Nudity and Art: My Opinion

(Just as an upfront disclaimer, this may be a very controversial post for some of the readers out there. To explain some of what I am thinking, I may use more frank language than what I normally use. I won't post the images of the art I am referencing, but I will place a link to them, so click at your own risk. I just thought I would post that right here at the beginning so you wouldn't feel bad about not reading this post.)

I thought that Valentine's Day would be an appropriate day to discuss this topic which has been on my mind ever since I started this journey to a master's degree at a university that allows very liberal artistic expressions by the students. Being a religious person, the idea of nudity in general is governed by directions of modesty and chastity in regards to the body. That having been said, and having viewed some of my previous assignments, you are all probably wondering what I am thinking when doing these drawings. What does one, so innocent and virginal as I, feel about nudity in art? My answer: well, it depends...

First of all, let me state that I feel that the intentions of the artist largely dictate my feelings toward art that depicts nudity. In ancient times, the Greeks initially chose to depict their sculptural subjects as nude because they found great beauty and enlightenment in the proportions of the human body. This can be seen in such sculptures as Polykleitos's Doryphoros. The golden ratio as applied to this idealized figure was representative of the concept of physical perfection in the human body and thus a direct connection to deity. In this context, I think it is easier to view the sculpture as an abstraction of the human body rather than a portrait of an individual. Sometimes it is also easier to view when the depiction is of a mythical person or generalized population. Such is the case with a few of my favorite ancient sculptures, the Farnese Herakles (Hercules) and The Dying Gaul.

I believe that most people are uncomfortable with the majority of nude art because it makes them feel like a voyeur, especially if that art is meant as a piece of portraiture. In my studies I have felt a bit uncomfortable at first with doing some of the drawings that I have done, but have overcome that when looking at it as a study. I am not interested in creating a portrait of whatever model is around, but rather to use it as an exercise to learn the proportions and visual landmarks of the human body. You can't believe how much of a difference it has made so far in my ability to draw proportional figures.

One thing that I do not think is appropriate in art is the eroticization of the human body, blatant or suggested. This was also prevalent in ancient art with such sculptures as The Sleeping Satyr. The outright visual dynamics of this sculpture is appalling to me, especially with the way that the curves and lines are meant to direct one's gaze directly to the genitals. Given the ancient Greek's obsession with pederasty, it is no surprise that these types of sculptures were forced into the mainstream.

In terms of the intentions of the artist, I believe that it can be easy to stray from a correct path. I have seen too many pieces of art depicting the nude female form, modern or otherwise, created by male artists that focus directly on the genitals. This is shameful because it objectifies the female body into a voyeuristic experience for the viewer. This has been the case from the time of the Renaissance with such pieces as Titian's Venus of Urbino all the way to Daniel Edwards' sculpture of Britney Spears Giving Birth on a Bearskin Rug. Art should never be utilized as a sexually stimulating experience, in my opinion. It runs right across the lines into pornography then.

I should also point out that my feelings in this area are even further extended into my projected field of art: the movies. When I was a teenager, I was shocked that Titanic received a PG-13 rating. It was argued that although the movie contained nudity, since it was depicted as 'artistic,' it was just fine for teenagers. I beg to differ. Anyone that watches that movie can tell the sexually charged mood of that scene which is a definitive precursor to Jack and Rose having sex later on in the movie. I do not believe that nudity in film is appropriate, especially since 99% of the time, it is exploitive of the actors and actresses being filmed. (In contrast, I have to admit that I get a real kick out of David Kelly's nude motorcycle scene in Waking Ned Divine.) This is blatantly different to me than other mediums of art, mainly because it is a perfect portrayal of an individual who normally wouldn't be participating in that type of activity in their public life.

The bottom line for me is that I don't intend to be producing a lot of anatomically-correct nude 3D models in my career. However, the foundation of learning the anatomy and morphology of the human body is as essential foundation to build upon. The human body is a beautiful and sacred creation. It continually amazes me how well things all work together. As such, I think it is something to be treated with dignity and respect, a view with which the world seems to be rapidly disagreeing with.


Adam said...

"And don't take it personally, Finn, but I bought you some expensive, fruity soaps. Take them home, try them out."

P.S. Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing. What do you think of Rodin's "The Kiss?"

Susan said...

I'm impressed with the depth of your thinking about this difficult topic.

Brad said...

I never have been a real fan of that sculpture, Adam. It depicts a sensual moment in a very tragic story no matter how you look at it.