Baring It All For Fine Art

Illustration by Julie Gundersen

For most college students, a part -time job involves pouring coffee, taking phone calls or filing paperwork. However, some SUNY New Paltz students have found an unconventional way to earn money — by modeling for the Fine and Performing Arts Department. The only job requirement is to be naked.

At $15.78 an hour, nude modeling is one of the highest paying jobs on campus, but not one of the easiest.

“It hurts,” Christina Bartonicek, a fourth-year printmaking major, said. “After 15 or 20 minutes of standing perfectly still in a pose, I am ready to collapse.”

According to Bartonicek, who modeled from spring 2011 to spring 2012, pain is one of the most difficult aspects of the job, but “it is interesting to see how strong your body is…or weak,” she added.

Bartonicek was one of the 20 students who annually model for the Fine Arts Department’s drawing classes, according to Christine DeLape, assistant to the dean of fine and performing arts.

Besides the physical pain of a foot falling asleep, a thigh cramp or slight wooziness from standing too long, there’s also a psychological toll to modeling.

“It’s definitely a mental game,” Colin Vallee, a SUNY New Paltz alumnus and former model, said. “I learned how to not scratch myself. It’s very much mind over matter.”

As far as physical characteristics of a model go, Vallee said the thinner a person is, the less enjoyable they are to draw.

“It’s better to have curves, to create shading around the body,” Vallee said. “It’s not about being the prettiest….it is about being the most interesting.”

Cheryl Wheat, a drawing professor who works with nude models, was more blunt.

“I would rather draw a sumo wrestler than anything,” Wheat said

Models also need to feel comfortable in their body, have the stamina to hold poses for extended periods of time and be imaginative enough to create dynamic poses, according to Wheat, who has been drawing live nudes since the age of 12.

In addition, models should be willing to look at student interpretations of their bodies with an open mind, she said.

“In some of the beginner classes, students are less experienced, and they may make the model look fatter or more disproportioned than he or she is,” Wheat said. “There have been a few times when I’ve said to the model at the end of class, ‘You don’t really look like that.’”

The topic of nude modeling, which  can provoke awkward silences, raised eyebrows and the sting of judgment, is often considered too taboo to bring up in conversation.

For Cameron Brown, the initial reactions to his job always focus on the same thing.

“It’s like clockwork,” Brown, a fourth-year BFA ceramics and art education major, said. “Guy or girl, the first question they always ask me about it is ‘what would you do if you got an erection?’”

Brown, who was recently hired and hasn’t experienced modeling nude yet, said a situation of that nature would be nothing to be ashamed of.

“It’s a naturally occurring thing,” he said. “I guess I’d just play it off…like a burp.”

Though most of Brown’s family is accepting of his side job, his sister-in-law reacted in shock when he casually mentioned the topic during a family dinner.

“She asked me for a minute and a half if it was a joke, and then if I was being paid $100 an hour,” Brown said. “When I said, ‘No, like $16,’ she asked if my body was worth that much to me.”

In addition to modeling being “easy,” Vallee said there’s a misconception that there’s a sexual undertone to modeling, or that it’s considered pornographic.

“There are no sexual urges modeling with a woman,” Vallee said. “The human body is like an instrument…it just was what it was.”

Vallee said he thinks everyone should try nude modeling at least once, and even encouraged his friend, Jordan Reisman, to apply for a modeling job.

Reisman, who graduated in the spring of 2012 with an anthropology degree, said that as a nude model the typical dating timeline can be skewed.

“I’ve taken a girl from class out to the movies before,” Reisman said. “It’s funny, because normally, with regular dating, it takes a lot to see someone naked.”

Early on, Reisman said he was amused by the surprising ways students reacted to him while wearing clothes. He said students from class were often shy walking past him on the quad or in the halls, but once they’d had a few drinks, they were more than willing to chat.

“I’d see people in class sometimes at [the bar] Oasis, and they’d come up to me, drunk, and yell, ‘I’ve seen you naked!’” Reisman said. “But sometimes, you do want to be treated as a person, not just a nude model.”

Whether seen as a person or model, an unconventional job can result in some unconventional stories.

Vallee said he was once modeling for a professor who brought their dog into class, and the dog began exploring the room and Vallee himself.

“It just had one of those noses that had one of most inappropriate places to go,” Vallee said. “I never broke my pose.”