ARE LIFE MODELS ARTISTS?
© Dominic Blake 2016 - 2022 | Member, British Society of Aesthetics
In 2016, I conceived a novel art historical theory grounded in my experiences working as a life model at the Royal Academy of Arts, which I wrote about and first discussed in a lecture series, 'Are Life Models Artists?' at institutions including The National Gallery, the Royal College of Art and Mall Galleries in 2019. Examining life modelling through art historical and experiential perspectives I explore the existential realms within which the practice exists. While not claiming in an absolute sense that modelling is an art form, I advocate a more enlightened perspective according to which it might become one within the realm of performance art or contemporary dance according to the determining factors of motivation and context. 'Are Life Models Artists?' is an ongoing enquiry, the seismic impact of the pandemic has fundamentally altered the calculus upon which our understanding of the life model is based.
The role of the life model is inextricably linked with the Western academic traditions of fine art associated with the emergence of the art academies during the Renaissance, popularised in the 17th and 18th centuries by the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture in Paris and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The academies have become the filters via which the life model is interpreted and understood, shaping contemporary attitudes and giving rise to cultural paradigms suggesting that models are servants, or mercenary drawing instruments. By extension, models have been thought of as muses, providing the inspiration for artists to create their work via their emotional engagement. However, life modelling is a complex practice, models fulfilling myriad roles beyond those defined by these paradigms. Given the determining factors of motivation and context, modelling might itself become a physical mode of artistic practice within which the model uses their body as their medium to create works of art within the realm of performance art or contemporary dance. These self-choreographed or spontaneous artistic acts may occur either in creative symbiosis with other artists, or beyond the studio / life room environment in alternate contexts, including museum or gallery settings. Differing contexts may foster new perceptual frameworks of understanding on the part of the viewer; removed from previous paradigmatic shackles, the models artistry may be unambiguously revealed.
While undertaking research for 'Are Life Models Artists?', I interviewed the directors of several major galleries, museums and private collections, practicing artists, life models and curators to gain their insight. Included within the group of interviewees was Sir Christopher Le Brun, Past President, Royal Academy of Arts; Simon Martin, Director, Pallant House Gallery; Jo Baring, Director, The Ingram Collection; Lara Wardle, Director Curator, The Jerwood Collection; Gill Saunders, Senior Curator, V&A Department of Word and Image; Anne Noble-Partridge, Director, London Drawing; JJ Delvine, Artist (BP Portrait Award 2018, 2011, 2006); Desmond Healy, Artist and Fine Art Tutor; John Close, Artist and Fine Art Tutor; Suzon Lagarde, Portrait Artist and life model; Robin George, life model. I am also indebted to Dr. Darren Clarke, Head of Collections and Research at The Charleston Trust; Professor Jean Wainwright, art historian and critic, Maeve Doyle (Director, the Maddox Gallery, London), Tristram Hunt (Director, the V&A) and the RCA for their support.
'Are Life Models Artists?' has received coverage in the mainstream art press: The Guardian published a feature about my work in August 2019 and I was also interviewed by BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Guernsey and Soho Radio. You can listen to my BBC R4 and Soho Radio interviews here.
Royal College of Art, 23 February 2022.
Middlesex University London, April 2022.
Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent, 7 May 2022.
I am currently translating my lecture series into a monograph, due for publication in 2023.
Symposium: 'Revaluing the Life Model in Art Practice'
Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent, May 2022
I am co-curator with Dr. Aurélie Debaene of a May 2022 symposium at the University of Kent's Aesthetics Research Centre within which the theories I conceived and advanced in my lecture series, and associated issues that emerged out of Dr. Debaene's independent research, will be further explored. Our successful application to the British Society of Aesthetics was awarded generous funding in 2019. Prominent members of the academic and artistic communities will participate through panel discussions and lectures including Jo Baring, Professor Jean Wainwright, Dr. Anna Pakes, Professor Anne Eaton, Anne Noble-Partridge and JJ Delvine.
Charleston Trust 2021 Commission
In 2021, The Charleston Trust commissioned Aurélie and I to write a chapter within Charleston Press No. 4, 'Model and Artist in one body'.
'Dominic Blake's work is located at the core of an emerging art historical debate about the role of the life model' - Royal College of Art
'There is an emerging interest in the broader culture of investigating and revaluing the role of the life model in art practice. In the U.K., this has been led by Dominic Blake' - Dr. Aurélie Debaene, Aesthetics Research Centre, University of Kent
'Blake's advocacy of a new way of viewing the life model is inspirational' - Jo Baring, Director, The Ingram Collection