Chiaroscuro

Left: Carvaggio's The Deposition of Christ, oil on canvas currently displayed in  the Vatican Museum.

Right: Sacred Love Versus Profane Love by  Giovanni Baglione,  oil on canvas currently in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Is being an artist's model a dangerous profession?

It is no more dangerous to be an artist's model than most other service professions. But because artist models often pose without clothing there is a perception that the profession exposes the models to danger. What actually makes an artist's model vulnerable to danger is being unaware of unsafe conditions in the first place.

The so-called workplace of the typical artist's model is not so perilous as to raise alarms. He or she could be posing in a classroom at a local university or at an advanced painting lesson in a popular village gallery. Of course, there are situations where artist models are required to be alone with the painter or sculptor, but there is a certain decorum maintained that protects both the artist and the model. In case of a gross breach of ethics the model can find legal recourse.

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The security of the nude modeling session depends on all the participants taking elementary precautions at the outset. Protocol dictates that models will disrobe in a separate area from the art room and be provided a secure locker or other method for keeping personal effects private.

In the university setting the professor is responsible for maintaining decorum and each student is expected to respect professional ethics. If models are introduced at all, it is only by first name. No personal information about the model (i.e., marital status, alternate employment, home address) is ever revealed. At the end of the posing session, the artist's model will have a robe nearby and take cover at once. Of course, it is exemplary if the model can bring an escort along who can maintain security at every point of the modeling session.

The professional artist working with a nude model is not thinking in terms of the sexuality of the situation, but rather the technical aspects of light and shadow, perspective and shape. It is a rare professional artist that would risk his or her reputation by preying on unsuspecting models. Such antics would not last long in the "small world" of professional artist's models.

That being said, there have been many famous trysts between artists and their models. Picasso had multiple affairs throughout his long artistic career; American painter Andrew Wyeth maintained a 15-year relationship with his model, Helga Testorf; and Cezanne had his paramour in Hortense Fiquet. But these relationships were clearly consensual and not dangerous for the artists' models in any physical sense.

To summarize, the professional artist's model should only accept modeling assignments that are legitimate and safe. He or she should take precautions to secure all personal effects while posing in the art room and be aware of the surroundings while entering and leaving the building. If there is any hint of impropriety, the session should be immediately aborted and the offending party should be reported to the authorities. Pretty much the same advice for anyone who works in any personal service profession.

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