Thursday, January 04, 2007

But what about art?

One reasonable objection to my earlier post about pornography is to ask where one might draw the line between legitimate art and execrable pornography. Perhaps a bit of the history of nude art might be in order here.

When one sees such art over the centuries, a consistent major theme is fertility and love goddesses--Venus in particular. Venus/Aphrodite was supposed, of course, to be the goddess of love, specifically erotic love. For the Greek students out there, it's not phileo, and definitely not agape. It's that of her attendant Eros. The mythological "sea foam" origins are also, well, a bit idiomatic, to put it gently, and worship was along the lines of any other love/fertility god or goddess--what the Greeks and the apostle Paul called "porneia."

So what does this mean? Well, for starters, it does mean that the line between art and pornography really isn't as clear as we'd like to believe. It's certainly less disgusting, and somewhat less degrading those involved, but the recurrent theme still is that of the worship of sexuality.

Unfortunately, I'd argue that this carries over to "non-Venusian" art as well. Consider Michaelangelo's "David"; David is divested of his staff, shepherd's bag & pouch, his cloak, and probably a youth's beard--and miraculously obtains the return of his foreskin to boot. In a manner of speaking, Michaelangelo isn't portraying the King of Israel, but rather a Greek "eromenos"--youth in a pederastic relationship--or Eros himself. Donatello and Verrochio do about the same thing to David, making him into quite the pretty boy.

Although I will not argue that nudity in art is completely proscribed, I will suggest that art lovers would do well to think seriously about what many great works really represent.


Mercy Now said...

Good thoughts but do you think you can make the fonts any smaller? I had to switch to my 20" widescreen LCD to read this:o)

Yes, the line is not clear between the two but you'd know when it's porn. The other thing I have trouble understanding is @ the movies, sometimes you wonder why there's a nude scene in there for no apparent reason.

hammerswing75 said...

Film makers would no doubt say that they are trying to portray "reality" and since people are naked some of the time they're just keepin it real. I'm not buying it.

Bike Bubba said...

Sorry, Mercy--but aren't you glad I gave you an excuse to get that big monitor? :^) I'm more or less trying to keep things in a reasonable space.

And I think the apparent reason for those movie scenes is that people buy tickets to see naked bodies. Of course, those same images appear on the Internet for free before anyone can see the movie, but I think that's the logic.

David McCrory said...

Those things which are good, pue and true should fill our minds. If we can't honestly say a particular piece of art isn't expressing these attributes I'd question it's veracity as legitimate art.

David McCrory said...

...good, puRe and true...

Tracy said...

There is a difference between nudity and pornography. This seems to be an American issue that we just can't seem to get over.

Bike Bubba said...

Hardly an American issue--the Italian Renaissance issue with Venus arose because she was supposed to be naked--portraying her was a way of getting round their social norms. There were also huge debates over whether to place "David" in a church or elsewhere for the same reason. Was Jerry Falwell somehow channeled to 1500s Italy?

Anonymous said...
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Bike Bubba said...

It's interesting, anonymous, that in the name of not judging art, you most certainly do by suggesting that rhetorical opponents buy something by Kinkade. Physician, heal thyself?

No; let's be serious. Art is meant to be evaluated, else it is merely something pretty (or ugly, in the case of modern art) cluttering up the room.

And certainly one of the criteria by which we may judge art is in its accuracy. Jesus was almost certainly naked on the cross. On the other hand, David was almost certainly clothed, not to mention circumcised.

As such, we must conclude that Michaelangelo was in fact portraying something else besides Israel's king. I'd suggest, again, that it's Eros or a young "eromenos."

Anonymous said...


I did not say that we should not judge art. I said we should not judge the "intentions" of art (or the artist.) There is a HUGE difference. Physician, consider yourself healed.

Any piece of art itself is meant to be observed first, and then(as you truthfully say) evaluated. The INTENTIONS of the art are much much different.


On the modern art front... I just returned from a few days in Stockholm where I was lucky enough to visit their modern art museum. (sidenote: museums in Stockholm are largely free. God bless Scandinavian Socialism. I know that comment will make you reel)
I was blown away by the diversity in modern, postmodern, and contemporary art in this building.

This diversity being mentioned, your blanket statement "or ugly, in the case of modern art" shows a narrow understanding of these artistic classifications.

I respect your right to evaluate art and deem any given ENTIRE genre as ugly, but I do not respect your opinion on this matter.


Accuracy, as a criteria for judging art, is only one angle...and a fairly archaic one at that. Kinkade's paintings look more "real" than Dali. That means that, based on your criteria of accuracy, Kinkade wins on points?


And now, on to Mr. Buonarroti. Michelangelo (note spelling) was commissioned to create a David by the Arte della Lana (wool guild) to create a David. The piece of marble, as it sat untouched for 25 years was called David. He sculpted and, when finished, called his piece David. So why do you say "...we must conclude that Michaelangelo was in fact portraying something else...?"

On another note, please view these images of major David sculptures. Not much clothing.

My favorite is the Bernini at the Borghese. I have visited the Borghese 10 times this year alone and Bernini's works never fail to impress me. I would be interested to hear your impressions on the Rape of Proserpine or Apollo and Daphne.


And finally, knowing your affinity for firearms and basic opinions of art, I think of a bumper sticker I saw saying "Buy art, not guns."

Angel said...

Wasn't it one of the great theologians who said "Sex and chocolate are how we best experience the glory of God"? I'm not advocating *worship* of sex, but sex is a part of life... it's natural and healthy and beautiful, and completely leaving it out of art (which, in many ways, responds to life-- all of life) denies a big part of our existence. So, Aprodite's role in ancient Greek culture makes sense to me, as the Greeks were constructing deities to represent different aspects of their life experiences. Finally on the Aphrodite/Venus thought (and note, Aphrodite refers to ancient Greece and Venus to ancient Rome), you are plugging in the "cult of Venus worship" idea into areas where it does not fit... all, or even a majority, or nudity in art is not a response to the cult of Venus, which is what it seems like you're claiming.

In addition, it's a hugely arrogant claim to state that "all modern art is ugly." I don't particularly care for much modern art myself, but by dismissing it all as ugly, you've made a hugely unfair value judgement, casting your opinion as the pinnacle of authority. None of us can claim such a weighty position. Furthermore, the "art for art's sake" movement did largely aim to create beautiful images, and provided little means of formal evaluation. So, again, you cannot claim that all art is first and foremost intended to be "evaluated" in the sense that you speak of, and if not, it merely "clutters a room."

In addition, there is the issue of artistic license. Michelangelo took artistic license with David, just as Mel Gibson took artistic license when he included an image of Christ crushing a serpent in Gethsemane in the "Passion." He took something that was alluded to in Genesis, but was not recorded by any of the Gospel writers as an actual event that took place while Christ was praying in Gethsemane. These two instances are not far removed. You may say that one is "worse" than the other b/c one involves nudity, but what if the nudity in David was meant to represent strength and virility? I see nothing wrong with valuing strength and virility (On a side note, David was originally planned to adorn the Duomo, but when Michelangelo finished and the people saw him, they thought he was too beautiful and spectacular to be viewed from so far away).

Lastly, why can't nude images BE "good, pure, and true"? By making the sweeping statement that they simply cannot, it seems to me that you are reinforcing the long-held heretical notion that sex, and all that has to do with it, is "dirty."

Bike Bubba said...

First of all: anonymous, you can post using your real name or not at all.

Second of all, I didn't say all modern art was ugly. I said that most wasn't particularly skillful or meaningful, and I stand by that comment. Putting a little red dot on a white canvas does not require any measure of skill, nor does scribbling on a canvas worthy of a two year old.

Third, I did not say that nude images could not be pure, good, and true. I was rather saying that a large portion of them are not what they claim to be, and derive from other sources. Again, if one ignores Greek culture and mythology, and the cult of Venus in particular, you're going to miss what's actually going on in Renaissance art--and really most nude art in general.