Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So what is it?

In Sydney, Australia there has been a big controversy recently about an exhibition of photos by a renowned artist photographer, Bill Henson. Several of the pictures showed a naked fourteen year old girl. Members of an anti-paedophile group complained, and the police closed down the exhibition. You can already imagine the huge argument that followed, with some saying that it was art and should not be censored, others saying that the pictures had the effect of sexualising children. In the end, no charges were laid against the photographer. Members of the child protection lobby still insisted that the pictures were objectionable, art enthusiasts insisted that they were art.
I won't claim that I can say whether a thing is art or not. One question does occur to me, though: if art is concerned with the human form, why are so many images of the young female version of it? The human shape includes both sexes and all age groups. I'm not being critical about young girls here, just saying: why only young girls, instead of older women and male people as well. Come to that, why has a person got to be undressed before they can make an interesting picture? Being seen naked can feel like an invasion of privacy. And some brilliant pictures show people wearing clothes.
If anyone has any thoughts on this, I'm ready to hear them. But it's been this way for as long as I can recall. Artists with an interest in human nudes seem rather restricted to young women, not the whole range of possibilities. And does the naked body show a person in an intimate, potentially sexualised way?


FiddleWiz said...

I think it really all started with wanting to glorify the beautiful creation of the human body, and that trend has continued throughout art history. The thing is, though, people these days can be so messed up (I'm not saying that this man is, however) and we have to be SO careful with everything. Why it is the woman (particularly the young woman) that is usually portrayed, I don't have a good explanation for that. But I agree that someone doesn't have to be portrayed undressed for it to be considered "art." I think a lot of it is in HOW it is portrayed, and WHY.

Deep thoughts... said...

Good questions. So much of the ancient Greek and Roman art does include both male and female nudity and is as beautiful as I believe it was intended to be. And I agree that artists should include both genders.

Do we have the porn industry to "thank" for sexualising human nudity? Or should we go deeper and blame it on sin. Romans 1:18-32 speaks to this issue does it not?

Claire said...

Pornography can and does become a serious addiction. It's amazing that we humans can still do, what Adam & Eve did in the Garden of Eden, in that we (society) have an uncanny ability to make anything sinful/bad sound wonderful. Society twists it (whatever the "it" is at the time) around until it sounds nice and good. Naked children is not art... We need to call it what it is, and that is child porn...end of story. Maybe I'm a prude, but naked adult "art" makes me uncomfortable also. (I'm sorry about the overuse of the word "it".)
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Eric said...

As an artist myself, and speaking strictly on the issue of nudity in art, I can say that the study of the human form makes paintings and sculptures of people with clothes both easier and more beautiful. Clothes drape upon the human form, male and female, differently. And speaking strictly from an artist's point of view, it is necessary to study the naked human form.

However. Fourteen year old girls these days are as much like eighteen year old women to make almost no difference. There are lines that should not be crossed. And even the Greeks and Romans had enough decency not sculpt adolescents unclothed.

And there is a danger in studying the nude form as well. Dwell too much on a thing, any thing, and it can become an obsession and a sin. Is it a sin to go to a museum and see Greco-Roman art? or Picasso? Paul Gauguin? What about Michelangelo's David? There's a difference between admiring Michelangelo and the latest issue of Playboy-- the difference being, one inspires expressions of awe at the beauty of the human form, and the other lustful gawking at provocatively posed women. Both are beautiful, but only one can be called art.

Perhaps the following question best determines what is art and what is pornography: "Does the image stir up sinful thoughts and impulses? Or does it cause one to admire the skill the of the artist?" As we are all individuals with individual sensibilities, we will not all answer that question the same.

It is a fine line, and I can't discount the relevance of Romans 1:18-30 in that viewing "art" that depicts nude 14-year olds, male OR female, is unhealthy. Just as unhealthy as viewing nude 20-30 somethings.

But here's a question: Do gynecologists commit sin when examining women who are not their wives? Plastic surgeons? Where do we draw the line on nudity?