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Why "Perceive Me?"

Perceive Me Nude Portrait Sessions at The Other Art Fair April 4-7

THIS is why "Perceive Me!"

I received an email the other day that made me cry. Someone from the public shared their experience leading up to participating and how she felt after.

THIS is why it is so important I continue on with this work, for my community of artists, for a society worried about what others think of them, for individuals who worry that their bodies aren't the 'ideal', and for me who is always looking for ways to learn to love myself as my body changes with age.

THIS helps!!

Kristine Schomaker


Something Written...

I wasn’t necessarily planning on stripping down and modeling nude as an artist’s model when I signed up to be a part of The Other Art Fair a few months ago. I was signing up as an exhibitor and was really interested in showing my artwork (not my body). I knew about the Perceive Me project, by Kristine Schomaker, but I had no idea that I would become part of the project myself. Nor that I would find beauty and even healing by becoming a participant.

When the event began, I was intrigued by the new iteration of Perceive Me - I had seen Kristine’s work and was very moved by the project. But seeing it all together on one wall, her statement and the works themselves made by other artists, I began to understand the larger point of the work - and I began to wonder if I too might want to be a part of it.

Having been on the artist’s side of things, I know first hand the way there is a beautiful generosity that happens between an artist and a model in life drawing. Judgment has nothing to do with what is happening as you pick up pencil or charcoal to record the lines and shapes of a body. Criticism flies out the window and in steps WONDER. You find yourself seeing beauty in the human body. Someone who may have been utterly unremarkable while passing on the street suddenly holds your attention. A state of flow comes in while you observe and marvel at the lines and shadows. I remember being a student in life drawing classes in college - being completely mystified at the incredible vulnerability of our models - I was grateful for their courage and generosity - the gift that they offered to us as artists.

It’s been many years since I drew from a live nude model and yet that was a feeling that has stuck with me for decades. I wished that I could be one of the artists in TOAF’s rendition of Perceive Me. Instead, as I walked past the discreetly private booth, and saw more and more drawings mounting up on the outside of the room, I considered what it would be like to model. What would it be like to bare all in a generous place that gave honor to the body I wear?

I recently turned 48. On my birthday, I woke up with a bulged disk that made it so I could not sit down for 5 weeks. I’m still in tremendous pain even writing this. I have been thinking about aging. I have been thinking about perimenopause. I have been thinking about the shell that my soul wears, that it is not going to get any more beautiful or reliable than it is now. I work out and do my best to take care of it and prepare it for the decades ahead. But after giving birth three times, having many surgeries - and having spent over 7 months on bed rest recovering from surgeries, I know these shells we wear are fragile. I want to honor what scars I have, the places I have been, the pain I have learned from. I want to let my saggy belly and widened hips know that I value them for what they have brought into the world. I want to honor the giant scars on my legs from so many surgeries and to say thank you to my knees for holding up and getting strong.

My dear brother in law was diagnosed with ALS this year. In the span of months, we have watched his body go from capable, reliable, athletic and adventurous to a place where it is failing him. His mind and spirit remain strong, but the shell that they wear is failing him.

I am also a high school art teacher. I spend time with students who talk to me about being fat shamed by their peers. They talk to me about how others speak to them. I have seen it myself. And in remembering the tenderness with which we view our artistic subjects, I have changed their figure drawing and portrait painting assignments to be self portraits, because I believe high schoolers need to learn how to love themselves. That tenderness should be given to the subjects that need it most. All of these things were swirling around my head when I spoke with Kristine and told her that I thought I would like to model. She encouraged me to get someone to watch my booth for 30 min.

I signed up while I had the nerve, and got a friend to watch my booth.

When I walked into the room, I realized with a little humor that I already knew two of the artists. Well, so much for anonymity. Ok, here we go.

It was scary stripping down, because knowing myself, I use my glasses to hide behind. I choose bright wild frames to hide my face that I often think of as thick featured and average. I accessorize my body with bright clothing and accessories and tattoos to show the outside world what the inside of my soul looks like past the skin I wear. It also reminded me of all of the medical procedures that I have had to do over the past few decades…. not really things that brought me any joy or healing. And I decided right then, as I put on the robe provided for me to walk from the (un)dressing room to the center podium - that I was doing this to reclaim my body. I was doing this for joy.

At first, of course, I felt naked.

I mean, I was naked. I don’t even swim in my own pool when I have guests over to swim. I am deeply self conscious and very modest. This was totally new. But I thought about Kristine’s bravery. I thought about how when I see the beautiful images of her body, and then when I speak to her as a mentor and friend, that I don’t think less of her.

I think more of her.

I marvel at her beautiful and courageous spirit. Pocketing that thought for myself, I walked to the podium. I picked a standing pose for my first 5 minute warm up pose. I cocked one hip and looked up to the corner of the room - the same way I do when I am having blood drawn. I didn’t want to look and see what was happening. But even still, in my peripheral vision, I saw what immediately relaxed me. I saw the motions of each artist’s head - up, down, up, down.

Up to perceive me.

Down to record what they saw.

Up to capture understanding. Down to record.

Up. Down.

And then I realized we were all in this together.

Five minutes wasn’t a long pose to hold. I next had a 15 minute pose.

I had initially taken off my glasses for the first pose - because I wanted to really get the entire experience of my body being itself without accessory. The artists did ask that I put my glasses on for one of the poses, mostly because they were bright and fun to draw, so I obliged - mainly because I was looking at this as a give and take experience.

The 15 minute pose was a hard one. With my bulged disk, I needed to find a way I could be comfortable for a while, so I chose to sit down. This was a little humbling as well, knowing that my mommy tummy and 48 year old parts would sag in a less than flattering way at this angle. And I told myself - “I am here for this too.”

I sat there for 15 quiet minutes. I thought about my brother in law, who has lost the ability to do even something like this. I thought about my students who feel ugly in their beautiful teenage skins. I thought about my husband, who is the only one I have let see me this way until now. And then I thought about myself. About the middle school girl who thought she was “disgusting” and “ugly” and never good enough.

And I sat there in that pose and I spoke to her. To the 13 year old who was sure she was unworthy of love because she didn’t look like the other girls did. She didn’t look cute in a bathing suit. Her knees had ugly scars and were permanently swollen. I spoke to her and I told her, “one day, you will be 48. And you will be aging and saggy in some places, and you will have wrinkles and gray hairs that you have earned through suffering and tears. And you will have spent lonely months in your house recovering from painful surgeries. And you will love yourself more than you ever have.

You will look at yourself and you will see wisdom.

You will look at yourself and you will delight that your body has given you the ability to walk, and hike, and make art, and stand in front of people encouraging them.

You will give up any flatness (there wasn’t ever much) of tummy for three remarkable human beings that will both tear your heart out and delight you beyond measure..

Your flesh that you hate so much now is going to take you around the world.

Your eyes that have always been a problem are going to see such beauty that you will ache to create.

You will have arthritis that gets even worse because you make so much art.

And you will love the skin you wear.

You will mark it with tattoos that honor both joy and pain.

You will find it beautiful.

And I stood there. Wearing only my glasses and my soul. And I said to that young girl….

“I am unwinding the hate you gave to yourself.”

Suddenly the time was up.

I stood up slowly - like a much older woman than I am as I was in pain. But inside I felt like a healed woman. I walked back and put my clothing on and waited to see the work that had been created.

The seven artists had made 14 pieces of art for me in that short time.

7 different angles. Some were more flattering than others.

Some felt more honest than others.

That was ok.

I purchased 7 different pieces. I purchased them for different reasons. One I bought was a very unflattering angle. It was of me while I was sitting - an angle from the side where my belly hung over itself as I leaned. I looked thick. But the artist (a friend of mine) had rendered it with tenderness and love. I could feel it radiating off of the page.

There’s one that is of my back. In it, I see my widened hips, some thickness around the middle - my knees are folded under me and there is just enough of my face showing that it is clear it is me. The picture itself is wonderfully executed, but I felt very tender towards this one as well - seeing this part of me that has lately given me so much pain and honoring its own journey too.

Two others that one artist had done were so lovely that they felt almost like there was no way that those images could be of me. They felt too generous, too kind. But I purchased those as well - because as I thought about it, I was struck by the fact that maybe (definitely) I see myself in a much harsher light than others do.

Other images I purchased or didn’t purchase showed my body as it is. Aging, but also still capable of small beauties. A shell for my soul, regardless. I took some of the images home - and the others, I ended up walking past all weekend as I passed the wall of images of others who had bravely faced their own fears. My naked form is in the background of many people’s photos from TOAF. I became part of a community of people who opened themselves up to this moment in time.

I felt lucky.

Privileged. Honored.

I spoke to a number of the artists later on that day - If I hadn’t known them before, now I did. And they thanked me for my courage while I thanked them for their gifts.

To honor ourselves, our soul shells, the skin that houses our true selves is a gift. We wear these parts on the outside and we walk through life being judged by the way others may view them. Rather than absorbing the judgment - those of us who stepped onto that podium this weekend opened ourselves up to love instead.

I found myself speaking to another participant when we’d both walked away and we showed each other our drawings. “Is this weird?” We asked each other at first.

Was it? Then we looked at each other and decided, and spoke:

“no - that’s what this is about. This is beautiful. You are beautiful.”

Perceive Me

By Liberty Worth


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2 Kommentare

Loved reading this. Liberty has written a profound letter on modeling for the Perceive Me project.

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Beautifully written. “I am unwinding the hate you gave to yourself.” This line really resonated with me.

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