From: Lukas Werth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: 09/18/00-03:41:22 AM Z
Having returned to my desk after some absense, I have just finished reading
the thread on nudes. I am happy not to have unsubscribed for the time! I
enjoyed reading the messages, thanks to the participants, whatever their
personal opinion. I consider such an exchange of opinions as refreshing and
fruitful on this list, and a vital supplementation for all the technical
mails. After all, the main reason d'Ítre for alternative processes is an
I think I shall try to get Christina Anderson's book.
I cannot help also throwing some comments in. As I can see, there has been
a row over the broad history and resulting legitimacy of representing the
naked body on the one side, and the consequences of the prevalence of
naked, young and pretty women in contemporary representations for the
concept of the female gender in society on the other side. (I learned that
Michelangelo is supposed to have been homosexual - I thought this was true
only for Leonardo da Vinci.)
I am generally interested in the social context of art, an I cannot help
seeing this as a relevant perspective here - which Chrisitina Anderson also
seems to take - if I have understood your remarks correctly.
In my opinion, both sides are justifiable, and need not to be mutually
exclusive. Concerning the first side, frankly, I think the tradition of
representing the naked body is long, complicated, and deserves a detailed
study. I am not claiming any expertship here, but just offer some
observations: In European history, attitudes toward the naked body - mostly
the female, but also the male one - swang back and forth. The Renaissance,
as we all know, rediscovered classical greek ideals, but I do not remember
too many nudes. Of course, Botichelli's Venus and Michelangelo's David
spring to mind. The main verve, however, was religious. Significantly, in
the Netherlands, Breughel and Bosch were not much concerned with the naked
body, indeed with body studies at all (for Bosch, nudity meant sin). In the
sixteenth century, too, reformation and counterreformation, the Calvinist
puritanism in many places probably frequently prevented the occupation with
the body in nature, although Rubens' women are proverbial.
In Barock times, I see free depictions of the naked body - only to be
eschewed again in later times. Places also would of course have to be
But the naked body was used in very different contexts in the visual arts
of different centuries: classical allegories and Christian topics are not
among the main uses today. Even where sensuality is a topic in itself, as
it seems to be in many of Rubens' paintings, it is used in very different
ways as we would today.
Which brings me to the second side: there seems to me, I must concede, a
legitimate concern for the ways nudity is frequently used today. This is
not, I hasten to ascertain, to imply that this would be an improper topic
in art, but it should at least be, in my modest opinion, a sensitive topic.
I think it was Rod Fleming who stated that there are plenty of excellent
nude photographs to be found nowadays, and I won't deny this.
But this observation does not negate the fact that nude photography may be
a sensitive and difficult topic with social consequences. What I meant to
imply with my sweeping historical sketch was that taste and meaning of
pictures are not purely estetic, but socially relevant.
Let me offer a general observation to elucidate this: in no time before
mankind had so much visual information at its disposal (or information in
general), and so many pictures of nudes, including, most notably, all
shades of pornographym, hard and soft core, and allusions of every sort in
the advertizing and film industry. Never before there was so much blunt
pictorization of the overly sexual, meant just to rouse sexual instincts,
natural pictures with no other purpose. And I think most people would agree
if I state that most of this industry centres around young and pretty women
- though the male muscular monstrosities of Hollywood are of the same kind.
This topic would deserve a disgression of how these images have influenced
people's everyday perceptions: let it suffice to observe the general body
cult in many places, people desperately trying to keep up with fictive and
artificial ideals by endless jogging, building their bodies up to
unnatural, freekish, Frankenstein-like organisms by artificial protein
food, weight-lifting, and, on the female side, enlarged breasts. Popular
notions of sexuality, and, even wider, of ideals in life, also get
nilly-willy influenced by this visual culture ("men must shed their sperms
as widely as possible").
Can art, should art ignore all this, or is it not rather part of it? I
think much of the discussion about Newton is whether he just also uses the
popular imagery, albeit in a high-end, glamorous way, or whether he points
to its absurdities, and exposes it.
Many people would probably find it easy to draw a clear line between art
and pornography, I do not find it all that easy. This is, I think, one
reason why some people feel that nudes are not an easy subject, but one
that must be handled with great care. (Has anybody been lately to the
Photographer's Gallery in London? I have seen a few pictures published of a
recent exhibition there, in which a Russian of Ukrainian photographer
(sorry, can't remmber details and name just now) has taken photographs of
old, sick, and destitute people, alcoholics and drug addicts - whom he
convinced to take their clothes off!! Shocking and sobering; I would have
very much liked to see the whole exibition.)
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