Is life modelling unskilled work? - Register of Artists' Models
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Is Life Modelling Unskilled Work?

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Models: the least qualified workers?

JIM JENKINS, model and artist, is back with another controversial article

In any job you get a certain number of people who really shouldn't be doing that job, but the problem seems particularly prevalent in life modelling. If you list all the qualities that models ideally should have, then consider what is the reality in many cases, you will see what I mean.

To start with, the job demands a rather unusual attitude to your own body - a great interest in how to use it creatively, combined with honesty to yourself about how others see it. Yet with so many models, it's the other way round. They have no real feeling for using their bodies to provide students with a range of inspiring poses, believing that their bodies are exciting enough in themselves, and they can be mightily offended at the merest hint that there is something less than perfect about their physiques.

Another essential attribute is more than average patience and good powers of endurance, yet many models seem to be under-endowed with these qualities. They panic at the thought of taking on anything that might turn out to be slightly tough or boring.

Another way in which models ought ideally to be above-average is in their general health. The job can be hard physical work if done properly and, in any case, there is always the old RAM adage about a class being able to go ahead without a tutor if necessary, but not without the model, so models should not be likely to cancel at short notice due to illness. But the evidence is that models tend to be of poorer health and vigour than average, judging by the number of times they cancel or else turn up and announce that they can only do easy poses because they are not feeling too well.

A fairly settled way of life is another prerequisite, given that most bookings come in blocks and are made quite a long time in advance, yet many models lead a particularly unsettled and sometimes downright unstable existence.

Viewers can probably come up with half a dozen more contradictions between the ideal and the real as applied to life models. I shall leave you with one further example, and it's perhaps the most prevalent of all. Models should really think of themselves as performers. They are centre-stage and without them there is no life class. They should therefore maintain an outgoing, warm and cheerful personality. But look at the reality! At least half of you are more withdrawn and less cheerful than average, and a sizeable group of you is particularly tetchy and morose.

Of course, there are those who would say that those who strive to be 'ideal' on all these points are mad. After all, why go out of your way to be especially competent, reliable, friendly etc, when the level of remuneration and the cynically chaotic nature of the way models are employed make it impossible for anyone to make a decent living out of it? In other words, why the hell talk about being professional when no-one intends to allow you to make a profession of it? There is also the point, often made, that many life drawing tutors are also singularly unsuitable for the job they are doing, and they are earning three times as much.

So we arrive at two possible attitudes, both of which have some moral foundation. On the one hand you can take a good 'professional' approach and say that your duty is to the students and to art itself, regardless of how the employers are treating you. On the other hand, you can regard it as quite wrong to encourage employers who are out to exploit you and don't actually give a damn about the quality of modelling in their life classes, as long as the money rolls in from the punters. My own tendency is to opt for the first of these possible attitudes, but maybe only because I don't have the courage of my convictions and would rather stay popular.

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