I’d like to quote a post from my education blog. The full post can be found here.
I was in the HFAC (at BYU) the other day admiring an exhibit on drawing. At one point, I came across one of those labels that tells you about the art work. It was describing how a knowledge of anatomy contributes to drawing the human figure, stating something to this effect: knowing what is under skin helps you to understand what you see on the skin. In other words, having a knowledge of what is underneath the surface of what you are trying to draw enables you to express that knowledge when you draw what is on the surface. Good artists, then, draw more than what’s on the surface (i.e., what they see). But how deep does “more” go?
As a consequence of my interest in the arts, I have encountered several nude pieces. I have always been struck by the beauty of nude art. Initially, I was embarrassed by how moved I was by nude art. After all, I wondered, is there really a difference between nude art and pornography? I believed (and now, believe even more) that there is a difference. In fact, I believe that difference is strong enough that, where pornography teaches our children disrespect for the human body and sexuality, nude art can teach our children respect for the body and for sexuality. But pinning down that difference is not an easy thing.
As I perused that exhibit on drawing yesterday, however, I thought I came a little closer to understanding. There were no nudes in the exhibit itself, but there were several pieces of men and women in different types of clothing and drapery. The artist makes a similar point concerning these pieces as he does with anatomy: if you can understand what’s going on under the drapery, you can understand better how to draw the drapery. A good artist always draws (or paints, or sculpts, or…) more than what he or she sees.
Consider what the “pornographer” sees and then what the “artist” sees. Could it be the artist sees something different when he or she is creating? I think so, and I think that that difference is conveyed in their art (which might explain why some nudes can seem raunchy to some, while other nudes can seem so beautiful to those same people). But what is that difference? I wouldn’t say it’s just anatomy, but the anatomy example from above reminds me that deeper than anatomy, there is “inside” of us truth and light. And to the artist that can see that truth and light and then can paint or sculpt or draw that truth and light can then convey that truth and light to the viewer. The piece of art that does so has the potential to move within us our truth and light, or to say it differently, to move us toward the Truth.
My interest in art has left me wondering what place nude art has in the Mormon community. While some prudishness exists among Mormons when it comes to works of art and literature, I think for the most part, Mormon culture embraces the arts. But what about nude art? I am beginning to believe some of what I said above. I don’t think that nude art is always 100% “appropriate” (whatever that means); obviously its use should be contextual. Part of that context will include the maturity (I won’t say age) of the viewer, which I believe is required before one can look upon a piece and read the artist’s motives.
But I’m beginning to wonder if a true appreciation of the light and truth that nude art can offer us might teach us in more ways than one. In fact, I’m beginning to believe that an appreciation of nude art can lead us to begin to appreciate the sanctity of the human body as we see how the human body has been treated by others who respect it. And, God-willing, we might even be able to teach our children about sexuality in a an appropriate manner. But I’ll let the conversation go from there.