Artistic nudity

Depictions of nudity

Depictions of nudity refers to nudity in all the artistic disciplines including vernacular and historical depictions. Nudity in art has generally reflected — with some exceptions — social standards of aesthetics and morality of their time in painting, sculpture and more recently in photography.

Since prehistoric time, representations of the nude body has been a major theme in art.

Some cultures have tolerated nudity in art more than they do actual nudity, with a different set of standards of what is acceptable. Sometimes live nudity is more acceptable if the model does not move; see Windmill Theatre. In other cultures, like Japan, where nudity carried no negative connotation, erotic shunga art tended to feature partially clothed participants.

General depictions

As social attitudes about artistic nudity have changed, this has sometimes led to conflict over art that no longer conforms to prevailing standards. For example, some members of the Roman Catholic Church once organized the so-called "fig-leaf campaign" to cover nudity in art, starting from the works of Renaissance artist Michelangelo, but the Church has since removed such fig leaves and restored the works. In contrast, it was conventional in ancient Greek art, from the time of the Archaic period onwards, to represent deities and divinized humans (or "heroes") in a state of heroic nudity in paintings and sculpture, and it remained so throughout the classical and Roman periods.

The nude has become an enduring genre of representational art, especially painting, sculpture and photography. It depicts people without clothes, usually with stylistic and staging conventions that distinguish the artistic elements (such as innocence, or similar theatrical/artistic elements) of being nude with the more provocative state of being naked. A nude figure is one, such as a goddess or a man in ancient Greece, for whom the lack of clothing is its usual condition, so that there is no sexual suggestiveness presumed. A naked figure is one, such as a contemporary prostitute or a businessman, who usually wears clothing, such that their lack of it in this scene implies sexual activity or suggestiveness. The latter were rare in European art from the Medieval period until the latter half of the 1800s; in the interim, a work featuring an unclothed woman would routinely identify her as "Venus" or another Greco-Roman goddess, to justify her nudity. There can be debate with regard to whether a figure in art is either nude or naked for example in some works of Francis Bacon.

Even though tastes changed significantly, sume nude themes kept their attraction, even leading to copying of scenes from many centuries before. Nudity in art, also publicly displayed, is rather common and more accepted than public nudity of real people. For example, a statue or painting representing a nude person may be displayed in public places where actual nudity is not allowed. However, there is also much art depicting a nude person with a piece of cloth or other object seemingly by chance covering the genitals. Some feel the selected focus of "Nude studies" lends itself to an impersonal, objectifying depiction of the human body; others say it can be as selectively depicted as a landscape.

A 1960s comedy sketch featuring English comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore admiring Cézanne's Les grandes baigneuses in the National Gallery humorously suggested that there must be hundreds of paintings that are not publicly displayed because the pieces of cloth did not fall in just the right places while the artist was painting them.

In modern media, images of partial and full nudity are used in advertising to draw additional attention. In the case of attractive models this attention is due to the visual pleasure the images provide; in other cases it is due to the relative rarity of images of nudity. The use of nudity in advertising tends to be carefully controlled to avoid the impression that the company whose product is being advertised is indecent or unrefined. There are also limits on what advertising media such as magazines allow. The success of sexually provocative advertising is claimed in the truism "sex sells". However, responses to nudity in American advertisements have been more mixed; nudity in the advertisements of Calvin Klein, Benetton, and Abercrombie & Fitch, to name three companies, have provoked much negative as well as positive response. (See also: Sex in advertising).

Of images of nudity (not necessarily pornographic), the most extreme form is full frontal nudity, referring to the fact that the actor or model is presented from the front and with the genitals exposed. Frequently images of nude people do not go that far and photos are deliberately composed, and films edited, such that in particular no genitalia are seen, as if the camera failed to see them by chance. This is sometimes called "implied nudity" as opposed to "explicit nudity."

Goya's La maja desnuda and La maja vestida. In 19th-century Europe, it was common to have two paintings of the same subject for the same place on the wall. Depending on which guests were visiting, one or the other was shown.

Film and television

The portrayal of nudity in motion pictures and television has long been controversial. Full nudity has gained much wider acceptance in European cinema and television, where in contrast to their US counterparts the audience perceive nudity and sexuality in general as less objectionable than the depiction of violence. Nudity in a sexual but non-pornographic context, however, has in many European countries remained on the fringe of what is socially acceptable for public shows, although this situation was liberalized during the later 20th century; in the 1970s Australian soap operas Number 96 and The Box regularly included nudity, and in the Netherlands nudity has been featured on talk shows such as Jensen! and Giel, starring Giel Beelen.

Broadcast television and most "basic cable" outlets in the United States have been more reluctant to display nudity in most cases, the exception being PBS. A few series in the 1990s, including NYPD Blue, have occasionally used partial nudity, both male and female. When broadcast on television, theatrically released films featuring nudity are usually presented with the nude scenes edited out, or the nudity is obscured in some fashion (for example digital imagery may be used to clothe nude actors). Several premium cable services such as HBO, Showtime, and more recently FX, have gained popularity for, among other things, presenting unedited films. In addition, they have produced series that do not shy away from nude scenes, including Oz, Sex and the City, The Sopranos and Queer as Folk (the British original was pioneering even in the more tolerant U.K.).

Other depictions in vernacular culture

Nudity is occasionally presented in other media as well (often with attending controversy) such as on album covers featuring music by performers such as: Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Blind Faith and Jane's Addiction. Several rock musicians have performed nude on stage, including members of Jane's Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, Black Sabbath, The Jesus Lizard, Red Hot Chili Peppers, blink-182, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Bravery.

Television soap operas have rarely shown any risqué nudity, the exception being the Procter & Gamble soap operas As the World Turns and Guiding Light which in 2005 went as far as featuring rear male nudity during lovemaking scenes. After the Janet Jackson Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy in February 2004, U.S. Federal Communications Commission commissioner Michael J. Copps stated that it was time for a crackdown on daytime television and indicated that he was reviewing whether soap operas were violating the agency's indecency prohibitions. Following this news, Guiding Light edited out nudity from an episode that had already been taped. A week later, the show's executive producer John Conboy was fired and replaced by Ellen Wheeler. All nine American network soaps began to impose an unwritten rule of avoiding any sort of risqué adult scenes.

An example of an advertisement featuring male full frontal nudity is one for M7 fragrance. The model is martial arts champion Samuel de Cubber. Many magazines refused to place the ad, so there was also a version with a more modest photograph of the same model.

On the Internet, especially on websites featuring images of well known people, the terms nude and nudity have often been used (some would say misused) to signify indecent exposure; for example, a photo of an otherwise fully clothed woman with a nipple exposed. See also: Nude celebrities on the Internet.''

An exception is often made for the depiction of peoples whose nudity is acceptable within the mores of a traditional culture. This so-called "ethnographic" nudity has appeared in National Geographic magazine, as well as documentaries broadcast in the United States. In some cases, media outlets may show nudity which occurs in a "natural" or spontaneous setting in news programs or documentaries, while blurring out or censoring the nudity in a dramatic work.

In the early 1990s, Demi Moore became a pop culture icon in part because of two nude photos that she posed for in Vanity Fair: More Demi Moore and Demi's Birthday Suit.


Whether depiction of child nudity is considered inappropriate varies, see also above.

Around the time of the Italian Renaissance, nude young boys featured in many paintings, especially those with a Christian theme. Raphael, for example, made paintings of nude cherubs, also known as putto. Other famous examples are Amor Vincit Omnia by Caravaggio and various portraits of Jesus as a baby. Centuries later, many painters created images of nude children that carried no religious significance. For instance, Henry Scott Tuke painted nude adolescent boys doing everyday activities; his images were not overtly erotic, nor did they usually show their genitals. Otto Lohmüller is a painter whom some consider controversial because of his images of young male nudes.

Professional photographers such as Jock Sturges, Sally Mann, David Hamilton, Jacques Bourboulon, Garo Aida, and Bill Henson have made photographs of nude children and adolescents for publication in books and magazines and for public exhibition in art galleries. According to one school of thought, photographs such as these are acceptable and should be (or remain) legal since they represent the unclothed form of the children in an artistic manner, the children were not sexually abused, and the photographers obtained written permission from the parents or guardians. Opponents suggest that such works should be (or remain) banned and represent a form of child pornography involving subjects who may have experienced psychological harm during or after their creation.

Mainstream films, too, have frequently contained nude or topless minors. Major examples include American Beauty with 16-year-old Thora Birch; Valerie a týden divu with 13-year-old Jaroslava Schallerová; and Walkabout with 15-year-old David Gulpilil, and 16-year-old Jenny Agutter, and preteen Luc Roeg. Pretty Baby and Child Bride became controversial for portraying nude preteen actresses.

The provocative photo of a nude prepubescent girl on the original cover of the Virgin Killer album by the Scorpions also brought controversy. By contrast, most would consider the naked male baby shown on the cover of the Nevermind album by Nirvana to have no sexual connotation.

There have been incidents in which snapshots taken by parents of their infant or toddler children bathing or otherwise naked were destroyed or turned over to law enforcement as child pornography.

Naked skin as canvas

A special case, where nudity, though not permanent, is physically necessary for the art to be created and observed, is body art which uses the skin as the medium (like a painter’s canvas) upon which the markings are created. While the techniques used, such as tattooing and scarification, are often used in a more artisanal way, as most body markings have less of an æsthetic than a social and/or communicative purpose (e.g. initiation rite, fun, macho or sexy signal, various traditions), some clients carefully select artists and designs for artistic beauty to decorate significant skin surfaces, preferably coördinating the different designs — some like displaying them in public, others rather keep them hidden except in select company, accordingly preferring to mark body parts that are commonly clad. A few artists use live animals as (obviously involuntary) canvas.

See also


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