Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object Hardcover – 30 Apr 2009
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Kathleen Rooney boldly and bravely dissects what it means to disrobe in the name of art - and money. For anyone who wants to know why a woman would prefer to be nude rather than naked (and what the difference is), read Live Nude Girl and find out. - Rachel Kramer Bussel, editor of Best Sex Writing 2009 ""Though the title of Kathleen Rooney's Live Nude Girl seems to promise an external approach to the subject, modeling nude for art classes, the book itself is surprisingly introspective, learned, and thoughtful. While revealing what a nude model does, how she does it and why, what she feels and thinks while doing it, Rooney explores what her profession means to her personally and what it means and has meant to others. The writing is enticing, engaging, inviting, and the anecdotes it tells are irresistible."" - Peter Stitt, editor of The Gettysburg Review ""If Live Nude Girl caught your eye, promised, beckoned - good. Follow the enticement and you'll encounter the thrill of a rigorous and questioning mind in motion."" - Lia Purpura, author of On Looking
About the Author
Kathleen Rooney is the author of Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America, now in its second edition (University of Arkansas Press), as well as the poetry collections Oneiromance (An Epithalamion), Something Really Wonderful, and That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, the latter two written collaboratively with Elisa Gabbert. Her essay ""Live Nude Girl"" was selected for Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
For example, there is a lot of talk on how Rooney wants to be perceived as "pretty" by the artists she poses for. And then she wonders why she wants them to see her as pretty. And why people, in general, want to be perceived as pretty. And then shares quotes from famed and esteemed philosophers and writers. It sometimes made the book difficult to read, as I would go into and out of quotes and deep thoughts and all the rest. But it was interesting, nonetheless.
I don't think this is a book one can read all at once- it may be slim, but it is dense. Each chapter can stand as an essay on its own, and in retrospect, I recommend reading the book in that manner so that you can better mull over the ideas Rooney presents. It's a thinking person's book- and it was fun to read it and be challenged by reading again, in ways I haven't been for so long.
The book is full of anecdotes about the history of art modeling, specific classroom incidents, feelings regarding posing for a new group or artist, and what it's like to drop the robe for the first time. Once I finished, I immediately contacted a fellow art model with whom I have worked before and told her that she really ought to read this book. I'll be loaning it to her the next time I see her.
And on a personal note, another interesting parallel: the book was published by the University of Arkansas Press. I began my modeling career at that very university back in November of 1984...
As an actor who has performed naked on the theatre stage professionally and as a teacher of actors who has trained actors to work without clothing, this book immediately caught my attention because it is a subject that those who have worked in the nude rarely discuss publically. It is not that we are ashamed of what we do or have done but simply that to the non-artist to work without clothing or to be nude publically seems not an act of or a part of art but an act of, at best exhibitionism and, at worst pornography. Rooney lifts this veil and invites the public into experiencing what it feels to be naked publically and to be "the object of the gaze of a spectator" as well as to attempt to explain why she chose to do so.
While Rooney does go on at some length and possibly in too much depth for this type of book in balancing the life of "Phryne" -- a modeling sensation of ancient Greece -- with Madonna's nude photos for Lee Friedlander, and explains at length Greek versus Judeo-Christian approaches to nudity and highlights the difficulty people have distinguishing art modeling from prostitution ("There it is again," she notes, "this conflation of selling images of your body with actually selling your body itself."), thankfully, Rooney doesn't shy away from the personal. In fact, "Live Nude Girl" is best in these moments, when Rooney allows herself to be truly naked. Despite her intellectual swagger, she is moved to model by a desperate need to be seen not unlike the reason an actor takes the stage.
"The first thirty seconds of nudity are always the most jarring, charged for me and for those who are looking at me," she writes. "The disrobing is a gentle shock, a surprise, a kind of eyewash, and the instant is electrified, more vivid than those that preceded it and those that will come after. My nudity feels hyper-real, as if this person is the most three-dimensional object in space, vulnerable in her nakedness, but powerful in her command of the entire room's studious and uninterrupted attention."
It is this facing one's own self and that self's selfconsciousness that is, as any actor knows, one of the first steps towards a psychological enlightenment that, in the case of the actor, allows for the stripping away of the layers that prevent one from truly knowing who they are, and allows for the continual process of "becoming" someone else. But this too cannot take place until one is able to substitute truth for vanity, understand the distinction between ritualized eroticism for the erotic, and accept one's body for what it is.
Thus her initial obsession with looks in the book is not vanity but insecurity. Rooney is caught in a love-hate relationship with her body that she can't escape. Yet even as she uses modeling to prove her worth, she knows what she's doing. "Art modeling itself, in a way, is an adolescent pastime," she admits: "you are frozen forever in the process of becoming. You are never fully formed."
Though nude modeling (as Rooney rightly emphasizes) is decidedly not a form of sex work, this book will be shelved alongside a number of increasingly high-profile looks at, and firsthand accounts of working in, the sex industry, and that is unfortunate because throughout the book, Rooney presents the distinction between nakedness and nudity as the key to understanding the uniqueness of nude modeling, and by extension, the way we view bodies in general. "There's power that comes with nudity," she writes, "a naturalness, and an intimation of public acceptability, as opposed to nakedness, which is more personal instead of professional, and for me is best kept private." If not an original argument, it is a resonant one.
Being thin and attractive herself, Ms. Rooney has no problem establishing her career by doing nothing more than answering an ad from a local art class, and expanding her work from there. She takes us through her learning curve as a model: what is required during a session, how to prepare and how to make it through comfortably. That alone would have made for good reading, but she is willing to dig deeper.
She gives us bits of history as she tells her story, taking us to the Greek roots of modeling as well as the artist/model/mistress paradigm of Western art. This is almost a distraction, however, from the examination of the different relationships she has a model. Though she doesn't always address things directly, we learn a lot from the varied experiences she has with public art classes vs. private sessions, sculptors and painters vs. photographers, pros vs. amateurs, male artists vs. female artists, and so on. Clearly, there is no single expectation a model can have.
Fortunately, Ms. Rooney has had a wide career, has meditated on much of it and is willing to share what she has learned. I think she has been lucky in many ways, having had such a generally positive experience. But this is not a career one finds on the checklists one fills out for high school counselors and Ms. Rooney cannot hide the "forbidden" aspect of it. Even she refuses to tell her parents and friends what she does for a long time. On the other hand, though there is no reason for her to be embarrassed about modeling, its exclusion from what would be considered a normal, acceptable job is part of what makes her memoir worth reading. So is the fact that she has the writing skill to make the most of her experiences.
"I walked in and said, 'Well, Tony, here we are,' and I dropped my robe and I got into position. I felt shy and thought, 'It's Tony Bennett. Why am I naked?"
Lady Gaga had come face to face with what Kathleen Rooney describes as the "spine-tingling combination of power and vulnerability, submission and dominance" of nude modeling in her marvelous book "Live Nude Girl : My Life As An Object."
Rooney's book provides an introspective look at the history and challenges of art modeling from the model's point of view. Rooney's meditative prose leads us to a point of connection between muse and artist.
Why after centuries of images in charcoal, paint, stone and silver print do artists still feel the need to depict the human figure? For me it is our shared connection as sentient, sexual, and spiritual beings.
By taking the time to deeply look at and into another person we move closer to finding the ghost in the human machine. At our core we are all naked.