Why does an artist need a model? (Part 2)

A member of my email list recently asked:

In rereading The Fountainhead I was reminded of something I’ve long wondered about, in the story of Steven Mallory’s sculpture using Dominique as a model: why would an artist of Mallory’s stature need a model? If it isn’t a specific portrait, wouldn’t his ability and imagination be sufficient to invent (and retain in his mind) a figure projecting a more ideal image than any actual woman he’d be likely to find? …  I’d love to hear a professional’s response to this.

I passed on the question to several sculptors I know, and heard this from Zenos Frudakis. (Back in July I posted on his bust of Hamilton and my personal favorite, Freedom.)

Having a model pose allows the artist to go outside himself for information to a knowledgeable source. Reading the model is like reading a primary source book.

If a sculptor is creating a figure sculpture, it generally means that he has studied the figure model while in art school, studying with a Master or working in an atelier. If he does not have a model pose for his work, he is relying on whatever memory he has of the limited time he spent studying the model in addition to the incomplete knowledge that he has of the figure.

For that reason, when artists like myself have a commission or begin a sculpture that involves the figure, we want to have a live model pose.

If an artist is just looking into his mind for what he remembers about the figure and he does that often, his ideas of the model become inbred. As with human beings, the worst parts of their DNA in terms of distortion and exaggeration multiply and reveal themselves, such as the Hapsburg jaw. An artist needs the unpredictable real world to merge with his own ideas. When that happens, the artist sees things in a world full of surprises that he did not even know existed. This occurs when an artist is reading the figure from a live model, strengthening the resulting work.

Sculpting the Air Force Memorial, with model at right. Photo (c) Zenos Frudakis.

Nicole Sabol, stationed at Willow Grove, PA, poses for the female figure of the US Air Force Memorial Honor Guard, Arlington, VA. Photo copyright (c) 2005 Zenos Frudakis.

Air Force Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: Zenos Frudakis / Wikipedia

Zenos Frudakis with his Air Force Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: Zenos Frudakis / Wikipedia 2009


Arnold Palmer posing for portrait sculpture. Photo copyright (c) Zenos Frudakis 2005.

Arnold Palmer with finished portrait sculpture. Photo (c) Zenos Frudakis.

Arnold Palmer with finished portrait sculpture. Photo copyright (c) Zenos Frudakis 2009.

Zenos Frudakis, Reaching. Reaching, Indianapolis Capitol Center Plaza, Indianapolis, Indiana. Two 7 foot high bronze figures. Photo (c) Zenos Frudakis.

Zenos Frudakis, Reaching. Indianapolis Capitol Center Plaza, Indianapolis, Indiana. Two 7-foot-high bronze figures. Photo copyright (c) Zenos Frudakis 1987.


  • See more of Zenos Frudakis’s work here.
  • The first post in this series (Michael Wilkinson’s answer) is here. I’m posting these in the order I received the answers: Zenos hadn’t seen Michael’s answer when he wrote to me.
  • To be notified of future posts in this series, join the DianneDuranteWriter/ForgottenDelights mailing list: email DuranteDianne@gmail.com.
  • Want wonderful art delivered weekly to your inbox? Members of my free Sunday Recommendations list (email DuranteDianne@gmail.com) receive three art-related suggestions every week: check out my favorites from last year’s recommendations. For more goodies, check out my Patreon page.
Posted in Sculpture Tagged permalink

About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, From Portraits to Puddles, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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