As we get closer to warmer weather, thoughts begin to go toward getting out to the beach for some fun in the sun. This is a fun image showing people enjoying themselves as nature intended us to be.
The history of art is really the history of imitation, in many ways. The earliest artists imitated what they saw and what they experienced, as do many, many artists in our lives today. As time went by, artists began to have the opportunity to imitate each other, and in our modern world of mass printing and the internet, artists can be exposed to many different styles and themes that can be followed. Throughout the ages the same paintings are repainted, reinterpreted, and reinvented. “Luncheon on the Grass” was a huge sensation when Manet first painted it in 1863. Ironically, the scandal of the painting at the time was not the nudity of the females, but rather that their nudity was not mirrored in the men, and that overall there was no recognizable, mythological theme to justify the nudity. Many different versions have since been made, some of which bear almost no resemblance to the original.
Each new generation has the opportunity to reinvent nudism for themselves, and often they begin by either (or both) copying and rebelling against the style of their parents. In the first half of the twentieth century it was more accepted to have male nudity than female nudity for swimming, while now nudity for the genders has become more even. In the late 1800’s male nudity in art was very acceptable, whereas now female nudity seems the norm. In any case, we must choose our path and follow it, either along a well-trod trail or through the brush. Either way we need to know what we want, and will need to work hard to be people worth imitating.
It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The origins of art are lost in the dust of the millenia, but art is known to have been created 40,000 years ago, and possibly even as early as 500,000 years ago. It is important to differentiate between early art and primitive art; many early art objects are breathtakingly beautiful and show great skill and vision, while primitive art is created every day by new and old artists around the world and may or may not show either skill or vision. Every artist recreates the history of art in their own lives, in a way, and for many artists the technique of tracing is one of the first techniques they learn. Tracing as a technique is often looked down as being merely copying, but artists like Maxfield Parrish regularly used this technique in their art to great and original effect.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then society has been flattering organizers for a long time. Following the outline of a social movement laid down many times since the dawn of time, nudists have been organizing and re-organizing societies, clubs, movements, and corporations since the turn of the twentieth century. As we move through the twenty-first century, we can look back and see what they got right and what they got wrong and attempt to learn from their mistakes. The simple and basic thrill of feeling the sun on your naked skin is where we all start, but how we move on from there often determines how far and how long we will be able to extend our nudist adventures. If nudism is to be widespread and commonplace then it needs to be organized. Copying what worked and what did not work and adapting it for the new century is a technique that all nudists will need to learn.
The school of Cubism was an attempt to find the basic elements of an image. Each part would be broken down into basic geometric shapes, which each would be rendered in relationship to the whole. It itself then evolved as its methods and styles were adopted by other artists from other backgrounds and cultures.
Today’s art shows what is probably the simplest element of nudism: a young nuclear family, with mother, father, and child arrayed in the glory their creator blessed them with. Others have taken it further, remaining nude as other children are born, as other family and friends have entered the circle, as more formal arrangements and structures are built. We each come to nudism in our own way, joining the family, helping it evolve, even as it helps us grow as well.
I suspect this is actually a knock-off of one by Bougereau. What else would you expect from the French Salon?
It has been said that the reason so few people do anything great after the age of thirty-five is that so few people do anything great before the age of thirty-five. It would seem that the late twenties and mid thirties are a prime time for artists to change the world, or at least the art world. This is hardly to say that an artist will make their best work in their thirties, or that art made in later (or earlier) life will not be influential, but in the creative world it seems that the period of early adulthood is the time when artists declare themselves. Impressionism and Cubism are both examples of art movements heavily influenced by artists in their early adult years.
The world of nudism has, of late, been suffering from a bit of a generational shift. The older generation, with landed clubs and established patterns, have found their strength fading, and not being replaced as they expected by younger members. Instead, we see younger nudists are seeking to create their own patterns of practice. While it is true that any effort to create a similar effect under similar circumstances will often do so by using similar practices, the almost infinite variety of human culture can lead to very different methods to achieve the same goal. We can no longer say that if nudism is to survive it must adapt to the new ways. We instead must say that nudists of old will need to look at the youth of today and wonder what sorts of nudists will emerge from their new and changing world.
Composition is a very important, if not the most important, part of art. Whether a painting or a sculpture or a building, composition is the arrangement of elements in relationship to each other and to the surrounding space. Good composition will attract the gaze and entertain the eye, and keep the observer engaged. In effect, good composition means that you just can’t help staring at it. Bad composition, or boring composition, means the observer glancing at it and then looking away. This is not to say that good composition is always pleasant composition. Tortured poses and strange rhythms can attract at the same time they distress; the viewer may walk away hoping no one was hurt, but they will probably remember the art.
The composition of any group of people is not always something that can be deliberately chosen. Discrimination is a part of life for everyone, and it is not always bad or illegal. Scientific studies often choose participants very carefully to be sure that a broad range of types are included, and juries are also very carefully chosen with just the opposite view in mind, to ensure that only people that will produce the desired verdict are included. Nudists are often in a bit of a bind, needing by philosophy to include all people, regardless of color or creed or gender or race, but constrained by need and society to balance their membership to present an attractive image to the general populace so as to attract more members. The old saying has it that we can pick our friends, but when our friends pick us we do not always have the choice to pick someone else. That is when we must compose ourselves, and get on with it.
In 1922, Hungary was a shattered, shrunken shadow of the empire it had hosted just a decade earlier. World War 1, which started with the assassination of an Austria-Hungarian prince, had ended four years earlier, which was also the approximate date of a massive influenza epidemic. All told, upwards of 70 million people had died worldwide, and almost sixty percent of Hungarians had died or been exiled. The economies of most of the world were staggered, and many European countries had no economy at all. Borders had been redrawn, entire cities had been emptied by war, famine, disease, or genocide, and cultures and societies had been rendered entirely irrelevant. Russia alone had 7 million children who were either orphaned or separated from their homes.
In that year, a Hungarian artist, disabled in that war and suffering from Tuberculosis, decided to paint a gentle scene of pastoral peace. Nude subjects, including a young family, savor the quiet of a green countryside, while music plays and sheep graze. There is a sombre tone, to be sure, of blue and cool green, but the warmth of flesh and family mix with food and drink. It is a moment of quiet reflection that the artist himself may have wished for himself. There can be a solace in nature, especially when greeted in a natural state, that can be a salve for a wounded body and soul. It is true that nudity is out of place in our modern society, unhappily, and it is also true that many people are out of place there also. We find ourselves, often, when we cast off our cares and our clothes in the company of friends and family. There may be war without, but sometimes when we get naked in nature we can find our own peace within.
Of all the popular physical media, pastels are probably the closest an artist can come to using pure color. Pigments are bound together into sticks with a small amount of a neutrally-colored binder, yielding almost a true representation of the actual pigment. Thus the colors can be as vivid or as muted as the artist wants, and the sticks can be either fat or thin (or even sharpened to a fine edge) so as to allow for both broad strokes or fine lines. Pastels can blend seamlessly or can be used like a pencil (they can even be purchased as a pencil. Convenient, eh?). They are readily available at any art supply house and come in a dizzying array of colors. There is some minor controversy over what exactly qualifies as a pastel (water-soluble pastels? Conte? Oil pastels? Tinted charcoals?), but by and large everyone knows what they are and what they can do.
Anyone who has read these commentaries for a while knows what is coming next: a comparison between the art media and nudists. Perhaps talking about living a vivid lifestyle? Perhaps mentioning that nudists could be thin or fat? We know nudists come in every shape and color, and you can find them everywhere. Sure, there are those who want to differentiate between nudists and naturists, between gymnosophy and going sky-clad. Nudists in France probably behave slightly differently than nudists in Australia, and urban nudists will certainly hold different activities than rural nudists. At the end of the day, though, all nudists want to keep it pure, keep it simple, keep it real. We are using these commentaries to further the goals of the nudist movement. If you have any comments, please share them by emailing us.
Watercolors are an artistic media whose origins are lost in antiquity. They came into continuous popular use in the European Renaissance and today are used widely, especially for illustration and instructional use. Typically used on paper, they can also be used on non-porous materials such as properly prepared plastic sheets. One of their better known properties is the transparency, allowing for glazes and washes.
Transparency is also important when working in the public realm. Recent outrage over police actions in the United States stem in many ways from a lack of openness or accountability in dealing with incidents of use of force against minorities. It would seem redundant to have to lecture a nudist on the need for openness, but the need for privacy and safety must always be balanced with the need for publicity and transparency. It is very important to say what you mean, and mean what you say, especially when you are in a situation where you must be careful what you say. Public relations is truly an art.
Every image we view has a visual dynamic to it, which is to say that every image induces the viewer’s brain to direct their eye’s focus first at one place on the image, and from there to another, and then to another, and so on, in a pattern across the image until the person is satisfied with the image and moves on. Often the artist will intentionally use composition, color, contrast, and other techniques to specifically draw the gaze to parts of the image in a particular order. This is one way an image tells a story. That story need not always be dramatic; the story could be a simple, peaceful one of happy, quiet harmony. Nonetheless, even a blank white page will still have a visual dynamic.
There are a number of pre-conceived ideas, or stereotypes, of nudism, of varying degrees of accuracy. Perhaps the most popular, and least accurate, is that of an unrestrained orgy. Also common (and perhaps more true?) is of overweight old people cloistered away at some rural campsite. Perhaps less of a stereotype is perhaps the most common form of nudism, that of a family that is comfortable in their skin together. Perhaps it is not entirely true that the family that bares together stays together, but that is perhaps one of the more durable forms of nudism, if perhaps not the most glamorous. It is a dynamic that reoccurs every day, in every nation. Children are natural nudists — indeed, children seem to default to that viewpoint — and at least at first most parents are generally very open with their young. Depending on how the parents were taught, and how the parents teach, the family may remain comfortable with social nudity well past the time that children leave the home. It may not be exciting, but a quiet, peaceful, family nudism is nonetheless a valid dynamic that holds hope for every future.
There is a style of art that uses high contrast and exaggerated poses, with lots of obvious detail. This art is very dramatic, often bordering on the grotesque, and typically offers a fairly obvious story. It draws the viewer in, but can also be just a bit repellent. Art commentators would call this art baroque. There is a historical Baroque period in the arts, whether musical or architectural or sculptural or fine, and it centers around the 1600’s. Examples of Baroque artists would be J. S. Bach, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Bernini, and Caravaggio. Examples of Baroque art would be the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach, The Ecstacy of St. Teressa by Bernini, and Ruben’s rendering of Maria de’ Medici’s arrival in Marseille. Art need not have been created during this period to be thought of as baroque, however. The style of art would rather dictate that, and there is a degree of subjectivity in assigning such a label. Such art is not typically an attempt to accurately render life, but rather an attempt to tell a story.
Some would say that there is an element of the grotesque in many aspects of public life today. Newscasts and serial dramas certainly would support that. Anyone who is attracted to the nudist scene will have to admit to being exposed to a bit more drama and contrivance than the average publicist might admit. Many aspects of nudism are artificial and contrived, and as much as we try to conceal and cover over it, life itself can be tawdry and very mundane at times. It is the highlights, the flashes of beauty, the moments of ecstasy that allow us to bear with the tedium and more distasteful parts of any effort. Putting up with for long enough often allows us to savor and enjoy, and that is true for many aspects of life, not just art. Indeed, it is the contrast that allows us to see the light in the dark, the beauty in the mundane, the sacred in the profane.
When is a cigar just a cigar? Today’s art is a lovely rendering of several nudes, of differing ages and sexes, in a rural landscape with other, clothed persons, with the figures in the fore engaged in an impromptu concert of horn and voice. Seems simple enough. We can take that all in, allowing our eyes to linger on the fine shading and composition, wonder about the artistic choices of pose and expression, admire the quality draftsmanship of the nudes and then pass on. If we stayed longer, we might wonder who these people, and we would fairly quickly note the pairing of infant and mother, and would probably associate the nude male as the father of the child, and likely the husband of the mother. We might follow the adoring gaze of each of the characters back to the baby boy, and ponder how four perfect, young, nude females would come to serenade a father, mother, and child in such a rural setting. We might note that of the figures in the foreground, only the mother is clothed, dressed in pure white and sky blue. It is likely that a seasoned patron of the arts would eventually make the association to the classic works of the masters and say that this is a take on the old standard of Madonna and baby being entertained by angels, with a nude Joseph in attendance.
Every situation has a subtext, a deeper meaning than can be seen by a casual glance. That meeting of artists? The ones doing figure drawing? With nude models? Of different ages and sizes? The meeting that was actually organized by the models? That may be something more, or at least something slightly different, than what we might ordinarily assume. If we were to look at the way the meeting progressed we might see that occasionally one of the artists takes the place of one of the models, disrobing and posing as well. Could this actually be a wonderful mix of nudism and art, rather than just a simple practice session? Are these all professional models, or are they all artists, all models, all accepting of the idea that there is nothing wrong with a healthy human body, no matter if nude or not? We do not always need to analyze every situation or artifact to this level, but sometimes a cigar is not a cigar, but something much better.
The future has been a subject of art for as long as art has existed. One theory of cave art is that it depicts the expected result of future hunts. Religious art often incorporates elements of prophesy, and modern art is often devoted to science fiction and science prediction, both of which tend to be very forward-looking. Predicting the future is always error-prone, but it is also very attractive; think of all those sleek, shiny spaceships piloted by enlightened and civic-minded leaders of a prosperous and tolerant society. We draw what we want to come to pass.
An enlightened and tolerant view of nudism is a recurring theme of science fiction. Just as we tend to draw our perfect world, we also tend to write about it. Eutopia is often a place with sun and trees and meadows where parents and children gambol naked and safe across mossy ground, surrounded by benevolent beasts and protectors. How different that is from the world we currently inhabit! Of course, the world is what we have made it. Every decision, every action, every purchase moves us closer to the world we are actually creating. Perhaps we should be more deliberate, more intentional, more educated about the decisions we make. Let us be informed by the past, as we look toward the future.
Following up on a recent image of people frolicking nude in the woods, back to nature as it were, here is another by Belgian artist Paul Delvaux, who made his career out of painting female nudes. As such, this is a departure for him as it shows mixed genders. He was also a big fan of Jules Verne and the Greek writer Homer. He was named director of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in 1965. In 1982 the Paul Delvaux Museum opened in Saint-Idesbald, Belgium. Delvaux died in Veurne in 1994.
A lot of art is made for mass consumption. There is that art which is made for limited circulation, for instruction, or for private viewing (“The Nude Maja” comes to mind), but if you count all the early drafts and art studies together with the production art I think it could constitute a majority. In centuries past art was usually shared by placing it in a public place. Sculptures, stained glass, murals, mosaics, and bas relief art were durable and public enough to reach a large audience. As printing became a mature industry, books and newspapers began to distribute art to the general public. Museums and public galleries allowed more fragile works such as etchings, drawings, fabrics, and ceramics to be viewed. Much can be learned about a culture by examining the art it created and displayed publicly (and which it did not).
It is interesting to contrast the public art created in the early twentieth century with the public sentiment toward art in the early twenty-first century. The monumental figures so prevalent in that century have been replaced with simpler, more bland representations. The culture of fear the media has fostered has driven the appreciation of the human form into more private venues, mixing the natural appreciation for the form with more prurient interests. While it is entirely true that no clear line exists to separate the two, the very isolation our society enforces also serves to create the very blending that society condemns. As with any good work, effort will be required to once again bring the better nature back out into the light where the masses can again appreciate it and give it the place in the public view it deserves.
One of the most basic techniques used in the instruction of new artists is drawing from life. There is something exhilarating, terrifying, inspiring, and motivating about drawing from the living nude figure. Humans are programmed at birth to recognize their own kind, and facial recognition in humans is so good we can often identify someone just by seeing their eyes, nose, and mouth. Accurately rendering the proportions of the human body can be very challenging for many, and the figure offers so many different options for posing, shading, proportion, and color that many artists turn away from the figure for “easier” subjects. Nonetheless, the human figure has been a mainstay of art since 40,000 BCE (and possibly even earlier), despite prohibitions and restrictions across a wide spectrum of cultures and governments.
The nude in art is often the first taste people get of nudism. The idea that being nude in front of an artist is a legitimate occupation, regardless of gender, number, age, or body type can be very empowering. The availability of nude modeling exceeds that of other, more “traditional” nudist venues; a person can model nude when the temperature outside is twenty below and if the sun won’t rise for another two weeks. Having someone stare at your naked body for up to an hour can truly remind a person that nudity is a thing of its own, apart from sex or intimacy or nakedness. The very legitimacy of nude modeling has prompted some to ask the inevitable question: “If the model can be nude, why can’t the artist be nude also?” Indeed – why not?
“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” – Nietzsche
“Gaze” is a significant part of any image that has characters in it. It has been said that there are three parts to a “gaze”: that of the characters in an image, that of the person creating the image, and that of the person viewing the image. Each of these viewpoints has something to say about an image. The “male gaze”, a controversial idea, is said to be that of a heterosexual male, arguably (if not justifiably) the dominant gaze in nearly every society. How the characters in an image are arranged and what they are looking at can set the mood for an image and imply a narrative, as well as saying something about the artist and the intended audience.
“Looking” and “staring” have similar meanings but very different implications. Nudists freely admit that it is acceptable to look; staring at a nudist event or venue is very much not allowed. As an artist of the body, especially for a nudist artist, these ideas necessarily blur. The intensity and duration of a gaze required to create art is often past that of staring and into a class of its own. Consent and intent become very important to establish to avoid misunderstanding, insult, or even injury. It is a rare person who likes a gawker, and very few people go to a nude beach with the intent to become the subject of another person’s art. What you say comes from what you are, and what you will become, and how you say it will become who you are to other people for as long as they look at what you make.
There can be just a visceral pleasure derived from art, whether a beautiful and captivating painting, a rapturous or rousing symphony, a sensual sculpture, or even the heft of a hand-crafted tool. Not all art needs to be deep with symbolism; as Samuel Goldwyn said, “Pictures are entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.” This is not to say that all art needs to be beautiful, or that any art is truly bereft of hidden wisdom. Even a simple photo of a flower reminds us of our connection to the land, and every nude ever drawn points out that we are all naked under our clothes.
When organizing any event, whether a political rally or a nudist gathering, it is important to draw in the desired audience. Much ink (and bandwidth) has been used to champion the cause of body acceptance, reminding us that no one really has a perfect body, and asking that we make room in our public culture to recognize the beauty of the average body. This does not change the fact that if we want to attract people to our cause, we must be attractive. The hard part is figuring out, for any audience, what attractive means to them, while avoiding becoming repellent to any others we may need to also court.
I hate to be the “barer” of bad news, but size does matter. Be it in art, in medicine, in business, or even in charity, as much as we wish it did not, size really does matter. It matters in ways, however, that are not always predictable. When pricing art, size tends to have a direct relationship, with larger works of art costing more than small ones. This is for obvious reasons; the larger a work is, the longer the artist will need to work to complete it, and the more materials it will take to make it. Shipping for a 24″ X 36″ unframed painting will be significantly less than for a 24′ X 36′ mural-sized work, even if the same amount of time was put into each by the artist. There are exceptions, obviously – a Fabergé egg will sell for far more than even a really large painting by a merely average artist, even though it can fit in the palm of one hand – but the rule is that bigger is better.
In the world of naturism, size also matters. An organization of a dozen people in a small city with a low average income will struggle to support a nudist venue, while a club with thousands of members in a large, prosperous metroplex can easy fund and operate one or more facilities. Public nudity is a very political issue, and elections are won by large, well-funded groups. There is a tendency to want nudism to be a private affair, but until it is also a very large affair it will tend to be a very furtive affair, if it happens at all. Nudists need to stick together if we want our opportunities to grow, and not diminish and die, shrinking away to the vanishing point.
Composition in art is the placement of elements, and can also be thought of as the design or visual ordering of an image. It is usually a conscious act, deliberately done in as skillfully a manner as possible. For a painter or illustrator, composition is deciding where to place the various thematic elements so as to create the appropriate visual dynamic (the movement of the viewer’s eye across the image). For a photographer, composition is still a conscious decision, although rearranging the elements is not always an option. It would be therefore become the choice of framing of the shot, selecting the angle, the timing, and even the focus of the shot (deciding which elements will be in focus and which will not) for the desired effect. Nor is composition always intended to be “perfect”; an artist may deliberately choose to create a boring composition, if it suits the need of the art.
We do not always have a choice when composing our lives. As the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family (and you cannot choose your friend’s family, either). We often find ourselves in situations we cannot control and must deal with people and events that we personally find distasteful, distressful, or even dangerous. If we cannot control our situation, we can still control out reaction to our situation. How we feel about ourselves and our lives is a direct result of how we choose to think about ourselves and our lives. As well, when we can influence our situation, including in our lives those elements that best promote our own peace and wellbeing have a huge impact. This is not to say that we should always try to maximize our own happiness, but rather to design our lives to allow us to be the best we can be, whatever it is we feel we must be. The dynamic of our lives are largely determined by their composition, and getting that right is an art in itself.
When most people think of rhythm they think of music, but art also has rhythm. Just as a regular beat in music creates moves the melody along and creates a mood, so the predictable and repeated placement of elements in a painting or drawing creates rhythm in art. Patterns of similar elements lead the eye through the image, forming a basis of composition and determining the dynamic of the picture. Breaking up the rhythm of the image can also create dynamic tension and prevent it from feeling boring.
In life it is important to have routine. Children especially need predictable patterns of events in their life to allow for learning and to keep stress low. Predictability is also essential when dealing with the elderly or the ill, and everyone needs stability in their life. Obviously a bit of change-up is also vital to keep life from landing in a rut; that occasional naked picnic on the grass can make the daily commute to the office so much more tolerable. Having variety in our friendships, in our activities, in our interests, and in our entertainment makes us more interesting, and having predictable patterns in our daily routine creates the smooth rhythm of life that we all need.
Contrast is very important in art. Whether of color, value (light and dark), shape, rhythm (spacing), texture, or any number of more subtle measures, contrast is that element which creates distinction and drama in an image. This is not to say that all art needs high contrast; low contrast in art also plays a part, connoting (among other things) distance, subordination, mystery, and general atmosphere. Black and white, or dark and light, is probably the primary kind of contrast used, followed closely by color and size. Contrasting colors (colors on the opposite side of a color wheel, or two colors that share no primary colors) are often used to create shadows. Contrast of type is a more subtle idea, using two opposing values of a single mode to define a type: ie. hot and cold, rich and poor, or male and female.
Contrast is also important in the life of the mind. It is by exposure to opposing points of view that humans learn and grow intellectually and emotionally. Ironically, the increase in use and availability of social media has, by some measures, actually reduced the breadth of exposure to new ideas, rather than increased it. By focusing on the media feeds of those individuals and groups that we agree with to the exclusion of those we do not agree with, we tend to hide ourselves in an ‘echo chamber’, where the only ideas or viewpoints we hear are those we already agree with. We may feel comfortable and justified, but we have lost the vital opportunity to learn and grow, to correct wrong ideas, and to reach out to others who may need us, or who we may need. The world would be poorer with only Westerners, with only geeks, with only nudists, with only police officers, with only men. Open the doors of your life. Yes, it will let in some pests, but it will also let in the fresh air.
What is it about an island? Is it the isolation? The novelty of topography and foliage? The limited scope of a land that we can actually enclose in our minds eye? Perhaps it is the idea of a really large beach. Whatever it is, our imaginations just love the idea of an island, especially a tropical one with mountains, palm trees, and primitive natives. Who has not dreamed of running away to a simpler, quieter place isolated from the maddening crowd where one could make a mark on the world unhindered by society? The artist Paul Gauguin certainly had ideas like that, and he relocated both to Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands in search of that unique place. Gauguin only found the ruins of a mythical paradise ruined by colonialism, however, and his fantasy of the island paradise remained mostly a myth described in his many paintings.
Sometimes art is a description of what is, or what was. Sometimes art is a description of what we wished were, or would be. Yet other times art is an invitation to make something, to push a fantasy into the realm of reality. Oil, acrylic or alkyd resin laced with pigment and smeared on gessoed canvas can encapsulate a call to action in a way that words cannot. When we see revelers celebrating life in the sun we are moved to tear off our rags and join them in any way that we can. It may not be easy; just as Gauguin had to sail for weeks just to arrive at the islands, so we may need to labor patiently to create our little island of paradise. A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step; isn’t it time you stood up and set your foot on the beach?
The Judgment of Paris, the ancient Greek story of the beauty contest between Aphrodite, Hera and Athena, has been a theme in art since it first appeared about the 7th century BCE, growing in popularity from the Middle Ages to the present. It is said that Lucas Cranach the Elder painted the subject no less than 22 times. This cautionary tale of the start of the Trojan War pits goddess against goddess and man against man all in the name of love and beauty and centers around the titular Paris who is entrusted with a golden apple to award as a prize to the fairest goddess of all. An excellent opportunity to showcase three beautiful nudes, it was also frequently used in various more prudish societies as an opportunity to showcase a number of male nudes. Indeed, an early Etruscan rendering on the rear of a bronze mirror reverses the usual trope, showing two standing nude males and three seated nude females, a tableau many modern nudists will testify is actually more typical.
The quest for beauty in art has certainly generated a fair amount of friction and controversy. The nude has been decried, legislated against, censored, painted over, chiseled off (in whole or in very particular part) and denounced endlessly in sermons, editorials, open letters, and bureaucratic memos. Those who do embrace the nude as legitimate are not immune from its divisive power, with calls to include more people of color, more (or less) figures of old and young, or more anatomically and demographically representative bodies. Revived and documented at nudist resorts from the ’40’s to the ’50’s, the nude beauty contest was a modern day re-enactment of that fateful judgment of old and has likely started as many wars. While the search for fair skin and straight bones is certainly a biological imperative, it, like many other innate urges, needs to be tempered by the largely unnatural need for good naturist citizenship. Focusing only on the fairest of us all will certainly leave most of us out of the picture, and no one will really win that contest.
Art has long been a hallmark of wealth. Art is expensive, non-productive, fragile, takes up valuable space to display or store, and often pushes boundaries in a way that only the powerful can get away with. “The Nude Maja” (La Maja Desnuda) is an interesting example of this. The owner of the painting was brought to trial for the painting’s indecency, as was Goya, the artist, but the Inquisition was unable to convict because it was revealed that Goya had essentially followed an earlier example of the art that was owned by the king of Spain, who was beyond the court’s power.
Nudism is another hallmark of wealth. Although nakedness is often associated with poverty, the intentional and recreational use of nudity is generally reserved for those with the wealth to enjoy long trips into the country to visit expensive and exclusive naturist resorts, or to travel far away to exotic, remote locations where the nude body will not raise an alarm. This is a pity; everyone would benefit from a little naked time in a safe, non-judgmental social atmosphere. Don’t you think it is high time we all pooled our resources together and made something beautiful for us all to enjoy?
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