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The Art Class

My art teacher brings me out of myself
There were five students in the room, one teacher and a model who sat smoking, despite all regulations and sitting on the posing chaise as our teacher, Isobel, talked.

"Ignore Teri – she is a rebel." Isobel smiled at us. "Rebels make good models – they have character. Now, you," she pointed at Martha, the oldest in the room. "Martha, what is the difference between painting and photography?"

"A painter should try not merely to create an accurate image of her subject but to demonstrate something of the subject’s character through her art or to reveal something that is not necessarily there but is suggested by the subject to the artist?" Martha always answered a question like that, with a sort of hesitant question-like statement.

"Pretty good. I’m going to arrange Teri, to pose her and I want you to paint her in a way that tells me, your viewer, something either about her or about your impression of her. Can you do that?”

The group murmured a response which was not positive but more like a "we’ll have a bash at it" sort of reply.

Isobel arranged Teri so that her right breast, the one furthest from us, was exposed, the left covered in the thin material of her dress. Teri’s right arm was extended to point, her left hanging almost vertically down as she lay supine on the chaise longue. Her right leg was bent at the knee so that the heel of her foot was on the chaise, the other leg was spread wide and the dress fabric, deep red silk, flowed over her pubis like blood.

"Observe," here Isobel ran her hand rather intimately over Teri’s mound, "the dress covers her cunt but we can see the faint outline of it, agreed?" Another murmur.

Isobel had described Teri as a rebel but she was rebellious too. She never used a euphemism, sometimes a physiological word, like breast or vulva, more usually a common word like tit or cunt.

"And, please, ladies," she added, "remember, perspective, light and above all remember to compose your piece. What is the difference between erotica and porn? Don’t bother, I’ll give you the rules according to Isobel. Three key words: imagination, sensuality and provocation. Erotic art leaves the sex to the viewer’s imagination, porn thrusts it at you like it’s on the end of a pitchfork. Sensuality not sexuality – the viewer feels the subject’s weakness or vulnerability or desire; whatever you, the artist, see in her. Provocation; the artist wants to arouse through sensuality and imagination, not through the obvious depiction of sexuality. Does that make sense?"

We got to work.

Isobel patrolled the studio, studying each student’s work, passing comments, encouraging. Her hand rested on my left shoulder, her chin on my right. Her silver blonde hair brushed against my face and her thumb absently caressed the skin of my neck just above my blouse.

Her voice was almost a whisper. "Tell me what you’re trying to achieve?"

"I want her naked breast to be almost out of focus so that attention is drawn to the clothed breast, to the hint of its nipple. I’m trying to suggest that her sensuality is drawing them into her. I want them to see Teri as I see her."

"And how do you see her?"

I hesitated. "She exudes sexual desire, she almost looks as though she is post coital, as though she has just had a tremendous orgasm and is trying to cling to the moment."

The voice whispered in my ear, "Hmm, you are setting your imagination as a benchmark for the viewer?"

The hand resting on my shoulder slipped lower down my front and clutched the silk of my blouse, bunching it so the fabric scraped across my somewhat engorged left nipple. "I think so, yes."

Insistently, she pressed her mouth to my ear through my long hair. "Is her cunt wet? Is yours?" This startled me and I almost recoiled. She continued, louder than I would have liked, "You will never be an artist, never a real artist, unless you admit to yourself the effect the subject has on you. Is your cunt wet?"

I nodded.

"Say it: say, 'my cunt is wet.'"

I couldn’t. Exasperated, Isobel lifted her head from my shoulder, her hand still on the other.

"If I’d asked you when you were looking at a landscape, 'is your heart singing' or ‘is the light revealing something you have never seen before' you’d answer, no?"

I could feel the eyes of the class on me. "Yes."

"If you are seeing sexuality in your subject it is because that is how you feel about her? If she makes you wet, then you want the viewer to be wet." Then, to the rest of the group, "Is anyone wet from looking at Teri? I am!"

Some nodded nervously.

"Oh, for fuck’s sake." Isobel almost slapped my shoulder. "When you paint erotica or anything else come to that, you expose yourself, your desire or your loathing; your lust or your hatred. If you’re exposing yourself through your work, then you might as well expose yourself through your words."

"Yes," I said quietly, "Yes, I am wet."

The truth was that I wasn’t sure if it was Teri or the intimacy of Isobel’s touch that had made me wet. When she had caressed Teri’s cunt over the fabric of her dress I had squirmed in my seat, wishing it was my body she had touched.

Her hand tapped my shoulder approvingly. "Good girl. Now say that in paint."

I felt almost bereft when her hand left me and she moved to another artist’s station. The brush in my hand seemed almost to be on fire and I found myself working faster than ever. The swell of her covered breast, the plateau of her stomach, the dress as it fell between Teri’s thighs – all of those I painted rapidly but carefully, attempting to compose the image so that everything drew the eye to the hint of her labia through the delicate silk.

Isobel was about 50, willowy and tall. Her eyes seemed to see everything, not merely the superficial but that which was hidden. Her mouth turned up at the corners in a perpetual smile. She was passionate, indifferent to embarrassment and contemptible of dissimulation. Everything has beauty, everything has darkness, that was her maxim. She would not hesitate to provoke, to make her students reveal their feelings to her. Art, she maintained, defied morals, standards, rules.

Our work complete or as complete as time allowed we were all required to arrange our easels so that we could walk around the studio and examine each other’s work. Comments were made, views exchanged. Teri herself wandered around, her breast exposed without shame.

I was the last to leave when the session ended. I’d had to make a phone call so was delayed in packing away.

Isobel waited and when I had finished she said, "You’re very good, Liz, really. You are just so bloody repressed. You have to let it out. You need to expose yourself, be vulnerable. Why do you think so many artists go mad?"

"I don’t know."

"Well, nor do I but I suspect it is sometimes because they reveal themselves to themselves and don’t always like what they see. In your case, you’ll go mad because you want to expose yourself but your fucking bourgeois upbringing stops you. If you find Teri’s body arousing, let it speak in your work. Now go home, jill yourself off thinking about Teri then call me and tell you did it. Fuck off you silly prude."

It was a slap but a slap of affection not malice. I smiled wanly and left to return to my empty flat. I showered, got naked into bed and, as Isobel had suggested, I began to stroke myself between my legs. No, I stroked my cunt. Why can’t I admit it even to myself? I masturbated, fingering myself deeply, lifting my knees. I curled my finger between wet lips, stroking deep inside and meanwhile rolling and squeezing my nipple. It wasn’t Teri I saw when my orgasm came, it was Isobel who reclined on the chaise, her breast exposed and her cunt, wet and open, that I saw.

I didn’t call her, she called me the following morning. "Well?"

"Hello, Isobel."

"I’m waiting."

"I did it."

Her voice had a smile in it. "When you come to me this evening you will say the words. Be here at 7." She rang off and I replayed her words in my mind.

Isobel lived three streets away from me. I’d been to her house before. It was grand, Georgian and rather bohemianly adorned with tapestries, art works and curios. “Be here at 7."

When I got there, the outer door was open onto a small porch with a tiled floor. The inner door, its top half of frosted glass, was closed and a little hesitantly I rapped on it. I waited for what seemed an age before her distorted form appeared the other side of the door.

"If you don’t say the right words, I’m not letting you in nor will I ever teach you again."

"I masturbated, I came, I was thinking of you."

When she opened the door, she pulled me to her and hugged me delightedly.

"About fucking time too!" Her embrace almost smothered me as she held me to her breast. "I thought your frigidity would never be breached. You know you can be open with me. You’re safe with me."

The bloody door was still open as we stood there in that porch and I could feel the eyes of passers by burning into me. I wasn’t as sure as Isobel was. She pulled me into her long, rather dingy hallway and, turning, kicked the door closed with her bare foot. She led me quickly to her salon – no ‘sitting room’ for Isobel, and hurled me onto a sofa. She stood in front of me and grinned happily.

"I’ll make an artist of you yet. I had a terrific one thinking of you too. Shall we fuck here or go to bed?"

"Wouldn’t bed be rather bourgeois?"

"It would."

She lifted her dress, long and, as always, dramatic, to reveal her naked thighs, then her naked pussy, naturally silver blonde hair a tangle between her legs, wild and unkempt like the hair on her head. Her breasts were small and firm, dark nipples erect at their points. Her dress came over her head and she threw it aside.

"My cunt is wet," I said.

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