The classroom is filled to capacity. Trivial murmurs invade the air as students gush about routine activities. Suddenly, the room falls silent when you appear perched above your peers — naked.
This may be a nightmare for many, but for graphic design junior Aubra Tidwell, it’s a regular Tuesday.
Tidwell currently serves as an art model for the LSU College of Art and Design, where she poses twice a week for a beginning drawing and an advanced sculpture class. She is one of three to five full-time models hired every semester.
Tidwell said she learned about the position after taking a figure drawing class her freshman year. After learning models were paid $12 to $15 an hour, she said she figured it to be an easy job.
The boundary-pushing element of posing nude intrigued her, she said, and she was willing to do so in the name of art.
“I like to do things that kind of take me out of my comfort zone,” Tidwell said. “It keeps everything exciting.”
But excitement slowly transformed into apprehension as her first modeling session drew near.
Tidwell said feelings of anxiety, worry and self-consciousness rushed through her head before she entered the classroom to pose. She said she imagined herself wanting to “chicken out” and bolt from the room.
However, Tidwell said all her fears were cast aside when she finally took her position on stage for the first time.
“I walked up to the stage and ripped my dress off like it was a band-aid,” she said.
Her previous anxiety seemed absurd since she almost immediately felt at ease when posing, she said. The teacher referred to her objectively, as if she was a piece of art rather than a person posing nude.
“They’re all looking at you really analytically but not judging you,” she said.
Tidwell described her first modeling experience as exhilarating and empowering. While she understands why some people may be uncomfortable with nudity, she said it’s silly to treat it as offensive or obscene.
“It’s the human body,” she said. “We all have more or less of the same thing going on,”
Tidwell said her parents and female friends are supportive of her decision to become a nude model, but her grandparents and male friends are not as approving. She said she occasionally receives weird looks when telling friends about her job.
Luke Bernard, international studies freshman, encountered similar reactions when he served as a nude model last spring. Although Bernard’s parents eventually warmed up to idea of him posing nude, he said he refused to tell one set of grandparents since he expected them to equate the job to stripping.
Bernard said the concept of nudity is desexualized in art modeling. He said artists are only drawing the human form and regard it as such.
He said he understands why being naked in front of strangers could be awkward, but he found the experience to be introspective.
“Clothes say a lot about us,” he said. “Without clothes, someone is seeing you for you.”
Being a nude model gave Bernard the ability to laugh at himself in even the most awkward of social situations.
On certain days when Bernard felt energetic, he said he would try and entertain the class while posing by mimicking Roman statues or reading his Kindle on stage.
“I’d have my arms stretched like I was holding a spear, which was terrible because I had to hold for three minutes,” he said.
Bernard said he was fascinated by each student’s interpretation of him and was rarely offended by a drawing.
Tidwell said she doubts she will get offended by anyone’s drawing, but she does remember the model from her freshman class saying things like, “You made my butt look big.”
Alex Biglan, graphic design junior, said he was mostly unphased by the nude model when he took a drawing class. He said there was an initial awkwardness, but everyone quickly learns, as art students, it is something they have to do.
“We’re always drawing things and shapes and looking at form and line. We’re really taking the object as a whole, but looking closely in at detail,” Biglan said. “It’s not sexual it all. It’s just drawing [a] figure or form.”