Most people have nightmares about being naked in public. However, most people do not work as nude models in Dartmouth's drawing classrooms where baring it all is one of the best jobs on campus. But why are there so few students who dare to work as models? And why are they so secretive about it?
After working from a female student model in Drawing 1, Julia Marks '09 decided that she would give modeling a shot. "The fact that I was in an art class made the idea of being a model much safer and more interesting," she says. Working as a model, Julia makes around $18 per hour, which is almost three times as much as she earns as a student assistant at the language resource center.
After she is placed in a pose by the professor, Julia sits, stands or leans completely still for anywhere from five to 30 minutes. "I'm often worrying about whether or not I've moved my arm an inch," she says. In a term, Julia could make upwards of $700 working two two-hour classes per week. "But I can't do my homework," she says, smiling assertively.
When people say that we have a "conservative campus," this is exactly what they're talking about. The fact that the art department has trouble finding students to work as models (despite unparalleled pay) is a testament to the rigid rules and expectations of our campus. It seems that at Dartmouth being comfortable with your body is taboo, and drawing attention to yourself in public must be done with utmost finesse and confidence. But for models, nakedness seems to be another on-the-job chore, which they tackle with pride.
For Julia, the scariest part about working as a model is the anticipation, not the nudity. Before the class begins, Julia waits in the corner of the classroom wearing nothing but a robe, eyeing the students as they file in and take their seats, waiting to see if she recognizes anybody. "When it's a new class, you never know who's going to be there," she says. Once Julia removes her robe and the cold air of the studio rakes her bare skin, she is always nervous, "then after 35 seconds, [the students] are completely focused on trying to do their drawings," she tells me. What seems like an insurmountable fear for most, becomes quite trivial with practice.
"The first time they work, they're really nervous," says Gerald Auten, a senior lecturer in the studio art department. "Then after five minutes, they're never nervous again."
Professors and students go to great lengths to make student models feel comfortable on the job. Professor Enrico Riley explains to his students the importance of "keeping the doors and windows locked, making sure that the model is comfortable and understanding that this is a job and they need to respect the person doing it."
As an artist, professor Colleen Randall says, "even though [the students] are not taking off their clothes, they're trying to do something they don't know how to do, and other people are watching." This shared vulnerability creates a modicum of respect between the artists and the model. The art classroom is an environment where the normal rules of our campus are suspended in the name of academics and skill development.
And like most things at Dartmouth, an unwritten code governs conduct between model and students outside of the classroom. "I feel like I know them and they kind of know me," Julia says. But most of the students from her classes pretend not to recognize her when they see her around campus, maybe because they're embarrassed, maybe because they're shy. "If someone's going to be awkward, I should be awkward," she says, her face bright with a grin. Another place where the rules of our campus are set aside, frat basements, seem to be the only place where Julia's students recognize her with clothes on.
Maybe student nude modeling isn't congruent with the conservative, set-in-stone ideals of our historical campus, but nobody seems to mind. Besides, "they're art students, and they do get that it's just a drawing." Maybe all of our social norms are imagined constructs anyway.