Nudity and Art


(A) [Historic Standpoint]
“Western art and culture have premised "The Nude" upon the classical Greek legacy and Christian transformations until the mid-nineteenth century when the philosophy and political revolution of the Enlightenment bore fruit in realism and the secularization of twentieth-century art movements. Beyond the ideal of divine beauty was the Greek philosophy of freedom and dignity of the individual—nudity was synonymous with integrity. Legendary heroes, ideal figures, mythological personalities, and triumphant warriors were characterized as being "in the nude." As the first flowering of "The Nude," Greek art praised what it knew in daily life: the handsome beauty of the male form. Public nudity was a normative condition for men who participated in athletic competitions, exercised at the gymnasium, and partook of the public baths. The Greek ideal of a sound mind and a healthy body was attained in the gymnasium, which was simultaneously a center for education and athletics; all the academies of philosophy had their centers in a gymnasium. Clothes were removed in order to exercise and to be able to think without restraints. The Greek root of gymnasium is gumnos, "to be nude, or bare." Nudity was a condition of physical and mental freedom.” [1]


[Academic Standpoint]
Gordon College is a private, faith-based institution. Here is an excerpt on its policy and reasoning for the use of nudes in their drawing classes:

“We have chosen in the Art Department at Gordon College to work respectfully with the human figure attempting to bring honor and glory to God in the process. We base this, in a Christian context, on a time-honored professional practice, holding the belief that the human form is the crowning achievement of God in Creation - worthy of our expert knowledge, and analogous to the scientific knowledge of the human body in medicine and biology. In our tradition as artists it is seen as the linchpin of our practice of visual knowledge. If you can accurately and expressively draw or paint or sculpt the human form you can draw anything.”

“In our teaching, the nude has much more in common with medical knowledge than with popular sexualization of images in advertising and movies. The context of the encounter determines the meaning of the unclothed form. An operating theater in a hospital has a drastically different meaning from that of a strip joint. An art studio with students or artists surrounding a model is akin to the operating theater. Knowledge is being gained and a professional activity is being practiced.” [3]


[Logical Standpoint]
Reference (measurements)

The Vitruvian Man or Canon of Proportions is a world-renowned drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. It correlates the ideal of human proportions with geometry.


These measurements are:

  · a palm is the width of four fingers
  · a foot is the width of four palms (12 inches)
  · a cubit is the width of six palms
  · a man's height is four cubits (24 palms or 7.5 heads tall)
  · a pace is four cubits
  · the length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height
  · the distance from the hip to the toes is 4 heads.
  · the length from top to bottom of the buttocks is 1 head.
  · the distance from the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of a man's height
  · the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin is 1/8th of a man's height (palm’s length)
  · the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chest is 2 heads.
  · the maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of a man's height (3 heads width)
  · the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is one-fifth of a man's height (2 heads)
  · the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of a man's height
  · the length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height
  · the distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose is one-third of the length of the head
  · the distance from the hairline to the eyebrows is one-third of the length of the face
  · the length of the ear is one-third of the length of the face

Proportions chart:


Shadows and form

A technique commonly employed in art to give an object a three dimensional appearance is called chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is defined as (a) The arrangement of light and dark parts in a work of art, such as a drawing or painting, whether in monochrome or in color. (b) The art or practice of so arranging the light and dark parts as to produce a harmonious effect.

Below are some examples of chiaroscuro:


(B) Psychology of curves to rigidity (why curves are appealing)

“Edmund Burke's, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (first published in 1757). Throughout the Enquiry, Burke describes female form in a way that stresses both its formal resolution and the continuity of its surfaces. Burke writes:

“Observe that part of a beautiful woman where she is perhaps the most beautiful, about the neck and breasts; the smoothness; the softness; the easy and insensible swell; the variety of the surface, which is never for the smallest space the same.”

Despite the air of sexual excitement, Burke's description succeeds in laying its emphasis on the harmonies and varieties of a completely closed and completed form. Female form for Burke represents the perfection of beauty because it embodies no excesses or disunities that might shock his roving eye.

This tradition continued into the twentieth century, most notably in the work of the art historian Kenneth Clark. Clark's 1956 study The Nude remains a landmark (albeit an increasingly controversial one) in the description of the female body as art form. Indeed, for Clark the female nude represents the triumph of art: the ultimate transformation of matter into form. In these terms the image of the female nude is a pure form, one that, rather than provoking action, encourages contemplation, even reverence.” [4]

There is something almost transcendent about the female form in its purest representation, the way your eyes can seamlessly travel from one extremity on its surface to the other without interruption or discourse. The manner in which your eyes can easily glide like water over every curvature and arch; I would refer to this as aerodynamic beauty, and there will always be something sensuous and appealing about a curvaceous form that is aesthetically relaxing. Is it any wonder why a stylishly aerodynamic car is referred to as “she or her” the sensuality of curvature transcends the human form even into the realm of inanimate objects.

Can you tell which is the female and which is the car?


- Appreciation of the fairer sex (weaker vessel)

1 Peter 3:7- In the same way you husbands should live with your wives in an understanding way, since they are weaker than you. But show them respect, because God gives them the same blessings He gives you.

Weaker in this context means females are more precious, beautiful, delicate in construction and exceedingly fine in quality.

On the other hand the male form is associated more with power, sturdiness, uplifting and rigor. This can be attributed to the male form’s many box like structures of intersecting muscles. In comparison to the female form’s infinite flow of curvature, the male form constantly provides visual pit stops of horizontals meeting verticals and diagonals. The male body can easily be compared to an architectural structure which provides a different aesthetic appreciation than that of a stylish car; one is appreciated for its beauty the other for its brawn.

1 Peter 3:7 Being more beautiful, delicately, and consequently more slenderly, constructed. Roughness and strength go hand in hand; so likewise do beauty and frailty. The female has what the man wants-beauty and delicacy. The male has what the female wants-courage and strength. The one is as good in its place as the other: and by these things God has made an equality between the man and the woman, so that there is properly very little superiority on either side. [5]


-In imagery “content + intent = effect”

To further dispell the ideology that the representation of the nude body is pornographic is the logic that the content of the image coupled with the intent of it (by the artist’s design) determines the effect it will have on the audience. To illustrate my point, below are two images, one is a full nude and the other is not.

Which image entices sexual arousal?


-Black and white vs colour (black and white doesn't make an image more artistic)

There is the erroneous thinking that an image is automatically attributed as being artistic if it is depicted in black and white. The logic of “content + intent = effect” still applies. In the example below one of the images has been made into black and white to illustrate this point. By this logic, would the black and white image be deemed more artistic than the colour image?



(C) famous artists whose works are revered now but were condemned then

As always the subject of nudity remains under the looming cloud of controversy, this statement is a fact now as it was for the old masters of art.


1. Michelangelo was criticized for his poor execution of the female form.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling painting (1508 – 1512)
(Below are detailed images from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting)

The Downfall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the garden


            The Delphian Sybil                                        The Cumean Sybil

Have you ever wondered why all the females in the ceiling of Sistine Chapel look so buff and manly? It wasn’t an aesthetic choice or the stylistic representation of females in that era of art but rather because they were actually based on the male form and transgendered into females. Why?

Because during Michelangelo’s time it was forbidden for females to model nude for artists, so he had to adapt the female form from a male’s.


                    The Libyan Sybil                                                   The Libyan Sybil sketch
                                                                                           (It’s clearly evident this is a male form)

Also during this time period, women were expected to be very demure in the bedroom and it is probable that even a married man was unable to have full exposure to a nude female body on a regular basis.


2. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was criticized for moving away from the conventional manner of executing nudes.

La Grande Odalisque (1814)

The painting was commissioned by Napoleon's sister, Queen Caroline Murat of Naples, and finished in 1814. Ingres drew upon works such as Dresden Venus by Giorgione, and Titian's Venus of Urbino as inspiration for his reclining nude figure. He portrays a concubine in languid pose as seen from behind with distorted proportions. The small head, elongated limbs, and cool color scheme all reveal influences from Mannerists such as Parmigianino, whose Madonna with the Long Neck was also famous for anatomical distortion.

This eclectic mix of styles, combining classical form with Romantic themes, prompted harsh criticism when it was first shown in 1814. Critics viewed Ingres as a rebel against the contemporary style of form and content. When the painting was first shown in the Salon of 1819, one critic remarked that the work had "neither bones nor muscle, neither blood, nor life, nor relief, indeed nothing that constitutes imitation". This echoed the general view that Ingres had disregarded anatomical realism. Ingres instead favored long lines to convey curvature and sensuality, as well as abundant, even light to tone down the volume. Ingres continued to be criticized for his work until the mid-1820s.

Stemming from the initial criticism the painting received, the figure in Grande Odalisque is thought to be drawn with "two or three vertebrae too many." Critics at the time believed the elongations to be errors on the part of Ingres, but recent studies show the elongations to have been deliberate distortions. Measurements taken on the proportions of real women showed that Ingres's figure was drawn with a curvature of the spine and rotation of the pelvis impossible to replicate. It also showed the left arm of the odalisque is shorter than the right. The study concluded that the figure was longer by five instead of two or three vertebrae and that the excess affected the lengths of the pelvis and lower back instead of merely the lumbar region.

Given how the duty of concubines were merely to satisfy the carnal pleasures of the sultan, this elongation of her pelvic area may have been a symbolic distortion by Ingres. While this may represent sensuous feminine beauty, her gaze, on the other hand, has been said to "[reflect] a complex psychological make-up" or "[betray] no feeling". In addition, the distance between her gaze and her pelvic region may be a physical representation of the depth of thought and complex emotions of a woman's thoughts and feelings.


3. Edouard Manet was criticized for his artistic freedom of style and social commentary.

Olympia (1863)

During the 1865 Salon exhibition, Eduoard Manet entered two paintings, one of which sparked strongly negative reviews from critics as well as the Parisian public. This center of controversy was called Olympia, a painting that Manet created in 1863. Manet painted Olympia according to his point of view, “that an artist has got to move with the times and paint what he sees”. Unfortunately, the public that received Olympia at the Salon in 1865 was not ready for and certainly did not agree with Manet’s ahead of the times philosophy. Olympia caused such uproar that authorities were forced to appoint two armed guards to protect the painting. The uproar in response to Olympia was not necessarily the fact that Manet’s subject was a nude woman. Instead, the Parisian public’s hostile reaction to Olympia and Manet originated in their fear of the underlying prostitution in their society. For Olympia’s audience, Manet was crossing the line of what was morally acceptable in art let alone in society.

Before Manet entered his Olympia in the Salon of 1865, art critics and the Parisian public had a very comfortable perception of the female nude in art. As history tends to show, people are very afraid of change and cling to the forms of the past. Only two years earlier in 1863, the same year that Manet painted Olympia, Alexandré Cabanel painted The Birth of Venus, the classic tradition of the female nude. The tradition of the female nude in art up to 1865 had been a female painted as either a Venus or Danaë. The goddess Venus, “usually lies peacefully, stretched out on a couch or on the ground, asleep or quietly dreaming, attended by Cupid or handmaidens”. Danaë on the other hand is a woman whose story, “focuses on her one moment of glory, when Jupiter visited her in the form of a shower of golden rain”. She is usually positioned, “lying on a couch, with her knees drawn up and thighs parted to receive the god, gazing up expectantly”. With these two women being the Victorian precedent of Olympia, there is no doubt that the public was shocked when they faced Olympia in 1865 because she was, “not Venus, nor Eve either”. This reaction from the public shows that “the public nakedness of a beautiful woman sometimes becomes a question of politics, which actions are permitted under which unspoken and frequently changing rules”. The Parisian public was afraid of the boldness that Olympia represented, not as much in art, as in the society in which they lived.

With Olympia, Manet chose to stray from the Biblical Eve and Venuses “while proclaiming his painting a part of an established tradition through its many references to other paintings of the female nude”. Adler also notes that “He [Manet] confounded the expectations which critics and members of the public alike brought to the painting”. Sadly though, it was “not until 1897 that a critic first saw any connection between Olympia and Titian’s Venus upon which it had so artfully been modeled”. Manet believed that his audience would recognize the resemblance to Titian’s Venus of Urbino and praise him for taking the female nude to a new level. Unfortunately, Manet’s modernistic philosophy did not sink in with the public or with the critics who saw Olympia at the 1865 Salon.

This was the audience that Olympia was presented to in 1865, a public that valued the traditions of the past and was strict about morals of society. For them, Olympia was personal insult to their morality. Friedrich notes that “the first reaction of the Parisian press and public was one of hostility, even outrage, along with a certain amount of nervous laughter”. Many believed that “Olympia indicated nothing but his [Manet’s] contempt for the public”. It is clear, the reason of the public’s fear, because “She [Olympia] is scandal and idol, power and public presence of Society’s wretched secret Bestial Vestal consecrated to absolute nudity, she makes us think of everything that conceals and preserves primitive barbarity and ritual animality in the customs and practices of urban prostitution”.

Even though prostitution was present in society, it was morally wrong to bring it out into the open because it was a shameful practice and one that was feared due to its corruption. Schneider proves this point further by stating, “the Parisians shrieks of outrage ring false in a city where prostitutes were princesses, where a man’s mistress was more likely to be seen in public than his wife, and where a perfume of delicious wickedness pervaded the atmosphere”. Schneider helps show that it was not Olympia’s nakedness that sparked contempt from the crowd, but rather the fact that she was a modern woman, a woman in a profession that was not morally accepted by the society in which she lived.

Manet painted Olympia in 1863, expecting the painting’s audience, to embrace her beauty and her reality. He painted Olympia with many similar elements as Titian’s Venus of Urbino from 1538 and decided to take “a mythological theme and transposed it into the world of his day”. According to Hamilton, “Manet was reworking one of the most familiar as well as one of the most conventionally idealized themes of European painting; Olympia proclaimed for those who knew anything at all of the past that her ancestresses were the Venetian Venuses of the High Renaissance, in particular Titian’s Venus of Urbino”. Manet was attempting to be totally innovative with his Olympia. Some critics came to Manet’s defense and noted that, “the crude public finds it easier to laugh than to look, understands nothing at all of this art which is too abstract for its intelligence”. These same critics praised Manet’s bold approach to his Olympia by noting that it is “only with Olympia do we reach that moulting time, when painting casts off its old trappings and emerged as a new reality”. This specific transition that Manet produced from Titian’s Venus of Urbino and his own Olympia mark the changes that are “the outward signs of the transition from one world to another”. Although the majority of the Salon critics and the Parisian public denounced Manet and his work, others were able to make connections about Olympia and praise Manet for his bold step into modernism. Manet represented Olympia as being naked rather than nude, all the signs in Manet’s work pointed to the fact that he was representing a modern Venus and she was a prostitute.

Besides the critics that praised Manet, the women (the prostitutes) that her represents in Olympia most likely thanked him as well for his bold step. Since Manet’s Olympia was a representation of a woman that possessed the role of a prostitute, her character was considered an outsider in the Parisian society. Perhaps it is safe to say that other courtesans of the time were honored to have a world renowned artist paint Olympia, a woman that without a doubt was “a courtesan rather than a deity”. But Manet included in Olympia the characteristics of a strong and powerfully independent woman. Brombert asserts that “her body may be her stock-in-trade, but it is she who has full control over it”. Even if Olympia seemed to glamorize the life of prostitution, this was no reason to degrade the painting as Paul de Saint-Victor did when he called Olympia “art that has sunk so low it is not worthy of our censure”. The higher class Parisians that Manet presented Olympia to in 1865 included the wives of the men that visited prostitutes. Olympia stares them in the face and “the direct gaze of the figure produces an immediacy in the relationship between the figure and the spectator that retains the power to disconcert”. She demands respectability from her viewers because “although see has been demoted, she knows nothing of the self-conscious shame of Eve”. The Parisian courtesans of this period most likely secretly thanked Manet for his bold interpretation. Although they took part in a profession that “moral” society preached against, they were nevertheless women and they deserved to be recognized as just that.

Most likely Manet was ahead of his time with his philosophy and seen as negatively radical. But Manet was not this at all. Instead, he chose to follow a path that was all his own and not that of all the other artists that painted the Venuses of the past. He chose to represent a new Venus and her name was Olympia. [8]

Each Master whom we currently revere was condemned during his own time for implementing unconventional vision and innovation. As is still the status quo to this day; artists are usually the ones who seek to advance the psyche of society and consequently are usually persecuted for it. Often ahead of their time they remain unappreciated for their apogees, only receiving their due acclaim long after their death.


(D) The evolution and representation of the female through varying periods of art history.

Paleolithic 35,000 - 7,000 BC

Venus of Willendorf

The Venus is not a realistic portrait but rather a crude version of the female figure. Her vulva, breasts, and swollen belly are very pronounced, suggesting a strong connection to fertility or pregnancy. Her tiny arms are folded over her breasts, and she has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair or a kind of headdress. The lack of a face has prompted some archaeologists and philosophers to view the Venus as a Mother Goddess.


Neo-Babylonian 625-538 BC

Neo Babylonian Nude Goddess Cylinder Seal

A fine Near Eastern cylinder seal of hematite, 2nd millennium BC, carved with a scene of worshipper presenting an animal to an enthroned deity, a nude goddess standing between them.

Hellenistic 323 - 30 BC

Venus de Milo

The Venus de Milo, or Aphrodite of Melos (named after the Greek island on which it was discovered in 1820). It’s nude torso enabled her to be identified as Aphrodite, the Roman Venus, goddess of love and beauty, born out of the foam of the sea. And with her, Greek art gave birth to all Western art’s female nudes. Her elongated silhouette, position in space, and very sensual, realistic nudity link this work to the Hellenistic period (323–31 BC), the last great era in Greek history. What the sculptor was seeking to depict was divine beauty, that of Plato’s ideals, not worldly reality.

Late Medieval 1300 - 1500

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

(Details from The Garden of Earthly Delights)

It is named for the luscious garden in the central panel, which is filled with cavorting nudes and giant birds and fruit. The triptych depicts the history of the world and the progression of sin. Beginning on the outside shutters with the creation of the world, the story progresses from Adam and Eve and original sin on the left panel to the torments of hell, a dark, icy, yet fiery nightmarish vision, on the right. The Garden of Delights in the center illustrates a world deeply engaged in sinful pleasures. His paintings have a rough surface from the application of paint; this contrasts with the traditional Flemish style of paintings, where the smooth surface attempts to hide the fact that the painting is man-made.

Early Renaissance 15th century

Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

The classical poets had been known all through the Middle Ages, but only at the time of the Renaissance, when the Italians tried so passionately to recapture the former glory of Rome, did the classical myths become popular among educated laymen. To these scholars the story of her birth was the symbol of mystery through which the divine message of beauty came into the world. Botticelli's Venus is so beautiful that we do not notice the unnatural length of her neck, the steep fall of her shoulders and the queer way her left arm is hinged to the body. Or, rather, we should say that these liberties which Botticelli took with nature in order to achieve a graceful outline add to the beauty and harmony of the design because they enhance the impression of an infinitely tender and delicate being, wafted to our shores as a gift from Heaven."

Mannerism 1520 – 1600

Venus, Cupid, Time and Folly by Agnolo Bronzino

Mannerism is characterized by the use of attenuated, though very plastically modelled, figures in exaggerated, often twisted postures; the unrealistic treatment of space, often for dramatic effect; and a seemingly arbitrary choice of thin, discordant, often acid colours. Mannerism marked a move away from the detached balance and clarity of the High Renaissance towards greater drama and complexity, and a desire for emotive effects, movement, and contrasts.


Baroque 1600 – 1725

Venus and Adonis by Peter Paul Rubens

Baroque art has a sense of movement, energy, and tension. Strong contrasts of light and shadow enhance the dramatic effects of many paintings and infinite space is often suggested. The figures in paintings are not generalized types but individuals with their own personalities. Artists of this time were concerned with the inner workings of the mind and attempted to portray the passions of the soul through the facial features of their subjects. The intensity and immediacy, individualism, and detail of Baroque art—observed in such things as the convincing rendering of cloth and skin textures—make it one of the most compelling styles of Western art. Rubens’ nudes were well-known for being round, robust and voluptuous, a Flemish artistic convention equated with prosperity.

Neoclassical 1750 - 1850

Mars Disarmed by Venus and the Three Graces by Jacques-Louis David

More than just an antique revival, Neo-Classical artists at first sought to replace the sensuality and what they viewed as the triviality of the Rococo style with a style that was logical, solemn in tone, and moralizing in character.

Romanticism 1750 – 1850

La Maja Desnuda by Francisco Goya

The Romantic period emphasized the emotions painted in a bold, dramatic manner. This painting is sometimes said to be the first clear depiction of female pubic hair in famous Western art. In 1815, the Spanish Inquisition summoned Goya to reveal who commissioned him to create the "obscene" La maja desnuda, and he was consequently stripped of his position as the Spanish court painter.

Realism 1839 – 1900

Nude with Dog by Gustave Courbet

Courbet's distinctive painting style was marked by technical mastery, a bold and limited palette, compositional simplicity, strong and even harshly modeled figures (as in his nudes), and heavy impasto—thick layers of paint—often applied with a palette knife.

Impressionism 1863 – 1900

Nude in the Sunlight by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Impressionism’s primary object was to achieve a spontaneous, undetailed rendering of the world through careful representation of the effect of natural light on objects.


Art Nouveau 1890's - 1910

Salon des Cents by Alphonse Mucha

Art Nouveau, literally new art, is characterized by long curving lines based on sinuous plant forms, and an element of fantasy. It was primarily a decorative style and as such was used particularly effectively in metalwork, jewellery, glassware and in book illustration, where the influence of Japanese prints is often evident.

Fauvism 1905 – 1908

Blue Nude 1 by Henri Matisse

Fauvism, French for “wild beast”, revolutionized the concept of colour in modern art. The Fauves rejected the Impressionist palette of soft, shimmering tones in favour of the violent colours used by the Post-Impressionists Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh for expressive emphasis. They achieved a poetic energy through vigorous line, simplified yet dramatic surface pattern, and intense colour.

Expressionism 1905 – 1930

Women and a Pierrot by Emil Nolde

Expressionism strove to express subjective feelings and emotions rather than to depict reality or nature objectively. The artist is not concerned with reality as it appears but with its inner nature and with the emotions aroused by the subject. To achieve these ends, the subject is frequently caricatured, exaggerated, distorted, or otherwise altered in order to stress the emotional experience in its most intense and concentrated form.

Futurism 1909 – 1916

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

Futurism rejected all traditions and attempted instead to glorify contemporary life, mainly by emphasizing its two dominant themes, the machine and motion. Futurism was characterized by the attempted depiction of several successive actions of positions of a subject at the same time. The result somewhat resembled a stroboscopic photograph or a series of photographs taken at high-speed and printed on a single plate.

Analytical Cubism 1907 – 1912

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso

Cubism was primarily concerned not with lifelike representation but with the depiction of subject-matter by breaking its form down into basic geometric shapes; by overlapping or interlocking these shapes, Cubist painters also attempted to depict objects from many angles not simultaneously visible in reality but arranged so as to form a unified composition.

Surrealism 1910 – 1930

Le Viol by René Magritte

Surrealism emphasized the role of the unconscious in creative activity, but it employed the psychic unconscious in a more orderly and more serious manner.

Constructivism 1914 – 1920

Torso by Antoine Pevsner

Constructivism's name was derived from the “construction” of abstract sculptures from miscellaneous industrial materials, such as metal, wire, and pieces of plastic.

Art Deco 1925 – 1939

Andromeda by Tamara de Lempicka

Art Deco’s sleek, streamlined forms conveyed elegance and sophistication. It was developed both as a reaction against the elaborate and sinuous turn-of-the-centruy Art Nouveau style and as a new aesthetic that celebrated the machine age, which was gathering momentum. Its central characteristics are clean lines and sharp edges, stylishness and symmetry.


Pop Art 1950 – 1980

Nude with Blue Hair by Roy Lichtenstein

Pop Art (an abbreviation of “popular art”) images were taken from mass culture. Pop Art appropriated the techniques of mass production and the subject-matter of mass culture often in an ironic way. Pop Artists embraced the environment of everyday life and some artists duplicated beer bottles, soup cans, comic strips, road signs, and similar objects in paintings, collages, and sculptures.

In using images that reflected the materialism and vulgarity of modern mass culture, they sought to deliver a perception of reality even more immediate than that offered by the realistic painting of the past. They also strove to be impersonal—that is, to allow the viewer to respond directly to the object, rather than to the skill and personality of the artist.

Op Art  1960 – 1970

Op-Art Nude by Ray Speers

An abstract movement in Europe and the US in the mid 1950s based on the effects of optical patterns.

(Photo-Realist Paintings) 1960 – 1990

Big Nude by Chuck Close

A figurative movement that emerged in the US and Britain in the late 1960s and 1970s. The subject matter, usually everyday scenes, is portrayed in an extremely detailed, exacting style.

Postmodernism can roughly be said to be characterized by the combination of modern forms, materials, and techniques with the subtle and highly conscious use of motifs and conventions from earlier periods. It can be seen as a subtle shift away from the espousal of abstraction and conceptualization that had dominated avant-garde art since the early decades of the 20th century, and also as a development from the precedent set by Pop Art, whose eclecticism and populism exploited the semiotic power of everyday objects. As the Postmodernist theorist Charles Jencks has put it, Postmodernism “is both the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence”.

Present Day   1990-now

Nude by Tomas Rucker

As we can see the medium may have changed but the standard of expressing the female form as the quintessence of pure beauty is still in effect.


(E) Nude paintings/sculptures are artistic while a nude photo is pornographic.

This is a common misconception that can be attributed to the medium’s massive use in the pornographic industry as one of its primary means of delivering its content. Just because this is the case, we can not lump everything that is “nude” into one category and throw the baby out with the bath water.

The camera is as much a legitimate artistic medium as a paintbrush or hammer and chisel. As illustrated from the timeline of female nudes in art, the medium of expressing the female form through the ages has ranged from sculptures to lithographs to paintings to prints etc. One medium does not have a higher caste than the other, and as such, does not bring more or less merit to the portrayal of the female form than another medium would.

However if we were to apply the argument that all nude photographs are pornographic, we might as well extend that mindset to the other mediums that were used to depict pornography prior to the advent of the camera. Below are some examples of erotic paintings, sculptures and friezes.

Khajuraho temple, 9th – 10th century

Erotic lithograph, 1840

Erotic Japanese bone carvings, 19th Century

That mindset would lead us to conclude that no medium is suitable to depict the female form as all depictions would be pornographic by association. This ideology is clearly wrong.


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