C. and I posed for 20 minutes as the teacher went from student to student. "You see, there are two triangles," he said to one and pointed to my legs. He took a long ruler and placed it along my limbs, telling the students to be aware of my proportions. During the break, I looked at the drawings. Since the teacher put C. and me near to but facing away from each other, we looked like an alienated couple. The students captured this and our bodies. You could title all the joint portraits of us, Perky and Droopy Have a Fight.
While we waited for our next pose, C. popped a soda. I asked where I could get a drink and C. directed me to the student lounge downstairs. I was strangely troubled at the thought of wandering the building. It's one thing to be nude in an art class, it's another to walk around a school in your bathrobe.
Then the teacher put us in position for our next pose. I was starting to resent this: I felt robbed of my own artistic vision. He had C. stand on the floor and prop one leg on the platform while I stood on the platform and leaned against the wall with my arms crossed. I tried not to take offense that the second male student, instead of drawing us, did a portrait of a doorknob. Twenty minutes went by, then 30. My left knee was locked and throbbing and the blood was pooling in my feet. The repetitive European techno music the teacher put on only added to my anxiety about when I would be released.
I couldn't stand it anymore and asked for a break.
The drawings were wonderfully varied. The young man in front me did a light pencil sketch, while the young woman next to him created a chiaroscuro of my torso. C. and I talked during the break. She is an aspiring filmmaker who saw an ad for modeling on Craigslist. "It's so much better than working at Starbucks or an electronics store, and it pays better, too," she said.
But the role of artist's model has a troubled history. Modeling for Pablo Picasso (which also included being his lover) tended to lead to breakdown or suicide. When Pierre Bonnard dropped one model for another, the first one killed herself. He married the next one, but he painted her lying in the bathtub so often, she must have turned into a prune. As an old man, Henri Matisse started painting his wife's young nurse. His wife got jealous and tried to get rid of the nurse, who promptly shot herself (although not fatally). Madame Matisse ended up leaving and the young model staying. Edward Hopper's wife, Jo, was the model for every female in all his paintings. This was too intense. He often slapped her around, and she retaliated by biting him.
I decided to get out before any of these fates befell me. Although I wonder if I should have tried to buy that painting of my rear end in green. I would look perfect over the mantelpiece.
TODAY IN SLATE
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