Tag Archives: art from life


For the purpose of modeling for fine artists, the basic parameters are the ability to hold a pose for at least 20 minutes, and to be comfortable with being nude in front of strangers.  There are certain protocols that artists expect from a model, and that models  should expect from the artist or group in turn.  The model is a professional collaborator in art making, deserves the respect of a dedicated craftsperson, and should  give complete attention to the practice of presenting the body as an inspired subject for artists.

There are different ranges of expectation for how long a pose can be held, from one minute (or less) to 5, 10, and 20 minutes.  A good model should have a repertoire of “gestures,” poses that are usually held a minute or two at a time, very dramatic and sometimes extraordinarily difficult, but usually taken without undue strain since the time involved is so very short.  Those with dance or yoga backgrounds almost invariably incorporate the positions and postures of these disciplines into their gestural routines.  While they traditionally serve to warm up both model and artists for the session ahead, gestures can be the most beautiful and artistically satisfying work that the model does.
Of course, not all poses can be held for the longer times, but those that the model undertakes for the 20-minute session must be taken and held without “drifting.”  Light and shadow patterns can dramatically change with even a tiny shift in position, and those patterns are just as important as the shapes the body itself takes in the pose.

Fundamentally, the creative process is a shared experience between the artist and the model with, paradoxically, the model being the more active participant.  Figure painters are gathered together for a singular purpose–the making of fine art–so their mindsets in the presence of the nude are radically different than anywhere else.  The more comfortable models are with their bodies, the more they will also understand what the artists are attempting, to be sympathetic with that, and project a cooperation of the creative spirit that is almost impossible to describe but which is palpable and invaluable to experienced artists keenly sensitive to receiving it.

Although many of the requirements for posing are the same, the documentary aspects of photography changes how the model is seen and expected to move.  The genres of glamor, erotic, and pornographic subject matters involve specialities and sensitivities unique to each, for which the model should be prepared well in advance of the actual working session.

Finally, beware of “auditions” (except as part of the application process for joining established model groups).  No reputable artist will expect or demand that a prospective model disrobe before being considered for work–references are all that are needed.  Those working in erotic photography should have a portfolio of work that they can show along with those references.  The studio is for working, the office is for talking.



Making Art from Real Life

Many artists try to freeze a moment of life into a photograph, presuming to make it the model for a leisurely recollection, in paint, later. What too often happens is that the photo becomes a slave driver instead of a muse, and the subsequent painting is a flat, lifeless copy of an inferior derivative to the lost moment. These artists have forgotten to include feeling, memory, dream, and mystery in the standard elements of composition because interpretation — not documentation — is the essence of the artistic vision.

Art is a record of how the artist feels about what she’s seeing, and the reality of that is a complicated mix of sensation and expressive media. “What is reality?” makes an intriguing metaphysical dilemma which we all have to figure out for ourselves One way to confront the enigma is for the artist to go back to the subject again and again, examining it in every variation of shape, color, and value. Maybe the physical world isn’t real after all, but it’s invariably the beginning of the investigation, and art means taking risks with perception at all levels as it presents itself at the moment of its experience.

If the need to use a photograph is because the subject is unobtainable, the artist may be overlooking all that which makes up her real life and so, of course, her true art. A photo is an extraordinarily fallible document which can be only one of the starting points of a compositional strategy. The practices of drawing and painting must be taken back from a mechanistic dependence on photography in order for them to come alive again and become proper artistic statements about real life.

Doug Riggs

originally posted 08/01/1