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Lesson Plans

Re: Nude Art and Christianity

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Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Sun, 09 Nov 1997 23:11:00 -0600

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At 03:00 PM 11/9/97 -0800, mesande wrote:
> When did nude art become such a problem for the Christian church?

Mark, art history gives us another way of knowing the cultural fluctuations
of human attitudes. You may want to look at Classical Greek art ( or earlier
examples) as an interesting place to start. Prompted by exposure to the
large scale human sculpture of the Egyptians, we see the Archaic Greeks
enter a search for the "Ideal" human form as that which would be fitting to
represent their gods. The path from the Archaic to the Classical is a story
of that search for physical beauty of proportion. If indeed their belief
systems were behind their search for the "Ideal", then for those artists,
there must have been a sobering realization that failure in their task may
well result in their lives shortened by a bolt of lightening from a
displeased god.

The influences lingered through the Hellenistic and later Roman work, but
with the fall of Rome and the advent of the "Dark Ages", knowledge of
technique and the search for ideal beauty in the human form disolved.

It was in the "Middle Ages," under the powerful new structure of the church
that we see the human form transformed into a symbol for the earthly,
tempted, sinning aspects of our physical human condition. The images of the
human form from this period are not flattering. Frequently the human form
is undraped but handled as if it were that of an insect or tortured
creature. The direction of the art of this time was to glorify the
spiritual life of human kind not the potential beauty of human physical form.

The shift again comes with the 1400s when another mindset develops wherein
the human form, if indeed it was the handiwork of God, could again find
representation as beauty. See Donatello, Michelangelo and others.

The shifts have continued with our cultural evolution.

> In your opinion what is the difference between nude art and pornography?

I think our recent situation involves fragmentation with various groups
within our society taking a variety of positions on nudity. Certainly the
use of the media, motion pictures, rock music and especially advertising
practices which have depended upon the use of provocative or suggestive
situations as a way to get attention and sell products push and pull at the
edges of "temptation". Then there are those who would blatantly seek to
profit at the expense of hard core pornography. On the other side of the
issue, groups who are working to see to the spiritual and moral aspects of
our society are forced by their beliefs and the current cultural
environment, to take a position against nudity, publicly displayed in any
form. Somehow, for the lay persons of in our society, the issues of nudity
or the undraped human form as subject matter for the visual arts are
unfairly tied to associations of pornography. Is it no wander that in this
environment that artists are frequently seen as degenerates (although there
may well be a few who are.).

To make matters more complicated, today, as in many situations of our past,
art history is seen through the clouded and confused eyes of people caught
in their own contemporary agendas, their own cognitive systems. The truth
is lost, if it was ever known, and the story of art history is rewritten
according to those who need to use parts of it for their own contemporary


Robert Fromme <rfromme> or <rfromme>

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