“There is no ‘too fat,’ ‘too wrinkled,’ ‘too old,’ or ‘too’ anything in Life Drawing. I gathered from her explanation that, to the student, bodies are nothing more than still lifes, like flowers, or a bowl of fruit, only with genitals.”—Ross Konikoff
West Side Stories
By Ross Konikoff
MANHATTAN New York—(Weekly Hubris)—January 2019—I have, as of last week, been modeling nude for a figure drawing class with students of varying degrees of proficiency.
It all started when Deborah told me of her desire to add drawing to her long list of graphic arts skills. Life drawing classes teach the faithful rendering onto paper of the human form in all ranges, from highly detailed, anatomically correct depictions, to loose and expressive gesture drawing. I thought Deborah’s aspirations to be admirable, but when asked if I would like to join her, I demurred, having a purely prurient interest in looking at naked girls, and none whatsoever in observing the male form, least of all some flabby, out-of-shape one.
I was then informed that the students are in pursuit of unclad bodies in all shapes and sizes, and that a “no judgement zone” prevails during each session. There is no “too fat,” “too wrinkled,” “too old,” or “too” anything in Life Drawing. I gathered from her explanation that to the student, bodies are nothing more than still lifes, like flowers, or a bowl of fruit, only with genitals. I responded that for me, posing nude would present no such inhibitions, since anyone voicing criticism of the few trifling flaws in my otherwise David-like physique would be challenged either to display proof of his or her own physical superiority right there on the spot, or to remain silent.
My casual boast was met with the challenge, “Then why don’t you pose for our class?”
“Maybe I will,” I blurted out, carelessly.
Later on, after realizing what I had agreed to, I did a little research and learned that to be a nude model for figure drawing classes one needs a bit of instruction and preparation. The gig entails entering a large cold room, losing the robe, striking five poses for one minute each, one pose for five minutes, another for ten, and finally one more for 20 minutes.
I was curious as to where they might find volunteers, paid or not, willing to stand nude before a group of strangers, or even worse, friends, for hours, posing in what I would consider some rather immodest positions, judging by the examples I’d seen. To my surprise, I learned that rather than having to go begging, there exists a wait list of volunteers wherever these classes are offered. It seems that most colleges, art schools, and independent studios need do nothing more than place a discreet ad here and there, and the brave come running.
Those responding I would suppose are making an effort either to fulfill a bucket list desire or perhaps to unshackle themselves from the crippling symptoms of atelophobia. After all, what more appropriate balm might there be for feelings of physical inadequacy than to stand naked before a room full of eager men and women, who stare rapturously at, and gratefully devour every angle, dangle, and curve of your being. Wrinkled or smooth, short or tall, young or old, hung or not, all are welcome with these novice Da Vincis. Deborah submitted my name and I forgot all about it.
A week later, I was startled to learn that I had been assigned a time slot for the following week with five four-hour weekday sessions—that is if I hadn’t yet chickened out. Now, snared in the trap I had set with my own big mouth, I had little choice but to follow through.
I began reviewing an assortment of short, medium, and long poses I had collected from sites on the Internet, singling out the awkward ones for the short poses and the more comfortable for the ten- and 20-minute freezes.
Regarding studio protocol, rather than heeding the advice given on presentation, which suggested the model enter the studio in a robe and then dispense with it after climbing onto the small stage, I chose a different tack. It seemed a bit too dramatic to perform the unveiling in such a “Ta-Daaa” like moment. Instead, I decided I would step up onto the podium, casually pull off my T-shirt and then slide out of my sweat pants as one would do in the privacy of his bedroom, or on a crowded bus.
On the appointed day I arrived early and walked into the empty room, sizing up the scene. There was a selection of props alongside the stage, intended to add variety and help augment the more dramatic poses. A Hula hoop, a bow and arrow, an exercise ball, and several lengths of rope were within arm’s reach should I feel the need to strike an action pose. Having read about the wide range of temperaments artists have been known to display, I figured these props would also come in handy as defensive weapons should one of my poses inexplicably provoke a physical attack from some jealous male student, or a passionate woman, no longer able to corall her brimming lust.
Despite this looming threat, I remained calmed and assured, figuring at worst I could out-run the group, suffering only minimal injury amidst a barrage of Faber-Castell Kneaded Erasers.
At my appointed time, I walked out and onto the stage as casually as possible, stripped off, listening closely for any gasps or groans, but after hearing neither, I relaxed and assumed my first pose. From there things progressed calmly and quietly, the only distractions being the crick-crack sounds emanating from my tired, old joints as I struggled to remain still.
The following four days went as easily and without incident as the first. At the conclusion of the final class, I dressed myself hurriedly, hoping to catch up with a few students before they left in an effort to have a glimpse at just how I had been seen. The students were more than willing to share their work. Happily opening their sketchbooks and paging through the week’s work, I was stunned and horrified at what I saw. The students may have been non-judgmental, but their sketches certainly weren’t.
I hadn’t the slightest idea the top of my head came to a point, that my upper torso had grown almost twice as long as my lower, or that my facial features had grown so grotesque, holding an expression of terrible agony. My stomach and chest were suddenly heavy with flab, my arms like twigs on a sapling, my stubby fingers resembled the paws of a raccoon, while the widely varied interpretations of my junk ran the gamut from a miniscule smudge, to a California Redwood adjacent a burlap sack of pine cones.
I muttered a curt “Thank you . . .” and walked quickly from the room. Exiting the back door, I pulled my ski hat over my head and hightailed it out onto the safe anonymity of the street. All the way home, a creeping doubt began descending over me regarding whether or not the glamorous world of modeling would work for me as a steady diet. Sure, I had been psychologically freed to a certain extent, and I was walking around with a couple $20s in my pocket that weren’t there before but, as the week had progressed, I began noticing vague urges to take up smoking, to drink heavily, and to cut myself.
When I got home, I noticed the message light flashing on my phone machine. I was informed that, while they were grateful for my time, my services would no longer be required. Apparently, I’d been replaced by a gorgeous 22-year-old ballet dancer in need of supplemental income to pay for his opioid prescription.
The decision to quit had been taken out of my hands. As a wave of relief swept over me, I poured myself three fingers of whatever was in the nearest bottle and sat down to evaluate the week. It would have required months of hard work, reshaping my parts, eating a healthy diet, and living an overall abstemious lifestyle in order to sculpt my body so that I might compete with a naked 22-year-old ballet dancer.
Who has that kind of time?
I decided to accept my fate gracefully. After all, I’d had my shot. It was time now to move over and make room for the supermodels of tomorrow.