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Day in the Work Life: The inspiration

Marketplace Staff Jan 12, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I’m Kai Ryssdal.

This week in New York, Sotheby’s host an auction of impressionist and modern paintings. Among the items you might be inclined to bid on? A $95 million portrait by Picasso. These grand master works, of course, were often inspired by a humble muse, an artist’s model. So on today’s a day in the work life, we head to an art school just a couple of miles from Sotheby’s where a model bares all.


Okay, this is the basement where a lot of the work that I do gets done in sculpture. There are a lot of studios down here. That’s probably the welding class. My name is Cathy. I’m a fine arts model at the Arts Students League and other schools and my age is 40 plus. Oh here’s a sculpture of me, right here — this one.

I ended up in this job because I was working in the gallery and my daughter was in dancing school and she had a teacher who also modeled at the Art Students League. When the gallery closed and I was at my age trying to decide whether or not I wanted to go back into the corporate world, which I really didn’t. She said come with me, I know a really interesting place where you could get work, and ended up staying nine years, so far.

I grew up in a conservative, very strict background so doing nude posing was a little mind boggling in the beginning, but I treat it more of a performance where I get into a character. So when I’m up on the modeling stand it’s really not me, per se, it’s the character or the persona that I’m portraying at that one particular time.

People have a misconception that my job is easy, that all I do is sit in a chair and stare at a wall and people paint my portrait. It’s way beyond that. The job assignment could be eight months in sculpture. Physical strength and stamina might play a part if you’re holding yourself up standing for three hours a day, five days a week. A high threshold of pain, believe it or not, because the body’s not meant to stand still, or sit still. I’ve been hung upside down, tied to furniture, bent, tied in knots like a pretzel — I’ve done everything, yes.

I don’t see any other way that this would work unless the significant other was in the art field because first of all, my hours are really strange and the fact that I am prancing around naked in front of a lot of strangers, which is hard for a lot of people to get around. But my job really doesn’t affect my situation because my husband’s a painter and I actually met him because I posed for him.

I work 45 different places in a year — schools, colleges, privately. My salary over the last nine years has averaged $18,000 to about $35,000 per year. A lot of people think that most of the models are dancers and actors–young girls and young guys. Most of the art models that have been here the longest are actually just regular people. I, too, was a student at the Art Students League and I found that the older people were actually more interesting because the life experience was on their face and their body. They had more of a story to tell. So I’ll stay here forever.

RYSSDAL: A day in the work life was reported this week by Sally Herships.

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