Art and Nudity

For whatever reason, it seems that, at least here, all nudity is considered inappropriate, at best, or even pornographic. An art museum nearby has a new photographic exhibit, and one of the photos is of a woman who is heavily pregnant, and nude. It is a very tasteful photograph, and I find it rather refreshing in an era when the only image of female beauty that is consistently portrayed is of a completely toned nulliparous woman. Many of us have struggled with body image in pregnancy, so I think this photo is important in showing the beauty of a woman’s body.

A city councilman disagrees with this assessment, however, and is objecting to the piece as being pornographic. The model is not shown in an erotic pose, and the photograph is not intended to objectify her or incite lust, as would be the case with pornography. If the photograph being displayed were actually pornographic, I’d object as well. But to conflate all depictions of a nude figure as pornographic is to forget that the nude figure can also show the splendour of God’s creation and beauty. Pornography would be a misuse of the human figure, nude or otherwise. But a nude figure in an of itself is not pornographic, can can indeed be a depiction of great beauty.

It reminds me of another city in the same State. There’s a replica of Michelangelo’s David there, but it is surrounded by a tall hedge because of the fact that David is nude and the city wanted to “prevent public discomfort.”

The whole discussion begs the question of the role of nudity in art. The assumption made on the part of the city councilman, and the council members of the other city, is that any nudity is pornographic and therefore inappropriate for the public. The councilman objected on the basis of children seeing the photograph. However, nudity has been shown in art for millennia. Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art showed nude figures, both in erotic scenes and in everyday life. Renaissance art often employed nude figures, yet there is certainly nothing inappropriate about, say, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Why is there this knee-jerk reaction to any nude image? I suppose it is in part a reaction against the hypersexualization of women’s bodies in the media, perhaps. I also blame the Puritans, for their influence is still felt in things like this, I think. I would like to think, though, that we can view art without demanding fig leaves for all the nude figures. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic.


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