Kelley Swain on Being The Naked Muse

How does it feel to be a life drawing model; naked, in front of artists who scrutinise every roll and crease in your body? Kelley Swain reveals all in her book The Naked Muse. But here, she discusses the beauty of nudity…

Kelley Swain, 31, grew up in the US but now lives in London and works as a writer. The Naked Muse was published late May.

Kelley Swain on Being The Naked Muse

“I started modelling as an undergraduate at college in Virginia. Many of my friends were artists and dancers, and, as a poet, I was interested in the Pre-Raphaelites and in the way art was made.

One morning, a friend who was booked to model nude for an art class rang me up in a panic and asked if I could fill in for her. I just said, “Ok” and went from there. My mom was the first person I told about it, and she was delighted that I was so comfortable with my body.

Nude modelling is all about context: it’s not only appropriate, but indeed necessary, for artists to study the nude human form, in order to learn how to draw human anatomy well, for posture, pose, and portraiture. There’s nothing exhibitionist about the situation: anyone who studies art or art history knows this. Nor have I ever felt uncomfortable whilst modelling – there is a lot of respect that has to go both ways, and in fact, it seems the artists feel more exposed. They often say things like “oh no, my painting isn’t very good!”.

I modelled throughout much of my twenties, when my body was changing from that of a young adult to a woman, and being asked to pose as a Cabanel or Velasquez was wonderful – it helped me feel like a woman.

The Naked Muse -

My book, The Naked Muse, evolved from my modelling experiences: I didn’t set out to write it, but over the years, the stories accumulated. When I was invited to model for a month at an Atelier in Bruges, I began to keep a journal of the experience, and friends who heard my stories encouraged me to turn it into a book. As I’m already a poet and novelist, it seemed to make sense to write a memoir of my modelling experience.

I love that such different interpretations of me are, variously, mouldering on a back porch in Holland (one artist told me that’s where all of her work ends up,) or bedecking a Sicilian chapel (I posed for four saints of a frieze in Scordia).

Meanwhile, I carry on with my work – writing as poet-in-residence at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, contributing to The Lancet medical journals, and working on my freelance teaching and writing. The Naked Muse is one of many facets in my life, and I’m grateful there has been so much curiosity about it.”

The Naked Muse, by Kelley Swain, is published by Valley Press priced £8.99