A creative partnership

Blue King (A1 charcoal on paper 2019)

On Friday March 8th I posted the above drawing on Instagram – with some trepidation – in honour of International Women’s Day. The point of my post was that a good life model works in creative partnership with the artist. I’ve looked at the relationship between artist and model before but it’s intriguing enough, I think, to return to it.

Art history is littered with cautionary tales about (male) artists and (female) models. The beguiling model attracts the eye of the painter and soon captures his heart too, but his heart is a fickle as his eye and before long she emerges as a broken shadow of her former self. Or two artists fall in love and the male half of the relationship decides he’ll paint his lover and somehow her career becomes subservient to his: she is no longer an artist but his muse. Camille Claude, an astonishingly talented artist in her own right, but during her lifetime known only as Rodin’s model, is one of the more tragic instances of the latter.

I say I posted my hommage to the life model with trepidation because there was another hashtag around on that day, #refusetobethemuse. At first sight, there could well be confusion between the model and the muse, especially as they are often the same person. However the connotations of the word muse run deeper.

“As women, for centuries we were not allowed to be artists but we were muses,” artist and self-described muse Coco Dolle has told HuffPost. “We were always venerated in that sense. And I feel that legacy is still prevailing. It’s part of the romantic idea of the art world.” The mythical origins of the word ‘muse’ keep it firmly planted in a fantasy world, perhaps, enabling the exploitative or the unscrupulous to take advantage of blurred lines.

Blue King – 10 minute gesture drawing (A1 charcoal 2019)

The professional life model, however, should never be confused with a muse. He or she might inspire but it’s more of a collaboration, a joint effort to produce a finished piece, at least with the best life models. Certainly in the three years or so I’ve been drawing Blue King, the model in the above pieces, it has been a process of discovery, a dialogue, so to speak, between pose and drawn line. My development to a looser style of drawing, as I mentioned in my previous post, has been encouraged by the teacher, Annabel Mednick, but enabled by Blue’s fascinating, and sometimes challenging poses, which seemed to demand something beyond direct representation. It is that partnership that I was celebrating on International Women’s Day.

17 thoughts on “A creative partnership

  1. Thanks for the post Michael. Interesting to read about the long collaboration too. So often in life drawing class the model changes weekly, but working with the same model allows you to develop a working relationship/partnership. Looks like this is a successful one. Your drawings are wonderful.

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    • Thank you very much, Shari, much appreciated. Yes, I occasionally attend a life drawing class when I visit the US, and the models change each time – different sexes too! It’s a different sort of experience to draw the same person every week, but Blue’s yoga training allows her to maintain poses for a superhuman period of time!

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  2. I haven’t been able to get to life drawing classes for years (how I miss it) but it was that particular drawing process that completely and radically changed my understanding of what drawing really is – back when I was a student at Goldsmith’s in the 1970’s – and although I always thought that it was the teaching that helped me to this epiphany I realise now, reading your post, that in fact the model had a lot to do with it. It was a young man, who I remember was a deep-sea diver by profession, which quite probably gave him skills that were also useful as a model. He was extremely good. Thanks for prompting me to think about this! And lovely to have found you on Instagram which I’ve only been using for about 6 months – and enjoying it immensely.

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    • Thank you so much for this and for following me on IG. Am I following you back? You’re absolutely right about the power of life drawing: it changed my view too. That’s something that’s difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t attempted it. It’s somehow more than just drawing someone with few or no clothes on – what exactly makes it so special is what I’m trying to discover through posts like this.


      • You are following me now! In which case (and as an aside, really) you’ll see that my own contribution to International Women’s Day was a horse, possibly even more controversial than your celebration of the artist’s model. It made sense to me, but would have required a long explanation that I wasn’t going to go into. Thanks for following – nice to be keeping up with you on a different platform.

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    • There’s nothing wrong with being a muse per se, that’s true. I think the problems start when a creative woman is ‘reduced’ to muse status while her own creative impulses are stifled, like Rodin’s, or like Alma Mahler in music. I suppose a muse is passive, while the life drawing model I work with in these classes is very much a partner in the process.

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  3. It’s good to hear you’ve had such a rich relationship with the model, and equally good to know you thought through the pitfalls that can come with the territory. These days maybe it depends mostly on the two people involved – an exploitative dynamic either gets enacted or it doesn’t. But before modern times, it was probably much harder for someone who became another person’s muse to get away from that role. I hope that now, ideas like the old-fashioned muse are close to dead! Or being reinvented along less unequal lines.


  4. I was just reading how Red Grooms’ wife was really an equal collaborator in his art. I think it’s still true, that the male half of any partnership gets top billing in most cases.
    And yet art is always a collaboration between subject and object, human or not. I hadn’t thought about it, but I’m glad you pointed it out. (K)

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