Editor's Note: The sources in this story are referred to by their first names to protect their identities.
Not many people can say they get naked for work, but Douglas, a sophomore theater major, said that’s the best part of his job.
While nudity is illegal in most establishments, it’s actually essential for Douglas’ job as a nude model in the UNM Art Department.
Models at UNM are students hired by the art department to pose — sometimes clothed and sometimes nude — in front of a class full of drawing students.
Some may wonder, what kind of person gets into something like nude modeling? The Daily Lobo got to speak with a few of the department’s models, each with a unique perspective regarding this unusual side job.
Though their experiences differ, there were a few points about the job each model agreed on: the position pays one of the highest student wages on campus, it has extremely flexible hours and it is a massive boost for their self-esteem.
Carol, a senior archeology major, said she got into modeling at the art department for the money and convenience of it.
“It pays much better than all the other student employee jobs...but it’s very irregular hours. So it’s a convenient job where you can pick up hours as they arise,” she said.
Models for the art department make $15 per hour, but hours are highly irregular and are on a first-come, first-serve basis for the models who sign up.
Though the models said they initially applied for the money, they continue to do it because they get something unique out of it.
For Carol, she said she enjoys it because it is a surprisingly peaceful and empowering experience.
“From a model’s perspective, you go into it and you’re self-conscious...You’re thinking of all your flaws and thinking that’s what they’re zeroed in on. But for (the artists), even 30 minutes is such a short amount of time,” she said. “They’re trying to just capture your form and your shape. They’re looking at shadows and light and (doing) the things that they’ve learned in that class.”
Carol said this experience gives her confidence, because it allows her to reevaluate her perception of herself when students use her image to make art.
“It gives me this opportunity to completely set aside my own ideas of myself or what I look like, and just be there and provide them with the form (and) be their muse,” she said.
Starr, a senior design for performance major, said she chose to try nude modeling, because she thought it was an interesting way to make money. She said modeling has become “self-serving” for her because she loves seeing herself in art and the idea of being immortalized by the artists’ interpretation of her image.
Starr first modeled at the Harwood Art Center when she was 18, then later applied at the University when she found the position online.
“It was the most thrilling thing I’ve done, to be naked in front of a group of people that turned me into art,” she said. “Then I fell in love with the idea of being turned into art on a weekly basis.”
Douglas, on the other hand, said it’s the nudity, rather than the art itself, that boosts his self-confidence.
“A lot of the time what people are afraid of is what people might think. But for me, the moment that I’m naked really takes away any pretense of who I am and exposes me in a really open way,” he said. “It’s completely free of me hiding anything from the people who are drawing me.”
Carol said the best part of modeling for her is being the muse for “a moment of perfection.”
In those classes, there is no ideal body, no comparison to other models and no discomfort. Instead, she is simply living artwork there to drive the artistic process for the students, she said.
Sean Burke, an art studio graduate student who is teaching Drawing 106, said while he doesn’t know what the models take out of sessions in art classes, students who are drawing the models get a lot out of the experience.
“There is a lot of nuance — you get to see the flaws and imperfections of the body. I hope (by using models) my students will be able to see the highlights and shadows that make up our visual world, and then be able to transcribe it through drawing,” Burke said. “Most of my students are not in the art department, so really what I want them to take away is that things aren’t just black and white — there is a value system that has infinite possibilities.”
Burke said having models brings flexibility and emotion to art classes which things like a mannequin or other objects can’t.
“Granted, the mannequin you can have pose for a long time without movement, but then all you are really drawing is an object or still life. That can get dull fast,” he said.
Carol also said giving life to the artists’ work is the whole point of the job. She said she enjoys coming up with different positions and facial expressions to bring to the students drawing her.
“(Posing is) kind of like body language. It conveys certain emotions to people,” she said. “If I can bring them to the artists and they can extract those kinds of feelings out of these postures and it inspires them more, then I think that’s a great thing.”
Skylar Griego is a culture reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TDLBooks.