Naked and the Dread
I pose nude for students. Will the art world ever be the same?
I stood there, suppressing a strong desire to giggle (fortunately, the students suppressed their giggles, too) as I tried to think of appropriate poses—something neither sultry nor stiff. I began doing yogalike twists, but with my being undressed and all, I was afraid it had the feeling of yoga porn.
It was easier, I discovered, than parading around in my bathing suit and high heels for my adventure as Mrs. Washington, D.C. There I was trying to convince people that my corseted and padded body had allure. Here I was just a bunch of spheres (OK, deflated spheres) and angles in space. It felt like that dream in which find yourself in class naked—you know things aren't right, but there you are, so you try to act insouciant and give the impression you always meant to show up without any clothes. During a break I put on my robe and looked at the drawings. In some portraits I was lithe and limber; in others I had an enormous belly and haunches and looked rather like Bufo marinus, the giant toad.
M. had me move on to a series of longer poses, and I was starting to be relaxed about the whole thing when a middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap and carrying a 6-foot-long canvas arrived. He found a place at the edge of the circle with a view of my backside, propped up his canvas, and complimented my pose.
Time passed quickly as I listened to M. critique the students. One universal problem was that my breasts tended to wander around the sketch pad. M. frequently pointed out how people were misplacing them. "You've got her left breast here, but if you look at her it's really over there." I was also distracted by the middle-aged man. While the other students drew me in pencil or chalk, he attacked his canvas furiously with paint and numerous brushes, which sounded like he was sanding an old dresser.
At the break I again looked at the portraits. It was flattering to be the object of so much attention. One was a feet-first foreshortened view, another an examination of my shoulder, arm, and neck. Then I got to the man's canvas. There he had painted a luminous, opalescent, emerald-hued portrait of my ass. I wanted to buy it, but I said nothing. One of the rules was that I was not to comment on the students' work unless asked.
I agreed to model at another class about a month later—this one was during the day, so it would be comprised of undergraduates. By this point in the year they were inured to the sight of naked bodies, the way medical students get used to cadavers. Shortly before the class the model coordinator let me know there would be another model posing with me. I said that was fine but worried that we might be moving into Howard Stern territory.
Over Thanksgiving, when I discussed with my brother-in-law my upcoming adventure with the other model, he raised a horrifying possibility.
"Wiener?" he asked.
The question loomed on the appointed day. The teacher was tall with long white hair and a goatee—think of Donald Sutherland in Pride & Prejudice. As the students—eight young women and two young men—took their places around the platform, I hung around in my bathrobe waiting for the other model to arrive.
No wiener, I was relieved to see. C. was in her late 20s, gamine and slender. I was less relieved when we took off our robes. She slid out of her yellow silk Chinese wrap, revealing how young and gravity-defiant she was. As I pulled off my bulky pink terrycloth robe, I consoled myself that we'd make a nice contrast for the students.
This teacher was more directive, telling us how to pose. He asked me to sit on a cushion—it was stained and spattered and he suggested I throw my robe over it—and place my hands on my thighs. He placed C. behind me. I was positioned directly in front of one of the male students. He stared at me, then held up a pencil, moved it back and forth and squinted at me with one eye shut. It was just like a cartoon of an artist at work. I wanted to call out, "Where's your beret?"