Friday, April 26, 2013

On Nudity

Update: In the comments, Vincent points out that this post is badly in nearly of illustration. Although I am told that it is possible to find pictures of naked women on the Internet, I have added some here to give artistic coherence to the post (Never Knowingly Artistically Incoherent, me).

A Quick Sketch

I have spent a couple of afternoons trying to find a nude to draw. I first looked at Greek statues and eventually decided that there was no actual nude that was what I was looking for. Then today I tried modern photos in diffetent styles. Again I found nothing that wanted me to draw it, but I was struck by the variety of results of applying imagination to the representation of the human form. Not for the first time, I fell to thinking about it all.

The Original
Flesh in Stone, by the Genius of Bernini
There is great beauty in the human body. And great possibility. Despite the great beauty and plasticity of many animals, there is much in the human body that is, or can be, superior to them. One reason is simply the lack of hair, which allows the details of flesh texture and muscle tone and form to be clearly seen even at rest. The ability to be conscious of one's own body, to control its movements in detail, to conceive them with knowledge of how observers will react to them and to present them in a specific context independent of the movements themselves. There is also the important point that the lack of hair allows the play of light and shadow to exist, to be refined and exploited. The animality of the human body is more clearly visible than in other animals.

Naked Flamenco
Then there is the fact that we know and understand the human body, its functions, sensations and responses, far better than those of other animals. And then there is sex. We don't think of want cheetahs sexually.

But sex is not necessarily an important part of this perceived beauty, or even any part of it. I can see beauty in the male as well as the female form. On the other hand, it does appear that the female form is intrinsically more beautiful than the male. Women who appreciate beauty seem to agree with men on this. A beautiful woman is a beautiful thing. A man's beauty cannot so easily be appreciated by other men. Nevertheless, the beauty of the human body is not limited to the female.

Roman, not Greek, but one of the best
Nor is it limited to the young and well-formed. In many kinds of dance the performers tend to be youngish and slimmish, but then many forms of dance are too demanding for the old and fat. Some forms do allow for this. Flamenco rhythms are often danced to by old women. When it is well done, with skill and duende, not only the dancing but the women themselves become beautiful.

I remember a story I once heard about Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, in which he cried because he had seen an artist capable of making a chaste Venus. The story was probably apocryphal, carefully crafted to illustrate a point, as so many of the stories he told were, but it means, at the very least, that he thought it could be done, and that it was important.

Looking at pictures of attractive naked women purely- as it were- as beautiful objects, or the subjects of beautiful images, rather than as objects of male enquiry, is very interesting and instructive. The curiosities of anatomy, the signs of life lived and suffered, the differences that exist between what you may think of, at first glance, as similar examples of the Standard Pretty Girl, the ways in which the human body can be twisted, distorted, lit up, perceived, conceived, expressed and impressed. Their is apparently unlimited potential for teh creative mind to find new and beautiful ways to show it to us. I like this fact.

It is possible that that drawing will never be made. These reflections will have to stand in its place.


Vincent said...

This is the sort of post which demands to be accompanied by illustrations. Come on, don't be shy.

CIngram said...

You are, of course, quite right. I shall fix it at some point today.