My son, the nude model


John Schwartz at the New York Times writes about what it's like to have a son in college whose job is to sit around with no clothes on. Hey, from the son's perspective, what's not to love, right? The only job requirement is that you have a body. Snip:

As a little boy, Sam once asked me: "Dad, is there a job where you get paid a lot and don't do much work?"

Being paid $15 an hour to sit around naked is one option. That's nearly twice as much as most other student jobs. And it's not like he's dancing at Chippendale's.

"There's a difference between nude and nakedness," says Charles Garoian, the director of the university's visual arts program. Context is vital: a stripper is naked to arouse prurient urges, while a nude model is there to unleash an artist's creativity.

In the Altogether [New York Times]

[Image: Kalim A. Bhatti for The New York Times]


  1. I used to be one of the people doing the drawing, but being a life drawing model isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Holding a pose for a long time is difficult. Also, you only need a body not necessarily a good body. Good bodies are boring to draw.

  2. Where I work, we’re home to a life drawing/painting workshop that’s been going on for almost 40 years now. We get a surprisingly large number of calls and Emails from men (and only from men) looking to model for the workshop who have never modeled before but imagine that it’s easy money in a moment of financial desperation. And they’re all pretty creepy. Sometimes they’re “erotic models” and they Email you many, many unexpeted attachments of NSFW material.

    That aside, modeling for painting and drawing classes can be difficult work. Models who can do long or demanding poses or who have trunks full of costumes for doing period poses can make excellent money, and make a long career out of it. One of the more popular life models in the area is a fellow in his late 50’s with an awesome handlebar moustache.

  3. “Context is vital: a stripper is naked to arouse prurient urges, while a nude model is there to unleash an artist’s creativity.”

    Geez, they say “prurient urges” like they’re something to be ashamed of.

  4. Modeling for life drawing requires a fair degree of skill. Holding poses for more than a minute or two (as well as striking interesting to draw poses) is not easy. I’ve taken many life drawing classes and the inexperienced model is a pain. Especially annoying are the “body-builder” guys who strike ridiculous muscle magazine poses and then want to chat you up after class. Blech.

  5. Yeah, modeling for life drawing is HARD. Just try to stay completely still for ten minutes straight (or half an hour). No fidgeting, no scratching, no twitching or changing position. Now do that while standing or sitting in an interesting pose. If you do take a break during a long pose, you have to get back in exactly the same position. I can’t do it myself.

  6. Having done it, I can attest to it not being a simple, easy thing. Not only do you have to hold a pose, you have to hold a pose that “works” for those drawing/painting you.

  7. Is anyone else annoyed by the (to me) arbitrary association of “naked” with the “prurient”? I don’t see why those would be associated with “nakedness” more than with “nudity”–those words are essentially interchangeable as near as I can tell.

    I agree that “context is vital”–which is why you *don’t* need to say that the word “naked” is different from “nude” when talking about human nudity/nakedness. Do we lose anything linguistically with this substitution?

    “Context is vital: a stripper is nude to arouse prurient urges, while a nude model is there to unleash an artist’s creativity.”

    1. I agree in principle, but I can see where people feel there’s a difference.

      “Naked” doesn’t just mean “lack of clothes” but it can also mean a kind of bareness that reveals or is unprotected (naked eye, naked flame).

      “Nude” is used for art not just because people think it’s a more “polite” term but because the subjects often are not thought of as “missing” clothes. They just are that way; see gods and heroes.

      I think “naked” fits for stripping because clothes — and their absence — are an essential part of what makes it enticing.

      I always felt like “naked” and “nude” both described an end state that was identical — that is, unclothed — but only “naked” implied that something was really missing. “Nude” seemed to mean to me that it was just a state of being — nothing missing or needed.

      But that’s just me. I like it more when I think multiple words exist for the same basic meaning because there’s a need for nuance. If not, it just feels redundant.

  8. I did a fair amount of this while in college and as others have said – modeling like this is not necessarily easy. Also, it is kind of depressing to hear the rate has not changed in 16 years, I was getting $15 an hour in 1993.

  9. All through art school in college I only ever had one painting class where we had nude models for about a 2 week stretch. There were only 5 students in my entire class, and I was the only guy, so it was an uncomfortably intimate studio situation. Not sure why I was extra awkward about it, in a room full of girls, one of which is naked… OK now make art! Perhaps I wasn’t much of an artist. Also, the models were students at the college, so you’d run into them in the cafeteria. Always wondered if they were as awkward about it.

    1. Kurtmac,

      One of my favorite things to do was to go to shows featuring works produced from sessions I modeled for and hang out near those pieces. Only one person ever made connection on their own. As for running into the other students around campus – it never bothered me but did seem to bother some of them but on one occasion it did get me a date.

  10. Life modeling has always come extremely easy to me, for whatever reason. I would never imagine that it would be simple, but for some reason just sitting there and not moving, not twitching, not blinking is completely freeing – I just feel like everything is complete and there are no worries. Getting up afterward, returning to life – very difficult.

    1. I too felt an enormous sense of liberation after having done it – but it was from having had the gumption to step up and do it at all in the first place. First time was a challenge, after, not much at all.

      And mostly, I was conscious of working with the light.

  11. Sensible young man. If you look grand naked, are not independently wealthy and have bills to pay then go for it.

    I respect him and would, if perusing his CV , offer him a job on the basis of his gumption alone.

  12. When I took figure drawing, we were told that the figure was nude so we could better learn how anatomy looks in real life and in motion.

  13. “You have just been inducted into one of the longest-standing traditions in the history of art”

    I’d like them to note that traditionally, prostitutes were hired as nude models… for example, Manet’s Olympia.

  14. Is having a son who poses in the nude really a subject for an article in the New York Times? Amazing. What is it with Americans and naked flesh? What’s so special about nude models?

  15. There’s definitely a difference, but Robert Graves goes the other way with it. The last line has been lodged in my mind since high school.

    The Naked and the Nude
    Robert Graves

    For me, the naked and the nude
    (By lexicographers construed
    As synonyms that should express
    The same deficiency of dress
    Or shelter) stand as wide apart
    As love from lies, or truth from art.

    Lovers without reproach will gaze
    On bodies naked and ablaze;
    The Hippocratic eye will see
    In nakedness, anatomy;
    And naked shines the Goddess when
    She mounts her lion among men.

    The nude are bold, the nude are sly
    To hold each treasonable eye.
    While draping by a showman’s trick
    Their dishabille in rhetoric,
    They grin a mock-religious grin
    Of scorn at those of naked skin.

    The naked, therefore, who compete
    Against the nude may know defeat;
    Yet when they both together tread
    The briary pastures of the dead,
    By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
    How naked go the sometime nude!

  16. Prurience is a funny thing, and very context-dependent.

    There’s one case I recall from my years in art school: Our model for that day was a particularly attractive young woman, so my (male) friends and I were extra-eager to draw her. But when she took her clothes off and posed, she somehow became less sexual. It’s like the artistic parts of our brains (or at least my brain) took over, and the act of drawing took precedence over our lust.

    Then, when we took a break and she put a sweater on, she immediately became hawt again.

  17. I did a stint of this – still a student now.

    After the initial shock, being nude is not the hard part. It can be physically excruciating to hold a “dynamic” long pose. Also, with “gesture” drawing, you have to come up with a new pose every 5 seconds and it’s tricky to keeps things different.

    All my friends told me “don’t get a boner” as if it were sage advice, but truth be told there was nothing erotic about it. Even if there’s a cute girl drawing, she’s looking at you like a piece of fruit.

    As it turns out, a I was a friend of a friend of aforementioned cute girl and I met her a party and we ended up dating for about a year. She told me that there’s alot of creepy old male art models – like “Mr Drippy” – who actually was banned from painting classes but continued to model for drawing. Also, the muscle beach types who would come in to show off their muscles were laughed at to no end.

    I made 14$/hour but the sessions were only four hours and I didn’t stay long enough to be “known” by the art profs (who request specific models)and get regular gigs. It was for the experience and for art that I did it, though a year a romance was by far the biggest payoff.

    1. OMG! I once had a drawing session with a model whom I dubbed “Mr. Drippy.” I can still gross out one of my friends just by saying that name…

  18. i always wondered how many of those who model nude are exhibitionists. i knew a guy who went through a phase where he applied to all the local art achools and nude modelled at every opportunity, and he was a complete narcissist who openly admitted to getting more than a mundane kick out of doing so. so how do the schools filter out the perverts? just a general vibe, or what? ’cause the guy in question sometimes got turned down, and i assumed that was why.

  19. It seems like a cool job actually. If you’re comfortable doing it and you can’t find anything else why not? He’s getting paid $15 an hour to be naked in a warm studio, and I’ll be getting paid $12.85 to work at the olympics in vancouver in the painfully freezing weather. He wins.

  20. Anonymous @ 24

    The perverts will get filtered out pretty well by the students and instructors, at least in my experience. I did a lot of drawing in college as well as the occasional session to keep in practice. Students really aren’t that shy about complaining to the instructor/coordinator about bad models. If they act inappropriately, during or after class, they won’t be asked back.

    On another note, the best model I’ve ever drawn was a yoga instructor. That particular skill set is way more important to this job than being attractive.

  21. not easy, not for long poses when you have stiff joints or sore muscles and definately not easy when the instructor insists on commenting on your physique all the time

  22. Similar to @Keith K, my personal favourite ever model was a 62-year old Indonesian Judo instructor. Amazing control, dynamism, lines. Modeling was a real art to him.

  23. i have been a naked male model at 8 different institutions, with over 100 instructors…
    denying that there is a sexual/erotic quality to the act of modeling/drawing, painting, sculpting, photographing the human naked figure, is rather absurd.
    of course no one will admit it…after all, this is all in the name of art, right?
    well, check out the work of that briliiant austrian artist egon schiele.
    or, for my experiences and observations, check out my blog at

  24. ok, then…..the name is there, so is the google search engine….
    back to the topic….
    huge difference between nude and naked; nude you are when you are alone and have no clothes on; naked you are when you have no clothes on and are exposed, vulnerable, raw, the way any artist ought to render the human figure (person) that vulnerability extends even to the moments people are looking at a painting of the person who posed for it, even if he/she is not in the room.
    there is this painting, “ode to edo”
    oh, yeah, and remember the google search engine
    most of the drawings of female models (art!) i have seen over the years are not much different from the photographs in the early editions of “playboy”………..
    oh, yeah, that’s right, we bought that magazine for the articles, silly me.

  25. and “artists” have no prurient urges, right??!!
    and with “prurient” i assume you mean sexual……oh dear
    artists as saints: an entirely new concept.
    over the years i have seen “artists” at figure drawing sessions whose stick figures even were artistically challenged.
    and for those who still naively insist this is just an innocent creative environment, surf the net and count the number of stories in which tumescence plays a major role in the minds of many males who pose, or have posed, naked “for the sake of art”

  26. no, my mother had/has no problem with my naked modeling either….she is 96, i am 66 and she told me when i had started that she too had modeled naked when she was 19.

  27. I took life drawing in college it was wonderful, most of the models were great. Except there was this plain looking old guy who for some reason thought that us women in the class would be turned-on by him being naked. He couldn’t have been more wrong. It was kinda creepy if you ask me. So if any guys out there think they’ll turn women on simply by being naked sorry its not happening, unless of course you’re young and good-looking:) Otherwise its just art and we are there to draw. You are better off keeping your clothes on you’d have more chances with the ladies. But overall most of the models were great from a strictly drawing point of view.

  28. ok, responder #37: you were just unlucky that evening, being stuck with an old guy, like myself.
    such an intriguing thing, the human mind…..
    yes, yes, you don’t have to spell it out again: art instructors really only want the young female models….and perhaps at times the handsome young dudes…and again – with feeling:
    beauty = desirablity = sexuality = perpetuation of the species: the ultimate plan.
    humanity also is decay, growing old, frail, feeble, wise.
    check out my blog….just google my name and you’ll find it
    btw, as an older male i wasbusy five days a week posing at any one of eight different institutions….often – heck, most of the time – i found that students had portrayed my with , well, let’s just say, robust proportions, if you know what i mean…..ah, lack of young virile handsome male models? of course!
    it is, after all, all about sex, isn’t it?

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