April 06, 2005
Don't fear the beaver
And you guys all thought I was going to lay off talking about my beaver for a while. Hah! As if.
Actually, it's not so much my beaver I want to talk about but just the whole experience of getting paid to be naked in front of people. For the last three and a half years or so I have worked part time as a nude model for drawing classes. This is in the same art department that I just graduated from, so the people I model for are my classmates and friends.
(No, I don't really show them the beaver. At least I try not to, but you know, the beav is right there in the middle of the body and sometimes it's just going to show a little. These students are young and uptight and they can't really handle that; I know one model who is not at all shy about giving the beaver shot, she gives it all the time and there are some kids in the school who are totally freaked out by her. I guess because it's not Brazil waxed and airbrushed like the ones they see on tv, they just can't even bring themselves to look at it. Hopefully they'll grow up and learn to love the beav like I do, but if not, well it's their loss, isn't it?)
The modeling is important to me for a number of reasons. I first started doing it because it's fifty dollars for a three hour class; that's nothing to sneeze at when you're a poor student. But it's a lot more than just the money. When I started modeling, it really got me thinking about what the female body means in art, and the complex power relationship between artist and model. It was a weird feeling to be on the other side, to be the object instead of the objectifier. Because I model in the same place that I study and make my art, I would do my three hour stint, then put my clothes back on and go to my studio, switching roles at will. At the same time I was starting to model I was starting to bring my own naked body into my work; before that I had been doing work like this:
(see the knitting?)
You can see that the work was always about the body, even when mostly nonrepresentational (go read my statement if you want to know more). Getting naked for other people made me want to stop avoiding the figure in my own work; I was always trying to find ways to speak about the body without explicitly showing it, and sort of had it in my head that the image of a female body carried too much "baggage", that for a feminist artist to depict a nude female would be a betrayal, an act of objectifying oneself. Now I think maybe objectifying myself is the point; I need to reconcile being an artist with being an object, and disembowel that power relationship slowly and then see what's left. I think I have a long way to go. The stuff I'm doing now is more like this:
contemplating my beaver, as usual (hey, what's that crawling out of it?)
The other impact that modeling has had is on my teaching philosophy. I have discovered that I love to teach drawing, and modeling has given me a chance to be a voyeur in other people's classrooms. I believe that in order to teach someone how to draw you first have to teach them how to see; I like to go around the classroom and look at what the students have drawn, and that has given me a great insight into how people see the human figure, and how much they don't see. I can take these observations straight back to my studio and apply them to my own work, but I can also squirrel this information away for the next time I have a chance to teach drawing. Students make a lot of assumptions about the body, and because they live in one and look at it in the mirror every day they think they know it, and know what it looks like. When they draw, often they are drawing based on these assumptions rather than on what is in front of them; the challenge is to make them forget what they think they know and actually see the body they are looking at.
Another thing I find fascinating is the way in which students will project their own body image anxieties onto the body of a model. I am five foot four and weigh a hundred and fifty pounds. I've noticed that young girls will often draw me much skinnier than I am, and much more stacked; it's like they fear fat so much they can't even draw it and prefer to pretend it's not there. The boys, on the other hand, often draw me fatter than I really am--I guess they look at me and see a chick who's kind of old and not their idea of hot, and they emphasize that. The people who tend to draw me the most accurately are the mature students (of both sexes). I haven't really got this whole phenomenon figured out yet but I'm working on it.
Whew! I wanted to get some of these thoughts down, since it's something that's so important to me and to my work. I'll probably talk about it a lot more, so be forewarned. Blah blah blah. I guess it's better than talking about my beaver all the time, eh?
The hazards of knitting in public
So yesterday morning I got on the bus and sat down and started to knit and the guy next to me started giving me a hard time, saying that knitting isn't really an activity for the twenty first century and nobody does it anymore. I said a lot of people do it. He said he bets there aren't even a thousand in North America. I said I know maybe three hundred, and he says "well that's not a thousand, is it?" as if the fact that I don't personally know a thousand knitters somehow proves his point. I said those are just the ones I know, there are millions of people I don't know (in my most derisive voice).
Then he said that more people go to Blockbuster Video than to the library. I said "that's their loss". And left it at that. But what I really wanted to say: what the fuck does that have to do with my knitting on the bus? Are you saying that knitters probably prefer the library, and are therefore smarter than those other people? Or that they're just more interesting? Or maybe he was just throwing stuff out there, not worrying about whether there was any connection.
Later that afternoon, sitting with my knitting and my tea in the library coffeeshop, I got my favourite kind of knitting in public comment, the one where someone asks what you're knitting but has absolutely no interest in your answer. One of the coffeeshop employees came over and said "what are you knitting?" and I said just some samples to see what this yarn looks like knitted up (I was making lace swatches for an article on dyeing that I wrote for Take Back the Knit 2). She grabs a finished swatch off the table in front of me and says "pretty. samples eh? someone give this to you?" and I said no, I knitted that. Oh, she says, are you making a sweater? NO, I said, I'm just making these little pieces. "Oh, how nice" she says, tossing the swatch onto the table and walking away.
Then today coming home on the bus a lady asked "are you knitting and purling?". I said yes (I really was knitting AND purling, on the Must Have sleeve). "Oh," she said, "I used to do that a lot but it gave me arthritis. But you're young, you don't have to worry about that yet, I'm 53".
W.T. Fuck? As if knitting gives you arthritis. I don't believe it, especially since I had just heard her telling someone else that she got a viral infection from being caught out in the rain. Oh yeah, then she said she doesn't like to heat her house in the winter because the last time she had the heat on her candles melted in a drawer (so the solution for turning your heat on way too fucking high is to turn it off completely? how hot do you think a house has to be to melt candles??).
A note from the comments: Alison asked about photos. I didn't post photos of the finished projects because I already posted pics when I finished those things, but I will post a photo of me wearing the skirt, just as soon as I get the belt loops on. As for the hair, it's actually still looking kind of cute right now, so I thought I'd wait until it was really bad looking and funny and then show a picture. But what the hell, here's what it looks like now, with the long blue bangs cut off:
I was also reluctant to post a picture because I know there's a certain segment of the blog world that poopoos things like blogging about your haircut. But hey, all bloggers are totally self absorbed, otherwise why would we be doing this? So suck it up, people.
Okay, that's quite enough talking about myself for one day, I think. I know I said I'd ask questions tonight but sorry, tonight it's all about me. I promise that tomorrow morning it will be all about you guys, and I'll finish up my interviews.
your modelling sounds really exciting. one day i might actually do life drawing classes (not that my drawing is any good, but...).
i see no problem with knitting in public, though i feel like the only person in my city (sydney, aust) who actually takes knitting on public transport. i know there are knitters out there, but i never see them.
Posted by: sophie at April 7, 2005 07:52 AM
a. your hair is lovely. my hair is never that cute when its short. b. my undergraduate drawing class (i only ever had time to take one because of my architecture and theatre studios) had nude models. The first girl was well accepted by everyone, young (25-30ish) with the cutest little round tummy. The second model was harder to take, and the professor would leave the room while she was naked. She was 66 and...well aged. She obviously had spent a lot of time out in the sun without protection. I think I had a hard time dealing with it from the standpoint of being 20 and not wanting to deal with getting old and saggy and leathery. I don't know what the professor's excuse was.
Posted by: TheBon at April 7, 2005 11:25 AM
I feel like I'm learning something here, about art and appreciating it. Thanks.
knitting in public: I've gotten several weird "return to gramma's lap" responses to lately. Like, "I used to sit in my grandma's lap while she'd knit complex patterns right out of her head, and now the sound of your needles clicking brings me back." Not once, but thrice now. weird. I'm getting nervous that spontaneous hugging or requests for cookies might follow.
You hair looks great, btw.
Posted by: Lori-Ann at April 7, 2005 11:30 AM
"the challenge is to make them forget what they think they know and actually see the body they are looking at."
That is an amazing statement. I read that and immediately applied it in my mind to my own schooling, which is nursing. To stop thinking of the patient as signs and symptom and really see the person lying in front of you.
Also unrelated..... I LOVE HOT TAMALE!!!!!!! :)
Posted by: Wendy in Miami at April 7, 2005 01:06 PM
hey! My nanna has horrid arthritis (as do most of the women in my family, and it comes in young, like mid thirties. Oh yay!) and her doctor told her that the only thing that stopped her hands turning into old claws was the smooth little exercises she did every time she picked up her knitting needles.
Getting into your blog here in a major way. Oooh. I have to update my links list. :) Very nice, will be back, see you around, and congrats getting your very groovy skirt pattern on knitty!
Posted by: Monica at April 7, 2005 06:40 PM
My life drawing class models had a wide range of figures and attitudes. One of them was well into her second trimester of pregnancy! Some of the models were students that I knew. Used to joke with one of them about how I should start doing huge closeups of his block and tackle and see how the instructor dealt with it. Instead, since I was kind of uncomfortable with looking at his equipment, I found ways to not have to include his bits in the drawings (e.g. the strategically placed potted plant). One of my close friends who modeled would get bored and we'd start chatting and the other students would get annoyed. During breaks she'd come over to my easel and say things like "my ass doesn't look like that. Whose ass are you drawing, 'cause that's not mine!" really loudly.
The least favored male model really, really loved his equipment and we were all convinced he chose poses that would flaunt his genitals and make them the center of the composition. Like shaping his body into an "x" with his package on top and in the middle, like a cherry on a sundae.
Posted by: mk at April 8, 2005 02:35 PM
Hi - I just found your blog and really like it. Just wanted to say it's really cool to see another woamn artist exploring the objectifier/objectified "thang"...that's something I've been working on, as an (amateur) artist and model, for a long time, and I'm fascinated by it. It's really neat to read your thoughts on the subject.
OH, and the skirt's cool too!
Posted by: marnie bethel at April 11, 2005 05:54 PM