Since I began writing in New York, I have interviewed a wide range of people. Artists, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and musicians have allowed me to peer into their lives, retell their stories in my own words, and subsequently broadcast that on the Internet. When I asked David Aronson, an East Village artist with an impressive portfolio (mostly nude women), if I can interview him, it had occurred to me that he might ask that I pose for him.
Let’s be realistic. It is flattering to be asked, no matter what the motivation. I wanted the validation of being deemed visually captivating enough to inspire the work of someone whose art had inspired me. However, I was so used to subjecting people to interviews that I was completely oblivious to the experience of being a subject. After all of the interviews I had conducted, it seemed only fair that I was the subject to be scrutinized. (Though my base desire here was to play out the fantasy of being immortalized on paper at the hand of a talented man.)
To be subjectified wasn’t what I was searching for when I asked David for an interview. It was just the unexpected side effect of having him stare at my naked body for several hours. In fact, I never intended to write this piece, but I was so surprised by how I felt that it became necessary.
I found the experience emotionally exhausting. In fact, my palms were sweating every second of it until I put my dress back on. For David, the painter-subject relationship is very pure. He is an observer, in his element, and he’s peacefully and passively doing what he loves.
Sitting under his literal spotlight exposed me more to myself than I believe to him. I was not nearly as comfortable with myself as I thought I was. Putting aside the unavoidable political, emotional, or personal aspects of the experience, what really stuck out to me at the end of it were my own insecurities.
As a naked woman, it felt important to me that he would want to experience me sexually. Because when a man sees me naked it’s for sexual reasons. However, for David, the art of painting the naked form is, in and of itself, not necessarily so. Which was played out when he commented, “I can tell you are trying to figure out where you stand.”
And for him I imagine that it is not a unique experience. With the dozens of women that he paints, many, if not all, want the validation that he would find them attractive enough to sleep with whether or not they reciprocate. And this undercurrent made me very anxious and uncomfortable. So I asked him to take his clothes off in an effort to even the playing field. (He obliged.)
In reflecting on the experience, I am still unsure of whether or not it was sexual. I found him attractive, and I was lying naked in his bed. But for him, I felt like it could have been any other Thursday. His comfort in nudity should have made me comfortable, but I had paralyzed myself.
Now that it is over there are two distinct ways I believe one could have experienced being the subject: Empowered and comfortable in the absence of desire, or anxiety-ridden in the ambiguity of it all. I am disappointed in myself that I chose the latter. But it also provides me with a new appreciation of what it takes to truly expose yourself to another human. I plan on continuing to conduct interviews — a level of honesty I am happy to have explored.
You can read the piece I wrote about David here.