Nudes

File:Nude, by Li Mei-shu (1946).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Nude, by Li Mei-shu (1946)

Background:  

Art always tries to look into the beauty of various things around us. Be it nature, birds, animals, or human beings. When it comes to human beings, one of the art forms is to paint human figures without clothes. This art form, where subjects are drawn are shown without clothes is called Nude Art, and the paintings made this way, are called Nude paintings.  

What is Nude Art?

As a form of visual art, Nudity is defined as a painting, where the model(s) depicted are not wearing any clothes. The objective of this kind of painting is to bring out the beauty of the human body.  

History of Nude Art:  

The history of nude painting is probably as old as mankind itself. It was very common in the art form in ancient Greek culture. Though it was not practised during the middle ages, it again came into prominence with the age of the Renaissance. Nude figures have an important position in other art types like religious art, history painting, decorative art and other art forms.  

Nude art has been found in several civilizations. Even in India, the monuments found in Khajuraho prominently show nude female figures.   

Changing role of Nudity in Art:  

Nudity has been present in art, as long the humans have been practising art. Through each era, the nude has reflected changes in cultural attitudes regarding sexuality, gender roles, and social structure.  

From prehistory to the earliest civilizations, nude female figures were not seen as vulgar but believed to be symbols of fertility or well-being.  

The depictions of nudity for fertility paved the way for appreciation of the human body. In Greece, painters depicted nude forms of gods, heroes, athletes, and warriors as a token of appreciation. The women were always shown wearing clothes. This tradition was broken by Praxiteles in fourth century BCE when he sculpted a nude Aphrodite.   

Great works are done in the area of Nude art:

Several reasons make a nude painting, especially female nude such a popular subject. The first reason is that a female body is aesthetically very pleasing subject. And since most artists and most patrons are men, so it has both a shock value and eroticism Nude art is an extension of centuries of a long tradition of life drawing.   

The voluminous works by Francis Newton Souza and his renditions of the distortion of the nude female body have set a remarkable dialogue with Cubist lines and the notion of body. Works of contemporary artist Abir Karmakar could also be seen as a remarkable departure of the nude, where he uses nudes in a very a manner of form and projection of homosexual identity and sexual politics.  

The naked versus the nude:  

The book was written by Lord Kenneth Clark in 1956, ‘The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form’ is treated as the Bible of nude art. The first chapter tries to distinguish between the two terms – naked and nude. The author says that ‘naked’ means being deprived of clothes. This implies shame and embarrassment for the person concerned. While ‘nude’, is taken as a work of art. And this kind of artwork has no connotation of shame and embarrassment. It is seen aesthetically.   

One of the most important characteristics of the modern era in art is that today the fine line between the naked and nude has been blurred. The first painting, which helped achieve this was the famous painting The Nude Maja (1797) by Goya. This painting showed the subject in a contemporary setting, with pubic hair rather than the smooth perfection of goddesses and nymphs.   

As observed by the famous art historian and author Frances Borzello, the contemporary artists are no longer interested in the ideals and traditions of the past but confront the viewer with all the sexuality, discomfort and anxiety that the unclothed body may express, perhaps eliminating the distinction between the naked and the nude.   

Nudity as an art v/s other depiction:  

To understand a nude painting, it is important to first study the cultural context and then take a look at the nude. For example, in the west, nudes are generally seen as art, pornography, or information. The audience can easily identify the genre to which that particular nude belongs to. Though, in the 21st century, some artists have started a new category - the commoditized nude. This has primarily been done to attract the attention of people, purely for commercial reasons. That is why in America, nudity in art has been controversial, whenever it has been used to attract public funding and attention of the general public.  

The artists however have a very different point of view towards nudity. The art lovers follow puritan historians when it comes to select nude artwork to be displayed in museums and galleries. Any nude art, which has been designed just for the same of nudity, is not appreciated. The art critics judge nude art by its shock value. Any work that is not cutting edge is out rightly rejected and not allowed to be displayed in any museum or commercial galleries.  

Conclusion:  

The presence of Nudes in the art can be traced to the Greeks in the Bronze Age, Harappan Civilization in the Indus Valley, to Thebes in 1000 BCE. The Nude also occupied important cannon in Western art since the Renaissance. The Nude has highly revered as a part of high-end culture particularly in the 18th and the 19th century Europe. Period sculptures historical figures and mythological tales have often been subjects of the Nude. So as not to offend nineteenth-century morals, artists tended to depict naked figures within contexts removed from every day, such as mythology or the imagined Orient, and yet the careful constraints imposed on the nude somehow heighten its eroticism, as in Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus.  

The voluminous works by Francis Newton Souza and his renditions of the distortion of the nude female body have set a remarkable dialogue with Cubist lines and the notion of body. Works of contemporary artist Abir Karmakar could also be seen as a remarkable departure of the nude, where he uses nudes in a very a manner of form and projection of homosexual identity and sexual politics.