Friday, March 02, 2007

discussion

Is it a double standard to appreciate the form and beauty of a nude woman's body in art and yet believe that Christian women ought to clothe themselves in modesty?

Are the two reconcilable?

What is a proper pastoral response to nudity in the fine arts? How does this compare with one's treatment and understanding of Song of Solomon and Ezekiel?

25 comments:

michael jensen said...

Um...

It is a little tough for male readers to comment without incriminating themselves, isn't it?

Context, as they say, is everything...

ckhnat said...

You bring up an excellent point, MJ, concerning any men that may wish to add to the discussion.

If you think it best, please feel free to comment anonymously. This discussion, I'm sure, would be incredibly lop-sided if only women put their 2-cents into the pot.

michael jensen said...

Well: if I was to go anonymous now, it would be a little bit of a giveaway!

It is interesting how one Xn response has been to make the nudity a metaphor, so that we quickly are diverted from what we are actually looking at. So, with the Song of Songs, for example, you hear 'oh, it is a metaphor of Christ and the church of course!' just incase we for a second might think that an actual woman (and man) with an actual body is being described. Heaven forbid!

That said, in modern art we tend to go for extreme realism and shock: so nudity then has no other referent other than itself...

bethy31 said...

Art arouses the senses but I'm not sure it arouses it in the same way pornographic or elicit imagery does - granted, this could be different person by peerson.

From these passages, it seems as though there are different contexts for nudity and different responses. Song of Solomon the bride and bridegroom enjoy each other as they should. In Ezekiel, the nudity of birth and youth and the nudity of prostitution (whether soul or body).

As for the NT admonishments for modesty, it seems to be protection from awakening love before it so desires (as mentioned in Song of Solomon).

I have more thoughts but have to get back to work!

jeltzz said...

I do not think you could call it a double standard, since surely part of the reason Xn women are encouraged to modesty is that the beauty and form of women is appreciated.

Personally I find the nude forms of men and women in classical styles to be a rich artistic experience, and in part I put this down to having been contextualised to read such works a certain way.

Pastorally though, it's likely that some people will be able to treat even fine art as pornography. The solution though, is certainly not to collapse the two categories, but to articulate and defend the differences, while seeking to counsel individuals who might have problems.

CraigS said...

Perhaps you could post some images for us to consider?



kidding!

Heather said...

Well, if we assume that an average Christian would keep her eyes open for Song of Solomon but shut them upon encountering a naked person unexpectedly, does that mean that in viewing Michelangelo's David, I should keep one eye open and one eye closed (you know, for perspective)?

No, seriously, this is an interesting question, and were my thoughts not all completely infected with the cold virus, I suspect they would be trying to form themselves into something coherent right about now. I'll be back... :)

Laura said...

I've been pondering this lately, after seeing a discussion of a feminist ad campaign about the percentage of women artists represented in museums vs. the percentage of the nudes that are female.

I don't think nudity is always sexual. Sometimes it represents innocence and simplicity (I'm thinking of that Venus on the Half Shell painting, can't think of what it's called -- whoops, found it, it's the Birth of Venus), and as such, can be viewed by Christians without guilt.

But I'm still pondering.

ckhnat said...

As in the case of the Ezekiel passages, imagery of nudity may also convey a sense of shame and despair.

Or think of the photographs of hopeless, living corpses in Holocaust camps when their liberators came to set them free.

Catherine said...

I'm not sure how to put this, but I think there are different kinds of "nude." (This isn't the ideal example, but it IS the first thing that comes to mind for some reason.) One of the well-known redneck comedians once said that there was a difference between "naked" and "nekkid" - namely, "naked" meant "that you didn't have any clothes on"... whereas "nekkid" meant "that you didn't have any clothes on AND you were up to something!"

I think there's a correlation for photos and paintings depicting people with clothes. Sometimes, they're just people without clothes. The message is not sexual (i.e., Holocaust photos) and to interpret it in that way would be perverse and immature... sort of like giggling in biology every time your professor says "intercourse." Other times, in other photos or paintings, there are people without clothes AND they're up to something - and we call that "pornography."

BUT, if that's true to some degree... where's the line?

Chris said...

I feel like I may have said this before, but I wonder if there is a fixed line in the sand ...

Or is it that each person has their struggles. One guy might have lust issues with looking at women dressed in large baggy sweatshirts or mumus or something, while another might have no problem with lust upon seeing a nude woman. I think that this is (pardon the term) relative from person to person, rather than a fixed rule. Principles like "don't lust" are probably better than rules like "don't look at naked people".

michael jensen said...

Can't something (the Song of Songs for example!) be erotic without being pornographic? Isn't that a better distinction?

I think if you entirely de-sexualise nudity in art it becomes rather comic: you know, we all know that we think David or Venus are sublime examples of their gender's bodily forms but we have to look somewhere else, or pretend becuase it is serious art it can't be about the nudity right in front of us.

Laura said...

I think we need to think about where the line is, Chris. Just a hypothetical: if there's no line in the sand, would it be ok for you to google "naked women" and look at whichever pictures came up (presuming, of course, that you're someone who "doesn't lust" when he sees a naked woman)?

Every person's struggle is different, but a man who lusts when he looks at a girl in a baggy sweatshirt probably needs counseling, you know? And it seems a little naive to think that a man can regularly look at naked women without lusting. I do agree that "don't look at naked people" isn't a helpful guideline, but what is -- other than "don't lust"? Surely "flee temptation" and "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" must also figure into our discussion of nudity in the arts.

Intent and context are important considerations. A painting or photo for the purpose of titillation, or to excite, seems very different than a painting of Christ naked on the cross, as he most likely was, or a photo of a woman nursing an infant.

Chris said...

Well, obviously it's a fairly unlikely thing that a guy could look at "pornography" without lusting. Besides, what would a guy be googling naked women for if not to lust at them? I'm just saying that we (men) are visual beings, that's the way we're built. I was trying to use hyperbole to make a point about the more subtle truth, I guess. We have to know our own boundaries.

shawna said...

I think its important to remember too the verse about being careful not to make your brother stumble. If you as an individual can look at nude art and appreciate it in an artistic way (the biblical example is eating unclean animals, or those sacrificed to idols) and have peace about it in your heart, knowing you arent doing anything wrong in Gods eyes then great. But if you take your friend who is struggling with lust to see some nude art...probably not the best choice.

ckhnat said...

and how does this general agreement in viewing nudity in art relate to the question of modest dress?

Catherine said...

I think modest dress brings it back to the question of intent and context. Dressing provocatively has an implicit intent to arouse sexual desire - and unless the context is a private encounter between husband and wife, it's inappropriate. Clearly defining what constitutes "provocative" is harder, but I think we know it when we see it because of the reaction it inspires.

It seems that there is some latitude within art as to the intent and context of nudity... provocative dress, on the other hand, has a much narrower range of intent and therefore is only appropriate within a very specific context.

(I haven't thought that through as well as I would like, but that's my first impression of the distinction...)

Chris said...

I think Shawna's got a point about not causing a brother or sister to stumble ... it works the same with pornography as with dress code. Though I suppose Laura's got a point, there's got to be a line where it stops being a "stumbling" issue and where it starts being a personal/heart problem.

michael jensen said...

Isn't the modesty of a woman's dress meant to refer to its ostentatiousness (vis-a-vis wealth and social status) rather than its sexiness?

I take it no-one is advocating wearing Islamic-style veils...

jeltzz said...

Michael, aren't the two (ostentation and allurement) linked? That is, the desire to adorn and decorate with luxury is often linked to the desire to increase 'appeal' rather than to display wealth in so bare a term.

That seems to be what Cyprian and Tertullian are saying anyway (not to disclose any recent reading or anything...)

ckhnat said...

I assume that 1 Peter 3 is the reference being used here in regards to the outer adornment of women.

Did anyone glance at the survey I posted a link to previously concerning modesty? If not here it is again.

The results change with the demographic. Often the comments appear to be absurd. How could a woman discretely adjusting her bra-strap be a stumbling block?

What is proper attire for women? In previous comments, context is often brought up. Is there a time and place and circumstance when a strapless dress is appropriate? What about a bikini?

What about the woman who wears the short skirt not to lead men astray but because she finds it comfortable?

As in nudity in the arts ... is there a line to be drawn? How much is it the artist's/woman's responsibility opposed to the viewer's responsibility?

ckhnat said...

and ... to what extent is acceptable attire dictated by the culture in which one finds oneself?

i.e. Iran v. the Sydney beach culture

in Europe, nudity is everywhere in advertising and the arts. one tends to become de-sensitized to the shock of skin. However, the same cannot be said for Mississippi.

(let me make it clear that I attempt to be what most (accept for the Amish and ultra-conservative Muslims) would consider modest in my inner and outer adornment. i'm merely attempting to hold a conversation in which we evangelicals can flesh out why we embrace certain standards of modesty.)

mike said...

I reckon you'd look hot in a strapless dress... after we we're married of course

Anonymous said...

Christine, why'd you have to go and say "flesh out"??? :P

mike said...

Sorry for killing this conversation with my silliness :(