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Are Life Models Artists?

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Dominic Blake
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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, life 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, skilled 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 and 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.