Nude, not lewd



Who hasn’t had this common nightmare before: You’re standing in front of your entire class when you realize you have forgotten your clothes. You are completely naked.

If this nightmare sounds familiar, it might come as a surprise that some students stand in front of classrooms naked by choice.

“Many of our own classes utilize nude models,” Benjamin Withers, professor of medieval art history and art department chair, said. “These courses range from introductory drawing classes open to all UK students to advanced courses in drawing, photography and painting, just to name a few.”

UK is also the site of Saturday morning community classes in the Reynolds Building, where students and community members practice figure drawing while viewing a live model.

“For many years, UK provided the place in central Kentucky where artists could regularly draw the nude figure,” Withers said. “Our faculty realized this and created an open drawing session where UK students, students in other programs that didn’t permit the study of the nude and members of the community could work together in front of a nude model.”

Robin Westrick is a returning UK student working on her license in dietetics who has modeled at both community sessions and classes that are strictly for UK students. She said she began modeling 11 years ago as a “painfully modest” and “very shy” person who wanted to try something new.

“I thought I was going to get sick,” Westrick said of her emotional state as she stood in the hallway waiting for her first nude session. She said once she began modeling, she focused on holding the pose, and the feeling after completing the session was “exhilarating.”

She said she models because she loves it, not because she gets paid. UK pays models $10 per hour.

Eric Byrd’s interest in modeling sprung from his personal art education.

“It was kind of an honor to go and be in front of my peers,” Byrd said of modeling nude. “It was fun.”

At some schools, drawing from a live nude model is not allowed, but UK faculty view the experience as a vital part of the art curriculum.

“We are our bodies,” Rae Goodwin, art studio foundations assistant professor, said. “We are not just our brains. I think culturally people have a misunderstanding of what figure drawing is. People see it as a lewd activity, but it has been one of the mainstays of an art academy.”

Goodwin started drawing the nude figure at age15. She said at first she was very uncomfortable, but came to realize her discomfort was unnecessary.

“We are a culture that generally sexualizes the nude figure, when we are all nude under our clothes,” Goodwin said.

In the fall, art lecturer Hui Chi Lee taught a class that focused solely on the human figure. She said her students were “very excited,” about the opportunity to draw the human figure.

Lee explained that figure drawing is difficult for both the artist and the model. The artist must have an understanding of anatomy, skin and hair, and the model must be able to hold a pose for at least a one half hour to one hour, Lee said.

Byrd’s personal modeling record was three hours.

Holding poses is not the only difficult thing about modeling, however.

“If you just lay there, it’s not very interesting,” Byrd said. “I think to be really, really good you do your homework.”

Byrd takes inspiration from the masters and looks through books of the great paintings for new poses. He also sometimes poses with a walking stick, uses blocks or incorporates twists into his poses to make them more interesting and challenging to students.

“My age group peers really like when I model,” Byrd said. “I really think about the pose before I strike it.”

Westrick said her favorite pose involves her sitting with one leg extended, another one bent and an arm draped across the bent knee.

“You’ll get to know what you can hold,” Westrick said.

Both models agreed that their favorite part of modeling has been seeing the way other people view their bodies.

“Modeling has helped me appreciate my flaws,” Westrick said. “That has been cathartic to me.”

Byrd said one artist drew him with huge muscles in a comic books style even though he is “not like a Chippendale guy.”

Students, too, say that figure drawing classes make them see the human body through fresh eyes.

“When you have the live model, you see the structure. You see the three dimensional form,” Cristina Igelmo, a student who took advanced figure drawing under Lee’s direction, said. “You learn to see in a whole new way.”

Westrick explained that students are given a list of rules before they are allowed to participate in a live nude model session and are generally discouraged from interacting with the models. She said she has never felt uncomfortable about student behavior during a session. Reception outside of the artistic community, however, has not always been as warm.

“I’ve been accused of being an exhibitionist,” Westrick said. “I am not that at all.” She said a personal favorite phrase is, “I do nude, not lewd.”

“Many other places only use a book or maybe a DVD,” Byrd said. “If we lost this in our art class, it would seriously impact the quality of the artisans we graduate at UK.”