Study uncovers facts about artists' modeling in revealing interviews
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Women who appear nude as artists’ models are more concerned about losing their pose than removing their clothes, a new University of Florida study finds.
In revealing all for drawings, paintings and sculpture, models revel in a sense of mission and accomplishment, said Clay Hipke, who did the research for his doctoral dissertation in sociology. They take pride in striking creative poses and contributing to art because many are connoisseurs themselves, owning single pieces or small collections, he said.
“Artists’ models may seem at first blush to be like other groups in society that employ nudity and exist at the margins of conventional life, such as strippers, exotic dancers and peep show workers, but artists’ modeling has a long and distinguished history,” Hipke said. “The nude form as cultural and historic roots all the way back to the Greeks.”
Hipke, whose field of research is the sociology of deviance, said no systematic study of artists’ models had been done when he began his interviews in the spring of 2007. Through artists’ referrals he recruited 25 female models from seven Florida cities between the ages of 18 and 60. Most of the women were middle class with at least some college education, were single or divorced and did not practice a religion, he said.
Falling asleep while posing, braving cool temperatures in drafty rooms and enduring disapproval from parents and friends were some of the occupational hazards of the job, the study found.
Although the work looks easy, the ability to hold a pose for long periods of time can be difficult and sometimes caused models to develop muscle aches and cramps, Hipke said.
Three quarters of the women admitted falling asleep during a pose, with one model reporting that it nearly caused her several times to fall off a stool, he said. Being cold — especially in winter — was another hardship models identified because they often posed in oversized rooms with large windows and poor insulation, he said.
The models were barely concerned about posing in the buff as the study found that none of them mentioned the subject when asked what they thought about during long poses, Hipke said. “You are a model to art students; they don’t necessarily see you as a potential mate or anything,” explained one art student.
Overall, models had a positive perception of their bodies and those with insecurities reported that working in the profession improved them, Hipke said. One success story involved a woman in her 60s who decided to try modeling after hearing a friend she met at a social gathering who was the same age talk about the work’s benefits.
“She had body image issues after having a hip replacement,” he said. “Based on her friend’s experience, she thought it would be a good way to improve her self-esteem and it worked.”
Parents and boyfriends, however, were less likely to keep any inhibitions about the idea under wraps, Hipke said. Parents worried about the voyeuristic intentions of some artists and the danger of modeling ruining their daughters’ future careers, while some boyfriends barely tolerated their girlfriends’ work, he said.
Often when a woman started dating someone new, she would make a point not to mention she modeled until after she had gotten to know the person better, Hipke said.
“I think most people don’t realize that art students have to learn how to draw the human figure by looking at naked bodies,” complained one model in her interview.
Models reported that bad experiences were rare and most expressed a strong desire to take directions and do their jobs in a fashion that pleased the artist, Hipke said. Many already knew something about the visual arts, having collected art themselves or taken classes in the subject, and they enjoyed learning more about different artistic techniques, he said.
“Artists were described as being extremely respectful, even caring in their approach,” he said. “They knew that without the model they couldn’t create their art.”
Besides the idea of contributing to something socially worthwhile, women found the money appealing, especially if they were college students, Hipke said. “Ten to 20 bucks an hour – especially for a campus job — is a pretty good deal for not having to do much,” he said.
Jeremy Tanner, author of “The Sociology of Art: A Reader,” and a reader in classical and comparative art at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, said Hipke’s research “should be of interest to anyone concerned to understand the character of the modern art world. The sensational lives of the models of famous artists have long been of interest to art historians, but Hipke breaks new ground by exploring a representative sample of artists’ models and their ordinary working experiences,” he said.