Artists & Prostitutes

It is Sunday morning here in Amsterdam.  My presentation on my final project is in three days.  I leave here in four.

I have a fellow classmate from my graduate program visiting me this week.  She came into town yesterday and I showed her around last night.  We stopped by the Prostitution Information Center and I introduced her to Mariska and the other ladies at the center, and I took her on a tour of the Red Light District.  We stopped for Chinese food in nearby Chinatown and we stopped at a Coffee Shop on our way home.

As we walked about, I couldn’t help but reflect on the first time I came here.  Last night I walked about confident in my surroundings and not at all like a tourist.  It was crowded as it was a warm spring Saturday night, but I knew how to navigate the back alleys to avoid the many bachelor party groups gathering in the area.  I had come here nearly two months ago to do a project on prostitutes and artists and now I was 3 days away from presenting my work. As I walked around, I began to think about the connection.

I would venture to say that every naked woman you have ever seen in the famous paintings of history were most likely prostitutes.  Even into the 20th century some of the most famous paintings of nudes where depicting prostitutes. Yes, on rare occasions the model has been a bored society woman, a naïve tropical girl, an art student, a girlfriend or the wife of the artist. But, usually it was a woman who was a professional.

Why did artists use prostitutes as models? The most obvious reason is practicality. In almost any age and society (except for ours, and in some places, still ours), taking off your clothes for anyone other than the doctor, or your husband, put you out of decent society. For most artists, the only source of nude models was the brothel.

However, if you look at the most famous depictions of nudes, you will not see sleazy, enslaved, tortured, drug riddled women, but rather externally beautiful, etheric women. I think the prostitute was able to give to the artist a sense of humanity that was both beautiful and vulnerable and thus inspired such depictions. I know that is the effect spending time with these women has had on me.

Artists have traditionally been on the fringe of society just like the prostitute. They are more often observing, interpreting and documenting the society in which they live than they are immersed in the daily life that most people live. Artists are different by choice. Yet, I think deep inside the artist wants society to view him as still having a good heart and soul, and he wants to be accepted.

Tomorrow I will write about my project.  On Tuesday, I will post the “speech” I will give at my presentation after I present my work.  On Wednesday, I will continue my travels in Europe and begin working on a new project. However, I will always carry with me a deep affection for the Red Light District and all of the women who work here.

Some of my most favorite prostitute models in history:

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