Is there a place for nudity in art? It’s a question I’ve been contemplating after chatting with a friend who, after seeing the Mattise exhibit at the local art gallery, felt uncomfortable even talking about it. Maybe it’s because I’m female, or maybe it’s because I’ve done some studies in art, but I felt awed by the exhibit and the skill with which Mattise took female form and made it beautiful. Although he wasn’t religious, I think he captured the feminine grace that all women, regardless of form, have been endowed with by God. He saw beauty in the lines of a thigh, the shadow on a stomach, or a glint of mischief in the eye. In some ways, it’s as though Matisse was taking nudity– an often abused, skewed, and misused truth– and making it whole again. He made it beautiful. It is renewal of form through art. This is why I love art, it has the ability to reach deeper than the day to day of life, reaching past cultural norms, assumptions, media influence, and ignorance to reveal something real, something of what life is supposed to be like. Nudity in it’s proper form is something beautiful, and Matisse captured that well.
Is there gratuitous nudity in art? As with any aspect of life, art has been twisted from it’s proper form in the hands of some. But does that mean that all nudity in art is bad? Not at all! In fact, the gratuitous nudity we see all around us in our culture, from art, to TV, to movies, and magazines, should make us approach nudity in it’s proper form and place with even greater awe and wonder. I am not condoning gratuitous nudity. I am not condoning the perversion of what we as humans were meant to be. What I do recognize is that art has the ability to enlighten, provoke thought, repulse and delight, and reach into the true heart of what it means to be truly human.
Mattise through his work, captured a raw beauty in women and form that has made him famous throughout the world and time. What an amazing gift God has provided artists with to create a lasting impact. It is the blessing and burden of the artist to bring something good from their gifts– to enrich the lives of others through their work.