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Past Interpretations of the TCPS

Subject Ethical Considerations Related to Life Models in the Fine Arts
Keywords models, fine arts, research, naturalistic observation, privacy, confidentiality
TCPS Articles 1.1, 2.3, Section 3
Date December 2002

PDF Ethical Considerations Related to Life Models in the Fine Arts_December 2002.pdf

1. This is in response to your question about ethical considerations related to life models in the fine arts.

2. There are many angles to this question: what life models are, when and how they participate, the nature of the discipline, and professional ethical norms and practices in the fine arts. Our response is prepared in the context of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS). Your question has been referred to the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE) for advice1. We also consulted with fine arts experts in fields including painting, drawing and studio arts.

3. Your inquiry raises several issues: (1) whether the proposed activity is "research", or whether it qualifies as "naturalistic observation" , and (2) protection of privacy and confidentiality issues.

4. "Research?" Regarding “research” requiring ethics review, the TCPS (articles 1.1 and 2.3) describes the determinants of whether research that involves human subjects should undergo ethics review by an institutional Research Ethics Board (REB). This applies to research involving naturalistic observation, which you’ve indicated may be the case for when students observe models in the fine arts. On the basis of expert consultation and further analyses, we conclude that working with life models in the fine arts is not considered “naturalistic observation” under the TCPS. According to article 2.3 of the TCPS, “Naturalistic observation is used to study behaviour in a natural environment,” and “naturalistic observation generally implies that the subjects do not know that they are being observed…” The models are employed with the understanding that they will be observed for the purposes of teaching and practising drawing, painting or sculpture. The process of creating a work of art does not strictly result in conclusions or findings concerning the model. The resulting work is not a study of behaviour; it is neither quantifiable nor available in any form other than in the experience of the artwork. If the undertaking does not implicate "research" involving humans, then the TCPS does not apply.

5. Privacy Concerns: With regard to privacy and confidentiality, you also indicated that life models in the fine arts often participate in projects that reveal their identities. Our consultations with experts revealed the following: (1) privacy and confidentiality of models, including their identities and other personal information, are confidential and respected as such by professors and students; (2) professional models understand that the artworks for which they have posed may be publicly exhibited, and remain the intellectual property of the artist; and (3) the models are at liberty to divulge, or not divulge, any aspect of their identity. However, the identity of students working as models would likely be known to their student colleagues.

6. In summary, participation of life models in the fine arts would not ordinarily be described as "research" involving humans . The issues of privacy and confidentiality that their role raises appear to be already addressed in the process of engaging and informing models.

We hope you find this information useful in your deliberation of research ethics.


Secretariat on Research Ethics
on behalf of
The Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics

  1. PRE provides advice on such interpretation questions to assist the research ethics community in applying the TCPS to the ethical issues it faces. While responses to TCPS interpretation questions may address ethical dimensions of legal issues in research ethics, PRE does not provide legal advice. Nor does it act as an appeal body on REB or institutional decisions.