How to Use a Fine Art Model

By Alina Bradford

nude woman by Taylor RossUsing a life model as a painting or drawing muse may have been the norm for masters like Peter Paul Rubens, but it can potentially bring modern artists legal problems.

In fact, using a disrobed model for fine art may get the artist or the model jail time, as Zach Hyman found out while photographing his model in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to NBC News.

So how does an artist know when to draw the line?

RexD. Glensy, Director of Intellectual Property Concentration and Associate Professor of Law at The Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, says in an interview with Painting/Drawing at Suite that artists simply need to do some research before using a model when painting or taking reference photos.

The Basics of Using a Life Model

When using a model for reference photos and artistic purposes artists should consider their local laws. RexD. Glensy say, “Obscenity laws, and in particular, public obscenity is what you should check. These are part of the criminal law statutes of each state.” This can be checked by consulting the state and local criminal statutes. These are publicly available online.

He also encourages artists to make sure that the person who is going to pose is above the minimum age for appearing in any form of undress in any medium. For the most part, models must be 18 years old in the U.S. and in most other countries. “In fact, under U.S. law, the photographer is required to take a copy of the ID of the model and keep records of this even after the shoot is over should the government decide to investigate that particular shoot,” says Glensy.

Any photographer or artist that intend on documenting someone in the buff should also get the model to sign a release form so that there is proof that the individual consented to the artist painting or drawing their form. The release should always be as specific as possible, noting exactly what will be the outcome of the posing. For example, if the artist is photographing the model for reference photos, then the release form should state that the photos will be used as a reference for fine art projects by the artist.

Using a Model in a Public Setting

So, is it illegal to use a model that isn’t dressed in a public setting? Most states and municipalities have laws against public obscenity. In other words, no undress of any kind is allowed in public places where one would expect people to wear clothes, says Glensy.

There are exceptions, though. According to Glensy, an artist may be able to slip by these laws if the expectation of being clothed is not present, such as in gender-specific locker rooms, drawing classes where the artist is expected to draw models, or in clothing optional beaches or naturist camps. The artist should make sure to check the rules even in these areas. Some places have rules against any type of photography, but they may be open to sketching. Always ask, just to be sure.

Municipalities routinely grant permission for the shooting of works of art, no matter what the state of dress, says Glensy. The artist needs to have permission and make sure that there is adequate notice to locals that they might be subjected to models that are lacking clothing.

So, an artist can stay out of legal trouble when using a model by doing a little research and by using a clothed model in places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or by simply asking to use that space.