When We Confuse the Artist’s Muse with the Artist’s Model


Helga Testorf is considered the last unknown person to become famous for his paintings. The testerf was a model of Andrew Wyeth from 1971 to 1985. Meanwhile, Weiss secretly created more than 240 paintings of her and hid them from everyone, including his wife. When Helga Pictures was released in 1986, the public was intrigued and inevitably raised the question of whether artists and models were sexually involved. Twenty-seven years after the painting was released, Testerf still had to answer this question on the BBC’s “Michael Palin in the World of Weiss.” They didn’t know our language, we didn’t speak that way. There was more to think about. “

Our culture seems to be obsessed with the relationship between artists and models. In countless movies and stories, it is portrayed as a scandalous relationship with desire. It seems that iconic artists inevitably need to have some kind of horrifying romance and long-term romance with their “muse”. Relationships are most often male artists / female models, and this renowned dynamic element underpins our continued perception of women as objects and even undressing as sexually available. ..

Modeling is a serious profession that suffers from the story that the value of a model (usually female) comes from the ability to give romantic inspiration to an artist’s partner (usually male). True artists and models generally understand that this concept is exaggerated, but the perpetuation of this peculiar story affects us all. Having worked as a professional model and artist, I can prove that it’s not sexy and it’s not as tense and crackling as movies and fantasy. So why does this story continue and what does it mean?

After a challenging transition from a child to a young adult, a young woman can feel that her body is not particularly her own, but belongs to the critical gaze of society. Like many others, when I judged my body against ideal criteria, my self-esteem was undermined and my image in the mirror was disappointing and eerie. Art modeling has given me a way out of that cycle.

The assumption that you must be completely confident to model an artist is a misunderstanding. Rather, modeling regained my self-esteem and healed me. Modeling is not like standing in front of a mirror. The artist’s eyes are analyzing, but not criticizing. The image of the model is only reflected in the artist’s interpretation. Modeling freed me from judging my body, and social expectations lost their control over me.

“Self-portrait as a model” @exshaps (2017)

The depiction of the artist’s studio media as a very sensual space is equally misleading. In my experience, the opposite is true. Rather than being under a greedy gaze microscope, the model is considered a timeless honor. The relationship between the model and the artist is intimate and is only for sharing trust, collaboration and privacy. This intimacy is generally misunderstood and gives us the illusion we see about the relationship between artist and model.

Testorf talks about modeling in terms of love, but she’s not talking about Wyeth, but the act of modeling itself. It’s real. You have you, your passion, and your freedom. Modeling is a passionate job, so her words resonate with me. It is also very difficult, physically painful and mentally burdensome. It requires a spirit of generosity and empathy. Many models and artists prefer to consider themselves collaborators, emphasizing the amount of work the model actually does, rather than the passiveness of the simple existence that the concept of “muse” means. .. The vast majority of artists who use models respect and need this hard work.

But outside the artist’s studio, an annoying and erotic story comes back. Dating was a minefield for people who believed I was indiscriminate or wanted to quit modeling someday. I was skeptical about the time I spent with the artist. The artist is expected to hire and use a model, but I was asked why I chose my work as a model. The model’s body is only accepted if others are translating for her.

When I left full-time modeling and started practicing my art, the use of my body in my artwork caused scrutiny and censorship. I am deeply hurt by being pushed back into the judgment and sexualization of my body, which has finally released myself. I need to tackle the topics of feminism, sexuality, and censorship just because I’m using my body for artwork. After years of spending years in an environment that taught me how to cherish my body in my own words, once again my body and its meaning do not seem to belong to me.

On the other hand, the artist I modeled has not undergone similar scrutiny. They aren’t asked why they draw or draw nudes, just as I now have to defend the use of their nudes in my artwork.

Drawing Workshop, Art League School, Alexandria, Virginia, (2018)

Helga Testorf easily rejects the thought-provoking ideas surrounding her relationship as Weiss’s model. Her love for modeling was as strong as his love for drawing her, it wasn’t romance, it was the place where there was love. Still, the world can’t let it go. The metaphors of available (female) models and desired (male) artists survive, limiting artists whose work does not fit the story and perpetuating the traditional gender role.

The problem is not in the old tradition of model-artist relationships. The problem is that it needs to be something more. It justifies our commitment to objectifying the female body and making intimate relationships sexual. As long as you look at the artist-model relationship this way, you’ll miss the real romance — something that Testorf and Wyeth were familiar with.


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