Yes--They Do Use Nude Models For Art Class

Published: Mar. 5, 2010 at 7:55 PM CST|Updated: May. 24, 2010 at 7:08 PM CDT
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Amanda Walker, LSU painting and drawing senior from St. Francisville, sketches a figure drawing...
Amanda Walker, LSU painting and drawing senior from St. Francisville, sketches a figure drawing of nude model Hayes Barber, an LSU chemical engineering junior from Vicksburg, Miss., in Foster Hall

By: Ben Bourgeois | LSU Student

Nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Sandridge had never seen a nude male body before.

And having someone walk into one of her art classes, disrobe and stand naked before some 20 students wasn't quite the way she had expected to.

Like most students in the Louisiana State University's College of Art and Design, Sandridge was required to take Art 2870, a figure-drawing class based exclusively on sketching nude models. Even though she enjoys drawing, having to draw a nude model was not something to which she initially was looking forward.

"I was not expecting this class to be the first time I saw a naked guy," said Sandridge, a graphic design sophomore. "I didn't get nervous until I saw him walk into the class and said, 'Oh man, this is real.' I went to grab my pencil and turned around, and he was naked."

Rick Ortner, a figure drawing instructor in the art college, said few students have had objections to drawing nude models throughout his career.

"It's happened in my career but very, very rarely," Ortner said. "You get some very religious students from time to time from very conservative backgrounds, and they have a problem with it."

"If you're going to be a biology major and don't want to do dissections, that's a problem," Ortner said. "It's a professional program, and it's a degree requirement."

The course focuses on drawing nude models specifically to give students an understanding of the human figure.

"You've got to understand the structure underneath," Ortner said. "To learn how people move and how the drapery would fall, you'd have to draw them nude."

The human form is essential to understanding principles like lines and balance, according to Catherine Wells, administrative coordinator for the College of Art and Design and supervisor to the models.

"It develops the representational and abstract skills they use in all the design fields," Wells said. "The human form is essential to understanding proportion, balance, expression and shading."

And the model is an integral part of developing those skills. Shannon O'Keefe, a history senior, has been modeling for the art school at LSU for four years.

"I actually got into it because when I was still in high school, I had a friend who was an LSU student and she needed to draw someone naked for an outside project," O'Keefe said. "I didn't have a problem doing it, and she said, 'You should to go LSU to do this.'"

After modeling for her friend's sketch, O'Keefe decided modeling part-time would be an easy way to make some extra money. Even though she isn't an artist herself, O'Keefe said she has great appreciation for what the students are doing.

"They're timed drawings, so I'll put my robe back on and go talk to the students in between poses," O'Keefe said. "It's really cool. I can't draw really, so it's nice for me to see what they can do."

While O'Keefe said she has seen many students aspire to be models only to feel uncomfortable and quit after only a class or two, she doesn't find the situation awkward.

"Even though you're up there and naked, they see you every week," O'Keefe said. "You just have to get into your head that they're not judging you, they're just drawing you."

Hayes Barber, a second-semester model and a chemical engineering junior, said he enjoys modeling now but was nervous when he first started.

"The first day I was terrified and sat there and stared at the wall," Barber said. "But the professor was very understanding, and he'll never ask me to do something I don't want to do."

Students in the beginner figure drawing course work with same model throughout the semester and will typically sketch two or three different poses, Wells said. A more advanced class will work on more poses and moves at a faster pace.

"The class was exclusively nudes, and it's to understand the human figure better," Sandridge said. "If we have to draw a human figure, we would understand the proportions, lines and angles involved with it – you can't tell that when someone has clothes on."

Students interested in modeling have to be a full-time student in good standing with the University and can apply at the College of Art and Design. And once Wells hires a student as a model, she said they tend to maintain the position for a long time.

"They have the tendency to stay in the modeling position because it pays so well, and they do tend to really enjoy the job," Wells said. "If they stick with it they can make quite a bit of money."

Starting models are paid $12 an hour and work about six hours a week, Wells said. The pay is increased by a dollar per hour for every year a model works with the school and caps at $15 per hour.

"My friends always tell me, 'Oh, you get paid to just stand there,'" O'Keefe said. "But they don't realize how hard it is to stand still for that long."

"It's actually very physically demanding," Barber said. "After my first day I was really sore."

Even though she was not particularly happy about having to draw nude models for a semester, Sandridge said she is proud to have worked through it.

"Even though I was nervous, it was never a negative thing – it was me being a scared virgin sort of thing," Sandridge said. "It was definitely an experience – hopefully one I won't have to repeat."