Nudity and Art

Nudes in art - What is seen? What is understood? What is intended?

Nudes in art – What is seen? What is understood? What is intended?

There is a perceptual difference when it comes to paintings that feature a nude human and photographs that do the same. The mind, somehow, separates the two media giving paintings more legitimacy. Why is that?

Painting is hard work. Few people go around posting selfies created using oils, watercolours or pastels. Even fewer take the time to carve a selfie out of wood or marble. A nude in art evokes something deeper, something fuller. Photography can, and sometimes does, evoke the same depth and fullness. Yet, too often, it is negatively viewed by our communities. Why is that?

In my opinion, it has to do with the ease with which photos are taken. The shift to digital photography and the inclusion of a digital camera in every cell phone, tablet, and other techie toys has removed barriers that used to severely limit the numbers of photos taken. In my own case, for example, I have been taking photos for more than forty years. Developing my own film and working in a darkroom to produce prints when I began a serious approach to photography meant that I took more photos than others who used their snapshot cameras to record family events. And yet, I didn’t really take all that many photos. I printed significantly less photos than I took, focusing on the purpose of each photo, selecting from the possibilities for an image that would best approach my intended communication, for that is what it was all about – each photo had to communicate.

But today, with the ability to story tens and hundreds of thousands of photos on digital media, the ability to snap images without thinking, basically on impulse; and the ease with which those impulsively taken images can be shared, has overwhelmed our world with images, especially images that have nudity. Yet, in spite of the banality of the images, the typically poor quality of those images, they all communicate something about the photographer and the subject(s). Impulsively taken photos tell us something about the unconscious, shadow world – what is seen, what is not seen – that lies in the banality.

Images are powerful things. And, as many are learning the hard way, that power can turn abusive on the self and upon the others in the orbit around that self. Teenagers in the social media world are finding out about that power as they suffer from posting impulsively taken nude photos of themselves and/or others. Adults are also finding out about that power as jobs, promotions, relationships and much more suffer because of their impulsive posting of nude images.

Because of the power of images, one needs to be conscious of those images being posted. Why is the image being posted? What does the image communicate, both on the surface and subliminally? What is likely to be the fallout from posting the image? Of course, not all of the answers will ever be complete or full. However, taking the time to navigate these questions will reduce the number of images posted, improve the quality of the images, and communicate better the intention of the posting of the image.


5 thoughts on “Nudity and Art

  1. This is a subject close to my heart as I model, often for artistic nudes. I’m infuriated by objectification in photography, which has rampantly spread due to the very reasons you say: the commonality of owning a camera, the ease with which images are snapped without thought and what essentially boils down to a prurient intention of the images.

    The images for which I pose for the Artistic Nude genre are closer to the paintings of nudes with their intent than the average nude image. Intent of image is something I discuss with many photographers who contact me to shoot: what is the purpose of the image. I look at their previous work and typically I turn down the shoot, paid or not. Why? Because the majority, if not all, of their work objectifies women. I find it disgraceful and disgusting.

    I’m by no means prudish, however, I have a brain and it will last me longer than my physical looks will. I’m also human, I have thoughts and feelings and deserve the respect I feel I’ve earned, the “average nude photo” doesn’t allow for that.


    • I visited your site and see that you are almost the same age as my eldest daughter 🙂 Thank you for adding your voice here. It is important to speak out and tell the truth about the human body, psyche so that there is some place to go when one is beginning to ask questions. Your site is one of these kind of needed sites.


  2. At too long ago I asked an instructor or another student in a studio class why the experience of drawing from a live model was so different – so much more fulfilling – and since some very beautiful photographic images of nudes are available -why not use these . Well , the answer should be apparent – but often the words are not at hand to translate , for me what I know to be intuitively true . Aside from the reality of the body present and it’s reaction to the surroundings – it’s the light – THE LIGHT .
    When you look at a Renior nude she is alive with all of the light within her and that around here . Because so much photography is digital and manipulated it’s not really authenic – at least to my mind . And it does not partake of the experience of creating art on a sustained level – person -to person ( as may take place with a live studio model ) WE have again begun to expect art to be reproduction – a facsimile that most closely represent the original – not the original – to do this best – “take a picture” But even here I fear a black and white image may have more artistic value than one that was “digitally re-mastered . From my perspective and of course intention comes into play also – we all can recognize a nude image that is provocative in an overtly sexual way and another that is simply beautiful and perhaps erotic ……


  3. ..

    Art is about creation.
    I have many creative hobbies and among them is photography. My mother was a professional photographer and it rubbed off on me. In the old days I even developed my own color 8 mm movies with my home made equipment. Today I have a dozen VHS/DVD movies on many subjects that I have made and sold well over the past twenty five years. I love digital photo shopping and did photo retouching in the black and white days. I have 100,000 photos (half are nudes) and 1,000 movies digitally stored in my collection.
    I have a 1938 photo of me cranking Moms movie camera but don’t know how to post it here.

    I enjoy your writings.. Pat..


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