The nude has experienced as many highs and lows in the art world as a manic depressive painter. Tim Marlow in The Nude In Art explains, “For at least 30,000 years, humans have represented the naked form in a variety of ways.”
The British, although prudish by nature, enthusiastically collected nude paintings during the Victorian era.
Inspired by the French and Internationalism of the Orientalists, even Queen Victoria bought nudes for her husband Prince Albert.
War often changes everything in the arts. The world moved through not one but two world wars.
After WWII, figurative paintings became associated with Nazi Art or the propaganda art that used Socialist Realist Art. Western Germany became repulsed by figurative work. The Nude went back into the closet.
Studying art history, I’ve noted a correlation between the nude in art with what is known as Skirt Length Theory. When times are financially difficult, skirt lengths get longer and art on the walls gets more prudish. When we are in a positive state financially and emotionally, we tend to feel more comfortable revealing extra flesh in our clothing and in our art.
Sadly, I’ve noted a pattern in censorship of the female in nude when women begin to become more empowered. Francesco Goya’s Nude Maja (c.1800) offended audiences not so much because his mistress was naked, but that she is comfortable in her nakedness. She locks eyes with the viewer completely unashamed to be seen in her birthday suit. A hundred and twenty years later we see police shut down a gallery in Paris when Amedeo Modigliani painted a woman comfortable in her body and her sexuality.
Now, yet another 120 years later, the London underground (as well as Hamburg and Cologne), have deemed the nudes of famous Austrian painter Egon Schiele too daring for his own 100 year anniversary celebration next year.
People sometimes ask why artists would continue to paint nudes when they “offend” people? Do they? In my article, How Social Media Is Editing Our World View On How And What We See, I go into more detail on how computer algorithms and moderators impose their own cultural or religious belief on their decision to remove posts, breaking European censorship laws.
Artists paint and draw the human form because there nothing more challenging than to do so. It requires great skill in anatomy, foreshortening, understanding skin tone, light and shadow. Every emotion is held in the human body and no one has the same face or body two days in a row. You could paint the same model every day for the rest of your life and it would be a new person every time.
I think what history has taught us about knee jerk reactions to nudes is this: naughty or nice is a projection of our own self image. If we vilify the human body, how will we (or our children) ever feel comfortable in our own skin?
When we take something natural and attach shame to it, something bad happens. It becomes a shadow part of us and acts out inappropriately. We get people secretly addicted to porn, who do not honor boundaries, pedophiles and men in the workplace that act like Harvey Weinstein.
Featured Image: American Painter Adrian Gottlieb (b.1975) “Pasithea”.
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