On Sex And Art: The Nude Dilemma

OK, so, let me start by saying this: I have no problems with pornography, moral or otherwise. A fact which my parents will disapprove of, but a fact nonetheless. I figure if I throw that out now I can avoid a few accusations of basing the rest of what I’m going to say on puritanical values.

So, onwards to the meat of the thing. I’m working in the background on preparing a special body of work to execute next year. A primary, underlying/over-riding theme in the work is that of sexuallity. Not of orientation, but of the basics of sex as lust, sex as power, sex as enlightenment, sex as desire, sex as obscenity, so on, so forth. And I’m doing the whole series photographically. Which means I need models, which means shopping on Model Mayhem. And, while it’s a useful tool, it’s also something of the MySpace of the photo world and you’ll find more aspiring ‘models’ on there showing enough skin to make a few nude beaches look stodgy.

And that leads me to the following bold statement: if you cannot define, in words, how the nudity of a subject adds critical meaning to a piece that could not be conveyed in other manners, then it’s not art. It’s just voyeurism.

I’m not saying voyeurism is bad. Mankind would be in a right sorry place if we didn’t like seeing attractive members of the appropriate gender run around unclothed. But, contrary to popular belief, just talking a gal out of her clothes and sticking her in front of a crumbling wall does not make something art. It makes it a naked girl in front of a wall. Sorry, that’s it. Naked girl, wall. There we go.

And, I’ll admit, it’s a difficult stance to take, given that I’m rather fond of well-done nudes myself. And, it’s not like nudes aren’t basically the most recognized artistic subject ever (try flipping through an art history book without finding nudes), but let’s be honest: sometimes even a well-done nude is just a well done nude. It doesn’t make it any more art than a painting of a deer in the woods in the snow (a popularly derided ‘sofa art’ subject).

So, instead of taking shitty pictures, photogs out there, and calling it art because you worked some nipples into it, I challenge you to try and find what the nudity adds to the meaning. If the piece would work just the same (emotion, light, color), if a little less erection-inducing, with the model clothed, then you didn’t make art. You made a picture. Any schmuck can do that these days. Be better.