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Nudity vs. Pornography When Used in Artwork Essay

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Updated: Aug 31st, 2021

Nude art forms date back to the ancient Greeks who had the utmost respect for the sanctity that is the human body even though the same cannot be said in the present day where artists flirt with fine line between nude art and pornography, if not crossing it altogether.

Ancient Greeks defined art as the means through which nature communicates with man. More so, it is an avenue through which man can communicate, vent and express himself.

Among the ancient Greeks nude art was ideally meant to convey a very complex set of formal ideas, philosophical concerns and cultural traditions. They came to associate the male nude form as an embodiment of success, glory, victory and even moral excellence. Sculptures of nude, masculine athletes were used by the Greeks to embody their gods and heroes.

According to Gloria Stein, though nudity and pornography refer to verbal or pictorial representations of sexual behavior, they are as different as a room with doors open and one with doors closed (Gloria Stein 1997), thereby implying that there is a clear-cut difference between nudity and pornography in art. But where do we draw the line between nudity and pornography in art? Pornography is primarily intended to arouse some form of sexual desire, craving or feeling in the viewer whereas nude art is meant to toy with and stimulate the aesthetic imagination of the viewer and has got nothing to do with the pleasures of the flesh.

Nude art forms are used by artists to challenge and draw attention to moral, religious and social ideologies, beliefs and biases as pertaining to a particular society with regards to its cultures, traditions and norms. Sexual content has always been a prickly subject in any forum raising questions whether it is art or pornography.

Contemporary artists have over the years metamorphosed the basic concept of nude art to the extent that they seem to glorify and commercialize what had hitherto been branded as vulgar, lewd, obscene and utterly distasteful. Philosopher and art critique Arthur Danto tries to explain this by implying that modern artwork does not seem to intend living up to preconceptions and aesthetic theories of the past but has rather become a matter of individuality and personal taste. (Arthur Danto1996)

Artists like Peter Scheher have commercialized what would normally have been considered as morally repugnant thereby crossing the subtle line between nude art and pornography, or have they?

Art galleries such as Ottawa’s La Pettite Mort( 306 Cumberland Street), have over the years showcased nude art that at times seem to border on the lewd yet more and more people still flock the gallery. Its allure seems to come more from the amusement the people derive from the art rather than any form of sexual pleasure. This seems to lend credence to the curator’s argument that what they are exhibiting is not pornography but rather well though out art that tries to explore the line between reason and nonsense, sexuality and perversion, innocence and vulgarity, beauty and ugliness.(Ralista Doncheva 2007)

Society is quick to label something pornographic at the slightest glimpse of the human body. At the end of the day, I believe that the artist is the one who determines whether his or her art is pornographic. The artist’s intent is what will determine whether or not a piece of art can be labeled pornographic or not. Though sometimes the intention of the artist may be misinterpreted like it happened in the case of Michelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel. The church officials had to bring in other artists into the chapel to paint clothes on the nude art forms.

Mere depiction of the naked human body doesn’t in itself constitute pornography. The reason why pieces of art such as Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Rodin’s The Kiss from being viewed as pornographic is that the artists did not intend the pieces to cause any form of sexual excitement despite them depicting the nude human form.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. At the end of the day, art is all about perception. What one may consider art, and in this particular case nude art, another may consider, offensive, repugnant and utterly distasteful. In my opinion, the line between nude art and pornography is so fine that there is a grey area in between these two. One cannot argue that a work of art depicting a nude is never erotic neither can one argue that the human form is not at times very erotic.

References

Alyce Mahon, Eroticism and Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 37.

George Bataille, Eroticism (London: Marion Boyars, 1987), 11; quoted in Alyce Mahon, Eroticism and Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 13.

Linda Weintraub Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Art’s Meaning in Contemporary Society 1870s-1990s (Hong Kong: Art Insights, INC, 1996).

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