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Dissecting the scarcity of male life drawing models

Ella Carroll explores why men seem to be reluctant to model for life drawing.

By Ella Carroll, Co-Deputy Arts Editor

Throughout history, art has never shied away from depicting the nude male form. Indeed, this can be seen in Greek and Roman sculptures but also in paintings, photographs, and more recently on the big screen, with Barry Keoghan’s triumphant final dance scene in Saltburn. But on campus, in the privacy of the Stacy rooms, where art society convenes twice a week for life drawing, there are few male models to be seen. Thus, the question of why men seem to be so much less inclined to model naked for these classes remains to be answered. 

For those who are unfamiliar, life drawing is the practice of drawing or depicting in any way a nude live model and it can certainly raise a few eyebrows when discussed with those who are not closely acquainted with the art world. But this unfiltered approach to art is incredibly raw and unimpeded and it encourages a huge sense of admiration and appreciation from artists, towards the human form. One thing that noticeably stands out to me, however, having attended a fair few of these classes through the University’s art society, is the obvious reluctance of men to volunteer to be nude models. 

 I interviewed Rosa, a third-year who used to run some of the classes and she too agreed with this observation. Rosa mentioned how there perhaps might be “more taboos around male nudity than around female nudity”, adding that “we’re used to being inundated with images of naked women in various contexts”. Images of unclothed women in art frequently have overtly sexual undertones and indeed women have been separated from their clothes so frequently in paintings, photographs and films that we have become rather desensitised to the naked female body. That is not to say at all that men are not sexualised in art, but rather, in comparison to women, the depiction of the fully nude male body in a sexual light, seems to be less pervasive. One thinks of Greek statues of nude soldiers, which often have an emphasis on honour and valour and yet art which contains nude women does not always seem to possess the same subtext. Women always seem to be ‘casually’ draped and contorted in ways which conveniently depict them in a conventionally attractive way and nude depictions of them can often seem fetishising rather than liberating. 

Art by Ella Carroll

 But to debate whether men and women are more sexualised is not my intention. But rather I believe that the way we are “inundated with images of naked women” is a large factor as to why women seem so much more comfortable in being nude for the sake of art; because their nudity is far more normalised and encouraged. But to get a clearer view of this issue, I conducted a personal survey of twenty men, asking them if they would consider modelling. Fifteen answered no and three claimed they were not sure, while a mere two said they would but stated a few conditions (a mature audience, a guarantee they would not know anyone drawing them etc.). When asked for his reasoning for answering no, Second-year Harri explained: “Being naked around someone means I have a strong bond with them as I don’t feel judged”. He continued: “I don’t particularly have a passion for art, so I don’t feel I’d benefit from it”. 

It seems the main reasons that were given, were either aesthetic concerns or a lack of interest in the practice itself. Furthermore, the majority of attendees for the classes in Bristol do tend to be women, and it is likely that this also plays a role in why women feel so much more comfortable modelling than men. It is also worth noting that a lot of women as well as men find the notion of modelling naked daunting and unappealing. After all the prospect of being fully undressed for two hours in front of a class of twenty strangers is nerve-wracking for most. But it is clear from the evident absence of male models in comparison to female models that for women this reluctance does not manifest itself to the same degree as their male counterparts.

Art by Ella Carroll

So how might we encourage guys to get more involved with these classes? Well, as a previous attendee, I feel obliged to make clear that the atmosphere in these classes is nothing but professional. Models have complete control over what poses they do, and how long they pose for and despite it seeming otherwise and underwear can be worn; there is no obligation to be fully nude. Furthermore, as Rosa explained very eloquently, it is a great opportunity for people “interested in challenging their own boundaries and getting out of their comfort zones” and models are provided with a chance to “take a breather and let their mind wander”. It seems as though posing for life drawing not only is helpful for artists but can also be a meditative experience for the models themselves. Thus for any guys who want a chance to stretch their boundaries in a healthy, liberating way, I would certainly advise them to consider modelling.

Featured image: Ella Carroll

Would you ever consider modelling for life drawing?