Using live figures that are actually present in the class is vital because if the students only drew from photographs, they would not be able to “constantly reevaluate what they’re looking at, because it’s always in a state of flux,” explained Grider. “What we’re all fighting against in the world is just seeing sameness.” By the end of the course, Grider hopes that students have a refreshed visual perspective of the world that demonstrates sensitivity to the fluctuations of figures. The class isn’t about technique, about achieving depictive perfection of the eyebrow; in fact, Grider approaches the class with the idea that “technique is a filter you put between yourself and the subject. Everything has to adhere to that filter, and, in my opinion, that makes for less interesting drawings because there’s always something that’s sacrificed to the filter, in order to make it the way that you were taught.”
With this in mind, it becomes clear that the availability of student models isn’t just a nice accoutrement, but a vital, indispensable resource for this course and the education of visual arts in its entirety. Intuitively, it seems like the imperativeness of live models would lead the Studio Art department to seek out professional models. As it turns out, however, professional models are less reliable than student models; with the competition of downtown Philadelphia universities clamoring for models, it was often smarter for the professional models, who typically lived in Philadelphia, to ignore Swarthmore College in favor of closer institutions. Student models Nicholas Witchey ’15, who plans to major in Art History, and Jae-hyun Oh ’15, who intends to major in Psychology and Education, offered their perspectives in two separate interviews on the course and their choice to model.
Q: So why did you decide that you wanted to model?
Nicholas: The week before I got back to campus, I was talking to my parents and they said, “Nick, you should get an on-campus job this semester,” and so I got to campus and we all got the email with the application for nude modeling and I thought, “Well if I’m going to get an on-campus job, why not get paid to lay around naked? That wasn’t all the thought that was going through my head. But another big reason was that I actually feel very insecure about my own body, and I thought that doing that, the modeling for an art class, would possibly be a really good experience for me, just throwing myself in the deep end and putting myself out there and having a class of students look at my body.
Jae-hyun: Most if not all of the extracurricular activities that I do are somehow connected to either psychology or education, and so as much as I love them, I feel like I needed a different perspective of looking at things because I acquired such a frame of mind from those disciplines that anything I look at, I think about them. So I thought I needed some kind of change and then I saw the [modeling] ad and I thought it was fascinating.
Q: Did you have any prior modeling experience?
Jae-hyun: I had some experiences back in Korea but not in here [the United States]. I am a novel writer, and I myself illustrate and design my novels through an internship at the official publishing company, and I use myself as a model to illustrate. I mostly ask other people to take pictures of me. They can be professional or amateur photo-takers, it just kind of depends.
Q: How do you think the student modeling for Swarthmore is going to be different from what you did before?
Jae-hyun: In South Korea, there is this notion about nudity that is different from expected, because you would think that since South Korea is kind of a rigid, Asian, Confucianist society nobody will even want to discuss it. But actually, we are much more comfortable than Americans that I’ve seen about going to the public bathrooms together and stripping their clothes off when the same-gender people watch. Hundreds of women would get naked together and it’s not awkward at all, although we wouldn’t verbally discuss it. So when I came here I felt more awkward having to drape my towels every time I go to the bathroom because that wouldn’t be necessary in Korea. I feel like that gave me recognition of how culture can give a very different perspective about the body and now that I’m in a different culture, I can see how culturally ingrained I was. So I feel like that part of this student modeling experience will make me look at my body and think about how people look at my body differently.
Q: Do you think that people in America are more insecure and have more body image issues than people in Korea?
Jae-hyun: Maybe I’m biased, but from what I’ve seen so far, American culture generally more often sexualizes the nudity whereas in Korea, it’s just a body that doesn’t have clothes on.
Q: Do you think this has to do with the way that advertisements are? Because it seems like fashion advertisements in America aren’t about making people look beautiful, but about making them look sexy.
Jae-hyun: I agree that people’s bodies, especially women’s, are sexualized and viewed as objects that are not their own.
Q: What was your first modeling session for the class like?
Nicholas: The class goes from 8:30 to 11:10 a.m. and I get there at 8:45. I modeled for four sessions, each about half an hour with breaks. I was terrified when I got there the morning of. I borrowed a robe from a friend because I don’t have a robe and I didn’t want to be just walking around nude at the breaks. The way it’s set up is that the art students have all their easels huddled around me and the place for posing is a makeshift table with some drapery on it in the corner of the room. So I walked into the modeling area and just dropped my robe which at that point wasn’t really terrifying anymore; I was already naked in front of these students and getting up on the table and staying in the same place. What I thought was going to be the hard part of it was actually the easy part because it’s not as if they’re staring at you and judging your body, I mean, they’re art students and they’re really there for their own edification and you’re just there to help them with them. The actual hard part of it is the physical part; it’s pretty physically demanding to stay in one shape for that long.
Q: Being an art historian, what perspective does that give you on your modeling experience?
Nicholas: Right now I’m focusing on Ancient Greek and Early Medieval art, and so it’s so interesting to be in a classroom environment that feels very sort of Renaissance-inspired, like “Let’s draw naturalistically, let’s get the human figure,” when that’s sort of different from what I’m studying. And there is this interesting debate in the art history world about the relative merits of classical versus expressive art. So it’s interesting to see what we teach in our art classes, because of course it’s important to understand the human figure in that medium. Picasso was amazing at drawing naturalistically before he moved on to more abstract art.