Larissa Pham’s column, Devil in the Details, takes a tight lens on single elements of a work, tracing them throughout art history.
It paid $12.50 an hour with clothes on, $25 with clothes off. The choice, I figured, was obvious.
My friend Gabriel had turned me on to the gig in college. We were always on the lookout for work that required minimal effort for maximal reward. And the job was easy, Gabriel assured me. All I needed was a robe, some slippers, and to shave, but only if I wanted to.
The first class, I was nervous. I had scraped off all my body hair with a razor, praying that my period wouldn’t arrive in the middle of Introductory Drawing, surrounded by Yale freshmen—I imagined that seeing a naked woman in a curricular context would be traumatizing enough. I timed my shower for a few hours before class, enough time for my hair to dry but not enough, I hoped, for me to accumulate any malodorous sweat. My worst fear was of being too bodily, of grossing out my classmates. But after a week or two on the job, I realized, none of that mattered. All the students were focused on their drawing skills, not my errant pubes or pits or back-of-knee sweat.
Some of the professors I worked with gave instruction, to varying degrees of specificity. There was the hot professor, for example, who asked for elbows akimbo, figure-four knees, poses with lots of negative space. There was the class that took place right before Halloween, so they dressed me up in a trash bag and put Gabriel in a plague-doctor mask. And then there was the professor who, long after costume party season had ended, handed me two wooden dowels and asked me to act like a dominatrix. For the most part, though, they all let me do I wanted, and I came to see myself—if I may be so bold—as a coteacher of sorts, guiding the class with each pose. I’d attended drawing classes myself, and knew how much more fun it was to work from a model who had a grasp of dynamic poses, how it isn’t the look of the model that matters but how the model moves.
Conveniently, my education—what little of it I hadn’t squandered by frying my brain with party drugs—provided a repository for dynamic poses: the sculptures and statues of art history. Here, from a former figure model and art history major, is a brief guide to figurative sculpture through the ages, should you ever find yourself naked but for a robe, slippers, and in need of a shave—but only if you want to.