A Christian Perspective on Nudity in Art

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A Christian Perspective on Nudity in Art
By: Matthew Clark - Article Source from: The Association of Classical & Christian Schools John is a Christian who enjoys the arts and finds them edifying. He is particularly fond of the art of painting. Desiring to expand his art history knowledge, he visits the best, closest art museum he can find. Going from gallery to gallery, John begins to become discouraged and more than a little embarrassed because of all the nudity shown in the paintings. He finds himself wondering if he should leave the museum in a state of disillusioned protest. As a Christian, John understands the need to shun pornography; but what he is seeing is not Hollywood at its X-rated worst, it is Western Civilization. These are the paintings that make up the canon of art. What is he . what are Christians . to do with nudity as it is often shown in art? To answer the overriding question, one must first understand the difference between nudity and pornography. Nudity is nothing more than a human figure without clothing. There is no overt intention of sexual arousal. When nudity is used in art, it is often (but not always) with the goal of eliciting an admiration on the part of the viewer for the handy-work of his Creator. The Greeks believed that man was the measure of all things; as such they sought to find the perfect human form and show it in their art. The resulting nudes are not pornographic; rather, they are the outworking of the Greek ideal. As Christians, we rightly reject their philosophy, but we should not make the mistake of mislabeling their art. There has been much written on the beauty of the human body and it does not need be rehearsed here. It is clear that we are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made. When an artist shows nudity with this in mind, he is showing it to the praise and glory of the Creator. Pornography, on the other hand, has sexual arousal as its sole intention. It seeks to debase and lower both its subject, the person being looked at, and its object, the person doing the looking, to the level of mere animals. It is meant to feed our lusts, with the full understanding that they can never be sated. Sexual lust . like all other lusts . operates according to the Law of Diminishing Returns; the more a person feeds his lust, the harder it is to get even temporary satisfaction. This forces him to go back for increasingly more and more stimulation until it is almost impossible to derive any pleasure from his vice, no matter how much he indulges. It would be irresponsible to say that no part of Western Art leans to the pornographic side of things; for some of it does (much of Klimt, Schiele, some Courbet, etc.); however, the difference is usually reasonably obvious with sober thought (if it.s not, then the artist has not done his job!). There is also art that is quite charged with erotic content that doesn.t show so much as an exposed ankle. These paintings rely on context and subtlety to convey the true meaning of the work. For example, Gustave Courbet.s painting, Demoiselles on the Banks of the Seine of 1856, is widely understood to be a depiction of two lesbians in post-coital sleep . an obviously unacceptable situation for the Christian. There is no crass sexual imagery to suggest this relationship; however, when viewed in light of some of his other paintings, and when the painting is looked at carefully the relationship between the two women becomes clear. This is far from the only example of subtle erotic imagery, but it is illustrative of the issue. Like so many

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situations in life, context is the key to making a decision about whether or not to show or look at imagery like this. Song of Solomon (among other passages in scripture) is very explicit in its description of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman. It speaks quite openly of physical desire. We know from the context of the whole book that this is not a sinful desire and that it is proper for us to read about...
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