene is asexual and devoid of the erotic.

This does not really work. Nudity and sexuality are intertwined in perception and behavior. Sexuality is thus singularly and willfully put on display in nude modeling of any kind, and sexuality is artlessly sought and displayed in the studio.

First, when scheduling nude models, artists and instructors request them specifically by gender, "nude female models" or "nude male models." These artists and instructors are clearly not interested in geometric body shapes. They do not, for instance, request and schedule "nude short fat models," or "nude tall thin models," or "nude paunchy old models," or "nude trim young models," or "nude muscular models." They specifically request nude sexual "female" models or nude sexual "male" models. This betrays a conspicuous presentation of human sexuality in art and art courses using nude models. And it would thus seem to require unique attention to both model nudity and model sexuality rather than avoidance pretenses.

Life-drawing: Carol Schmidt
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May 2002

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