Emily and two of the students of the life painting workshop that I taught last weekend.
I've taught two life painting classes this week at the Calgary School of Art and found them to be great experiences. My models were both able to hold a pose and to use their bodies with intelligence, showing interesting views to all of the painters in the room. A few years ago, I had the misfortune to draw a young woman who stood in stiff, symmetrical poses (picture frozen jumping jacks and something approximating a fence post) and have, as a result, become very appreciative of good models.
Modeling is a strange and wonderful thing for a person to do for an artist. The model puts him or herself at your disposal and allows you the rare luxury of staring at another human being for hours at a time. We all like to look at other people but seldom get an opportunity to do it. Infants let you stare and strangers sleeping in planes are fair game, but conscious adults are unnerved at being studied, no matter how well they know you. They wonder what you're seeing when you look at them and what judgments you're forming. Are you noticing the way the sunlight emphasizes their wrinkles? Do they look like they need to go to the gym more often? Their minds are busy trying to get into your mind and discover what you're thinking about them.
Good models are able to turn off this self consciousness and simply "be". They accept the fact that they are, temporarily, objects and use their bodies to help you to create your art. They manage to override their uneasiness for the duration of the class and enter a reality in which being stared at is normal. They also accept a bunch of artists discussing the greens that they see in the model's complexion and the shape of their thighs. Artist's are respectful when they talk about these things, but still...
A day in a museum or gallery will show you the importance of models in the world of art, past and present. For the generosity with which they present themselves to us, we try to give them immortality in return.