Section: Features

On both sides of the easel, nude modeling is a creative outlet

On both sides of the easel, nude modeling is a creative outlet

A 1980 Bill Watterson cartoon in the Reveille | KENYON REVEILLE ARCHIVES

On Jan. 25, Studio Art Administrative Assistant Lisa Dilts sent an email to the student body in search of studio arts models (colloquially referred to as nude models) for Associate Professor of Art Read Baldwin’s Figure Drawing class (ARTS 230). Three hours later, she followed up with an email explaining the positions had been filled after receiving an “overwhelming response.” The email went viral on Kenyon-related social media, and many students were left wondering about one of the most mysterious jobs on campus.

The Collegian spoke to several nude models for insight. Dan Napsha ’21, one of those hired to model, spoke to the widespread curiosity. “Everybody saw that email and giggled and imagined themselves [in the studio] as if it would be some high-drama situation,” he said. Napsha quickly debunked the mystery, adding, “But at the end of the day, you’re there as a model to sit and as a student to draw.” 

The models all described the mood in the room as welcoming and professional, with upbeat music making it difficult to sit still. The session starts with 10 one-minute warm-up poses before transitioning into the longer seated poses, which last the remainder of the class. There is no question that the job is physically demanding. “You’re trying to hold all the poses, and you’re trying to sit still, the projectors are on you so you’re sweating, you’re thinking about how your arm is cramping intensely,” said Aleksandr Smirnov ’23. 

Smirnov began modeling his first year at Kenyon to get out of his comfort zone. “I view it more as a way to get accustomed to the idea of my naked body,” he said. “There’s something about seeing yourself drawn on paper and the style, it really helps you to be okay with how you look. That’s why I did it, and why I’m still doing it.”

Amid increasing conversations on campus regarding appropriate compensation and unionization for student employees, there are varying opinions among models at Kenyon about whether the position is primarily a way to make money. Since the modeling can only take place during class time, there are few hours available for these employees, which they work for relatively low wages. The models employed by Kenyon are paid $9.92 an hour, which, while above minimum wage, is lower than the industry standard. At Oberlin College, for example, figure drawing models are paid $12.00 an hour.

When asked about compensation, Smirnov said, “Can we really say that sitting naked for an hour is worth more than being a late night server at Peirce [Dining Hall], or being educated and training for Helpline?”

Anna Zheng ’23 signed up for modeling as an experiment to inspire creative writing projects. “I want to have a different perspective as a nude model,” she said. “I don’t want to be a nude model because I want to be seen; I want to look at other people and observe their reactions when they are drawing, and then maybe I can write about it later.” 

The nude modeling position is both a form of self-expression and a physically demanding job. And for those on the other side of the easel, the models play a necessary role in the artistic process.

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