On a recent cruise, I noticed the reproduction of a classic sculpture of the nude male athlete in the health club. I found it inspirational. Away from exercise room I noticed an almost identical sculpture in an area occasionally traversed by teens and children. This sculpture sported a strategically placed scallop shell.
When I returned from the cruise, I installed a digital art exhibit, my latest project. Two pieces had whimsical mermaids as subject matter. Questions arose regarding the appropriateness of displaying images of mermaids with breasts included. These were eventually fitted using their own shells before display.
These two experiences got me thinking about the topic of this column. The human body has served like a subject for art because the Stone Age. Artists celebrated a persons form for hundreds of years. Through the history of Western Art, I think it would be reliable advice that the historical figure most often depicted nude was Jesus, mostly as a baby.
Things changed with the Puritan and Victorian times. Through the years we have become squeamish about depictions of the body. Apart from in art galleries, sexuality in our culture is often relegated to the realms of advertising and pornography. Sex is used to sell almost everything. Pornography is considered evil by many but remains the most popular topic on the Internet.
I recalled the story in Genesis of Adam, Eve and also the Tree from the Understanding of Good and Evil. Upon disobeying God by eating its fruit, they realized these were naked, felt ashamed and sought out fig leaves as clothing. This passage was the first association of nudity with shame. I have never quite understood the connection between sin and being ashamed of the body. Yet here i am at our stage of human history caught in a rather schizophrenic look at the body.
Perhaps area of the issue is that people confuse the motivations behind the display of sexuality. Rick Goslikov suggests three such motivations. One is to result in sexual arousal which could suggest pornography or even more tasteful nude art. The second is to "capture some element or facet of sexuality or sensuousness." The third is to "express or communicate something in pictorial form about sexuality or sensuousness." He doesn't mention using sex in advertising to seduce us into buying things simply because they make us attractive.
For all of us to regain a more innocent perception of nudity and sexuality, we would need to let go of our more sordid interests such as viewing people as objects, subjugating others and looking simply to our very own desires and needs. Maybe we could rejoice in the human form once we do the rest of nature with no feeling of shame. I'm not sure if the can ever happen or what it really would take to accomplish. In the meantime, maybe we are able to work on ourselves.
Life Lab Lessons
Look honestly at your feelings about sexuality. Can you share your emotions with other people? Get to understand your personal body. Learn to like it if you do not already. Enjoy the beauty and complexity of the human body.