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By

Adam Adrian Crown


When I was in college, a poor, starving film student, I picked up a few extra dollars by working for the Art Department, modeling for the figure classes.

Yes, naked.
A dais was set up along the center of the studio near the windows (which had paper taped over them to thwart non-artistic gawkers). Easels and chairs of all kinds surrounded the dais.
I changed in the men's room, out of my clothes and into a robe. Not sure why this was the protocol. It would have made as much sense to me to just undress in the studio. I didn't really need the robe for comfort. The room was always warm enough, even during the worst winter blast. But it seemed to be the way it was traditionally done, as I learned when I took additional similar modeling jobs elsewhere.
If you think all an art model does is stand around naked, you should try it sometime.
It's a surprisingly demanding gig.
First, I would do a series of poses lasting only seconds each — "gesture drawings" — the purpose of which was to warm-up the students' eyes and hands, usually working in charcoal. These would be 10 second to 30 second poses. Action, balance.

Then would follow some longer poses of a minute or two. Finally, I would present a pose that would be the main event of the day, which I usually maintained for 20-30 minutes at a time. I'd take a break then, maybe for five minutes and resume the pose for another 20-30 minute round, and so on.
The studio sessions were often 2-3 hours.
I was in pretty good shape and took a certain amount of professional pride in replicating classic poses such as David, or The Dying Gaul. I was able to employ poses from fencing, boxing and so on and would sometimes use a prop such as a wooden pole. I also enjoyed the physical demands of holding a particularly challenging pose for an "impossible" length of time. While students were working on their art, I was working on mine: balance, line and focus.
This made me quite popular with the professors, because they didn't have to give me much direction and could concentrate on their students. It wasn't long before I was working for them regularly and they also recommended me to profs at other schools nearby, local artists' groups and that led to doing sessions for several individual artists, as well. Worked for a lady sculptor who was really excellent, and a lot of fun and we got to be good friends, to boot.

I learned a great deal from doing this kind of work.
One thing I learned is that there are some poses that only a complete idiot would try to hold for 20 minutes. But there was something else, too. During my breaks, I'd slip into a robe and wander about, viewing the creations of the artists in the class.
Some artists were quite skillful. Others were not as skillful.
Some artists worked in oils, others in water colors, pencil or charcoal.
Some artists had particular interests, would concentrate on a part of the pose, torso, hips, shoulders or genitalia. Others would work with the entire figure.

Some artists had particular difficulties — hands and feet and genitalia were common problems.
And, of course, each artist occupied a different place around the dais and so viewed the model from a slightly different angle.
As a result of all these variables — and probably others I don't know about, such as eyesight or steadiness of hand — no two pieces were the same. Most of them weren't even very much alike. And yet each of them suggested, at least, the pose.
There were a few artists whose work I noticed because it seemed very full, dynamic and alive. I observed that these few very commonly left their easels to walk around and view me from different angles, studying me a long time before they actually sat down and went to work, and then often paused to check and re-check something they'd seen. I think this enabled them to portray the subject in such a way that you could see what wasn't there as well as what was there. Their work had a certain wholeness to it. It was like understanding the dark side of the moon extrapolating from the side you can see, and understanding what was hidden enabling you to better understand what was visible.

But here's the thing.
Seldom, if ever, was I recognizable, in anyone's work, as me, personally. And even in the most accurate depictions, there were inaccuracies. A mole or a scar missing. The sweep of a muscle idealized or exaggerated. Sometimes, the piece revealed as much or more about the artist than about the subject.

Take my penis, for example.
Let's face it, the real difference between working with a draped male model (or one wearing speedos) and a nude model is the penis. How artists deal with this relatively unfamiliar bodypart can reveal a lot about them. Many, many students simply left it out, according it an inexplicable blank spot, or lost it in a deep, murky patch of incongruous shadow, the presence of which could in no way be explained by the lighting.
On the other hand, one student, a matronly woman who worked in charcoal, did practically nothing except my penis for a semester's worth of evenings, always making it the focal point and the most developed part of her piece. But most interesting to me was the student who depicted me intact, like a Greek athlete, when, in fact, I had suffered the mutilation of circumcision as an infant.
Yet, were the renderings utterly photo-realistic, there would still be something lacking.
I am more than my superficial appearance, more than my physical self. I am also my mental self, my emotional self and my spiritual self, and, although these things are inextricably linked with my body, they are parts of me that cannot be measured in light and shadow.

Imagine for a moment how much more difficult the artists' task if, instead of a naked man, the subject was something a bit more abstract. A concept.
Liberty, perhaps. Or Justice. Or Truth.

I hope you're not expecting me to say that these things are wholly subjective, and cannot be known; that every person's truth is true for him, and it's all relative, in that shoulder-shrugging situational ethics sort of way that enables the worst scoundrels imaginable to try to cop a plea of sincerity.
If so, you're about to be dreadfully disappointed.

I think these things can indeed be known. The question is, how can we get to know them? And the answer was so astutely demonstrated by the exceptional artists who got off their behinds and took the trouble to see things from some perspective other than their own. I don't think answers fall in your lap very often; I think you have to work harder than a Virginia coal miner to dig them out.

The first trick is to understand that you have a limited and skewed perspective in the first place. You have to find out what your bias is and take that into account. Otherwise you'll just ride an endless merry-go-round of "proving" other limited perspectives inferior to your own limited perspective. Kind of a pot-kettle thing, isn't it?

Working as a model gave me direct experience of a couple of extremely important principles, that seem so simple and obvious, that, oh, of course we know that — and yet we manage to forget them or ignore them at every turn.

The first principle is this:
All things exist according to their own nature regardless of how we perceive them.

The second principle is:
Seek first to understand; seek to be understood only thereafter.

You may ask yourself, what in the world does this have to do with fencing?
I'm not going to tell you.
You'll have leave your easel, walk around the room and figure it out for yourself.


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Saddle, Lance and Stirrup: The Irish/Roman Connection
The Naked Truth | If I Had a Hammer
The Sabre's Edge | Swordfight at the OK Corral
How to Defend a Monopoly | A Propos d'un Accident
The Dubious Quick Kill part 1 | The Dubious Quick Kill part 2
Review and Commentary | Duels with the Sword | Starting with Foil
Liancour's Tercentenary | The Manuel d'escrime of 1877 | The Military Masters Fencing Program
Analysis of the Patton Fencing Manual | The Red Court Fencing's Royal Connection
| The Practical Saviolo part 1 | Saddle, Lance and Stirrup
Demystification of the Spanish School 1 | Demystification of the Spanish School 2
Demystification of the Spanish School 3
| A Brief Look at Joseph Swetnam
| Ithacan Retains Title | Third Time's a Charm
Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes | Riposte Direct | Use of the Word "Sparring"
Chivalry Makes a Come-back | Teachings of Marozzo |

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This file was last modified Friday, Jul 21 2006, 14:11:55 EDT