Too rude? Speech part two – adolescent nudity in art

Part one is here..


These days the nude appears to have become more controversial as the line between nudity and sexuality has been blurred. The prevalence of porn and sexualized images In the media have led to an automatic association between nudity and sex. A belief that nudity is dirty, wrong, and disgraceful. All of this has led to nude art being pushed to the back corner, far from being the classic and honored subject of artists everywhere.

There is no image of vulnerability more powerful than that of a naked child. Take for example the iconic Vietnam Napalm photograph. Would this picture have as much impact if she was an adult? If she was clothed? The image of her running down the street, naked and screaming, is real, it’s powerful and it’s become a symbol for the horrors of war everywhere. This photograph won the Pulitzer and world press photo of the year.

A nude child is the image of vulnerability, of change. It automatically triggers protective instincts. Good art has the power to move us. It inspires emotion.

Would Bill Henson’s works be as emotive if the children were clothed? if they were small breasted adults? His works capture a moment in time. A fragile period in a teen’s life. These works make us empathize with the subject, I have heard abuse sufferers consider them both triggering works and uplifting and encouraging. Other see a coming of age, loss of innocence. fragile, strong. Whatever you see in this work you cannot deny that it has an emotional impact and that is the purpose of art.

The scandal with Brook Shields and the Gary Gross/Richard prince photographs is another good example. Gary Gross took photographs of a pre-teen Brook Shields for a magazine. These works were highly sexualized, with brook painted with oil and makeup. They were exceptionally adult, and in very poor taste. Brook shields did not get a say in modeling for these works, nor how they were used later on. Many years later Richard Prince took a photograph of the original Gary Gross, then changed it. The final work was seedier and turned the original on it’s ear. Where the first seemed to celebrate child pornography, the Prince version used the same image to condemn it. It still uses a sexualized image of an adolescent, but by using that image to make the viewers uncomfortable it made an excellent point about not turning a blind eye to child pornography.

2 thoughts on “Too rude? Speech part two – adolescent nudity in art

  1. Excellent points Jennie, it boggles the mind to realize that many iconic photographs and paintings would be banned if certain groups of people prevail in imposing their morality on society.

  2. Pingback: Too rude? Speech part 3: nude models and artistic merit. « Jennie’s Palette

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