Nudity as an ART by Clarvius

It's been an ages since nudity become a part of art. Nudity is restricted in most societies, but some depiction of nudity may serve a recognized social function, but it has visual representations of nudity through the history, in all the disciplines, including the arts and sciences. Study of the human figure has traditionally been considered the best way to learning how to draw, beginning in the late Renaissance and continuing to the present.

The nude art figure is mainly a tradition in Western art, and has been used to express ideals of male and female beauty and other human qualities, which is preoccupation of Ancient Greek Art. At all times in human history, the human body has been one of the principal subjects for artists. Both male and female nude depictions were common in antiquity, especially in ancient Greece.

In one sense, a nude is a work of fine art that has as its primary subject the unclothed human body. While there is no single definition of fine art, there are certain generally accepted features of most definitions. In the fine arts, the subject is not merely copied from nature, but transformed by the artist into an aesthetic object, usually without significant utilitarian, commercial (advertising, illustration), or purely decorative purposes. Modern artists have continued to explore classical themes, but also more abstract representations, and movement away from idealization to depict people more individually. During most of the twentieth century, the depiction of human beauty was of little interest to modernists, who were concerned instead with the creation of beauty through formal means, however there are always artists that continue to find inspiration in the human form.

Nudity Art from the first

"Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth." — Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

In very early prehistoric art, and in historical times, naked female figures called Venus figurines are found, and similar images represent fertility deities. Representations of gods and goddesses in Babylonian and Ancient Egyptian art are the precursors of the works of Western antiquity. Other significant non-Western traditions of depicting nudes come from India, with the temple sculptures and cave paintings, some very explicit, which is part of the Hindu tradition of the value of sexuality, and as in many warm climates partial or complete nudity was common in everyday life. And Japan, they had a tradition of mixed communal bathing that existed until recently, and was often portrayed in woodcut prints, but the nude does not form an important aspect of Chinese art.

  • Ancient Greece

The earliest Greek sculpture, from the early Bronze Age Cycladic civilization consists mainly of stylized male figures who are presumably naked. An important innovation was contrapposto—the asymmetrical posture of a figure standing with one leg bearing the body's weight and the other relaxed. An early example of this is Polykleitos' sculpture Doryphoros (ca. 440 BCE).  In the mid-fourth century BC, the sculptor Praxiteles made a naked Aphrodite, called the Knidian, which established a new tradition for the female nude, having idealized proportions based on mathematical ratios as were the nude male statues. The nudes of Greco-Roman art are conceptually perfected ideal persons, each one a vision of health, youth, geometric clarity, and organic equilibrium.

  • Middle Ages and Renaissance

Completely unclothed figures are rare in medieval art, the notable exceptions being Adam and Eve and the damned in Last Judgement scenes, and the ideal forms of Greco-Roman nudes are completely lost, transformed into symbols of shame and sin, weakness and defenselessness. This was true not only in Western Europe, but also in Byzantine art. The rediscovery of classical culture in the Renaissance restored the nude to art. Donatello made two statues of the Biblical hero David, a symbol for the Republic of Florence: his first (in marble, 1408–1409) shows a clothed figure, but his second, probably of the 1440s, is the first freestanding statue of a nude since antiquity, several decades before Michelangelo's massive David (1501–04). Michelangelo's suspiciously boyish Study of a Kneeling Nude Girl for The Entombment (Louvre, c. 1500), which is usually said to be the first nude female figure study, predates this and is an example of how even figures who would be shown clothed in the final work were often worked out in nude studies, so that the form under the clothing was understood. The monumental female nude returned to Western art in 1486 with The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli for the Medici family, who also owned the classical Venus de' Medici, whose pose Botticelli adapted. The Dresden Venus of Giorgione (c. 1510), also drawing on classical models, showed a reclining female nude in a landscape, beginning a long line of famous paintings including the Venus of Urbino (Titian, 1538), the Rokeby Venus (Diego Velázquez, c. 1650), Goya's Nude Maja (c. 1798) and Manet's Olympia (1863). The nude figure drawing or figure study of a live model rapidly became an important part of artistic practice and training, and remained so until the 20th century.

"What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?" - Michelangelo

  • Baroque

In the later Baroque or Rococo period, a more decorative and playful style emerged, exemplified by François Boucher's Venus Consoling Love, likely commissioned by Madame Pompadour. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, classical subjects remained popular, along with nudes in historical paintings. In the later nineteenth century, academic painters continued with classical themes, but were challenged by the Impressionists. Eduard Manet shocked the public of his time by painting nude women in contemporary situations in his Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863) and Olympia (1865), and Gustave Courbet earned criticism for portraying in his Woman with a Parrot a naked prostitute without vestige of goddess or nymph. Edgar Degas painted many nudes of women in ordinary circumstances, such as taking a bath. Auguste Rodin challenged classical canons of idealization in his expressively distorted Adam. With the invention of photography, artists began using the new medium as a source for paintings, Eugène Delacroix being one of the first.

  • Modern

In early abstract paintings, the body could be fragmented or dismembered, as in Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon, but there are also abstracted versions of classical themes, such as Henri Matisse's dancers and bathers. In the post-WWII era, Abstract Expressionism moved the center of Western art from Paris to New York City. One of the primary influences in the rise of abstraction, the critic Clement Greenberg, had supported de Kooning's early abstract work. Despite Greenberg's advice, the artist, who had begun as a figurative painter, returned to the human form in early 1950 with his Woman series. Other New York artists of this period retained the figure as their primary subject. Alice Neel painted nudes, including her own self-portrait, in the same straightforward style as clothed sitters, being primarily concerned with color and emotional content. Philip Pearlstein uses unique cropping and perspective to explore the abstract qualities of nudes. As a young artist in the 1950s, Pearlstein exhibited both abstracts and figures, but it was de Kooning that advised him to continue with figurative work. Around 1970, from feminist principles, Sylvia Sleigh painted a series of works reversing stereotypical artistic themes by featuring naked men in poses usually associated with women.

  • Contemporary

Lucien Freud was one of a small group of painters which included Francis Bacon who came to be known as "The School of London", one of Freud's works is entitled "Naked Portrait", which implies a realistic image of a particular unclothed woman rather than a conventional nude. John Currin is another painter whose work frequently reinterprets historic nudes. Cecily Brown's paintings combine figurative elements and abstraction in a style reminiscent of de Kooning. Marlene Dumas paints emotionally challenging images derived from her own snapshots or from photographs found in news magazines. In particular installation art often includes images of the human body, and performance art frequently includes nudity. "Cut Piece" by Yoko Ono was first performed in 1964 (then known as a "happening"). Several contemporary performance artists such as Marina Abramović, Vanessa Beecroft and Carolee Schneemann use their own nude bodies or other performers in their work.

"I paint people, not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be." - Lucien Freud

In the late twentieth century several new art forms have emerged, including installations, performance, and video art all of which have been used to create works that include nudity. Until this time we still face nudity as an art. Pros and contras are found in artists mind to find an answer if nudity art is really an art or just a camouflage for a personal purpose.

Things to discuss

  1. What’s your opinion about nude art?
  2. Do you think nude art is fine or should be erased?
  3. For the artist who creates and loves nude art, is there any message you'd want to say through this (nude art)?

Leave your opinion and your thoughts!


Note from the author: Because mature content is optional, I decide to leave it blank without art references.

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