The last thing anyone expects to see when entering a classroom at GW is a naked man standing perfectly still, every eye in the room trained on the defining lines of his muscles. For GW art students, however, it’s just another day at the studio.
Rob White, a GW junior, knows all about holding the focus of a crowd. He’s not only a cheerleader, but also one of GW’s nude models. White may not be a conventional artist, but he has fully mastered the art of modeling in the buff since he started doing it six months ago.
He first heard about the opportunity from a fellow cheerleader involved in GW’s art programs. While the idea of baring it all wasn’t that appealing at first, the prospect of earning a hefty sum soon convinced him to give it a try. White said he makes anywhere from $15 to $100 per each hour-long session and typically works once or twice a week.
“(The rate per hour) depends on the person … and how pressed they are for time,” said White. “Some people will have senior projects due and they’ll just say, ‘I don’t care (what it costs), I need to do this.'”
Over the course of a typical modeling shift, White’s activity can range from long periods of single poses to quick, constantly changing poses (called gestures), each lasting about 10 seconds.
“I’ll sometimes end up in a (lower position) than where I started. It’s not a big thing, though. It’s a relaxed environment,” he said.
However, White said the most difficult part of nude modeling isn’t the long period of standing time; it’s the muscle definition that many of the poses require.
When asked what the most embarrassing aspect of nude modeling was, White replied, “It’s cold.”
He says his friends are typically supportive of his work, though he does have to deal with the occasional jibe. He’s even been able to get a few friends interested in nude modeling. White’s family, however, is a different story. The idea of breaking his mom’s heart is too much to bear for Rob, so telling his family about his extracurricular activities other than cheerleading is out of the question, at least for now.
But despite the need for some secrecy, the experience has been a good one for White.
“It’s a great living – you make a lot of money, and really all you have to do is stand there,” he said.
More importantly, he’s become more confident in himself and has even learned a few things about art, mainly from looking at the portraits students create from his poses
“I look (at their pictures) sometimes,” White said. “Some people are more skilled than others, but you get a lot of mini-lessons (in art) there.”
The model said he doesn’t worry about getting dirty looks from the students for whom he models because everyone involved is always extremely professional.
“I figure I’m probably not the first naked person they’ve seen. They’re there to draw. That’s all,” White said, adding, “If you’re shy, then this probably isn’t the line of work for you.”
This atmosphere of professionalism is primarily thanks to a special behind-the-scenes star in GW’s modeling program – model coordinator Erin Farnsworth.
Farnsworth is a teaching assistant for the painting class, though her duties entail much more responsibility than the average TA. She is the sole coordinator for everything related to nude modeling for the art department. Even though she has only held the position for about two months, Farnsworth has her hands full when it comes to meeting with the extremely specific needs of art professors.
Much is demanded of Farnsworth because not just any model will do for most classes. Almost every professor wants a certain look, whether it is the characteristics of a black, physically fit female or a white, couch potato male, in order to present their students with the challenges of portraying the ever-varying human body.
“They want the students to draw all kinds of people,” White said, adding that recruiters don’t look for a specific body type but seek variety instead. “(The types of bodies) needed (varies) from year to year. It’s actually pretty tough to get people to get up there at all.”
Well before a semester begins, Farnsworth is presented with each art professor’s syllabus, letting her know the dates that models will be needed. Farnsworth doesn’t have to do much advertising, as models’ names typically come to her by word of mouth. It is entirely up to her to hire the model with the right look and, more importantly, the right attitude. In such an intense, artistic environment, maturity is highly valued. Farnsworth prefers to hire experienced models with the proper attitude toward posing and who will take it seriously.
Models of all levels of expertise come from all over the D.C. metropolitan area to perfect their skills under the tutelage of Dave Quammen.
Quammen contacted GW professor Frank Wright and started modeling for GW art classes in spring 2001.
“When I started (modeling), I found that I enjoyed the creative process,” Quammen said. “I enjoy GW because there’s a broad variety of students; they seem very mature and they are also very friendly.”
The Figure Models Guild that Quammen started a year and a half ago provides nude models with a special place to learn more and to share their experiences.
“When I first started modeling, there was no way to meet new models, learn poses and generally get into the modeling scene,” Quammen said.
The guild hosts workshops, and an organization-wide meeting the first Sunday of every month. Quammen has even authored a pamphlet of 428 poses and a narrative about the art of nude modeling. The group boasts about 40 active members and is constantly growing – nude models now have their own hub in the art world that didn’t exist before.
White said Quammen’s group is primarily aimed toward people just breaking into nude modeling, noting that he and other experienced models don’t need the help.
White said the shelf life of a nude model can be surprisingly long, keeping the number of veterans in the field relatively high.
“There are people who’re, like, 50 to 60 years old doing it. You can go as long as you’ve got clients,” he said.
Quammen feels that unfortunate misconceptions about nude modeling continue to be the No. 1 factor preventing nude modeling from assuming a more commonly accepted place in American society.
Quammen said that “Western culture’s inability to believe that we have bodies that we should be proud of and that are not something we should hide but should celebrate” is the most common misconception about nude modeling. He hopes groups like his can help make nude modeling more acceptable by helping people appreciate the beauty of the human form.