Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Honoring the Female Form in Art

Throughout the ages and across cultures art has been inundated with depictions of the nude female form. From stone age sculptures of fertility goddesses to Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, all the way into twentieth century photographers like Julian Mandel, femininity has been a powerful theme that has consistently inspired creativity in artists. But what is considered a respectful artistic presentation of a woman, and what is considered an offensive one? I believe that there are as many answers to that question as there are people on the planet! This is because the way we each interpret art is so very unique. The diverse reactions people have to nude females in art never ceases to amaze me! What one culture may consider a most sacred depiction of the goddess, another culture may call indecent and exploitive. Is the nudity itself a cause for shame?

I grew up on a hill overlooking the sea. A short walk through a canyon behind our home led down to a nude beach, which I frequented as a teenager. I was introduced to nude sunbathing by my aunt when I was a young girl. My aunt was also a student of photography who created beautiful nude self-portraits. My mother, however, though a lover of art, became visibly uncomfortable around nudity.

For some, the depiction of a nude, or semi-nude female, seems to elicit a type of nervousness. Even if the female is presented outside of a sexual context, her mere nudity seems to trigger discomfort in certain audiences, perhaps stemming from fear that such exposure of the female form might be exploitive of women, or encouraging of such exploitation. Others cheer at the sight of the same work of art, because they see it as countering the exploitation of women! And then we find the multitude of varying views that rest between those two extremes.

As an artist who engages her own female form in her artwork, I can personally attest to the wide variety of reactions observers have to art which focuses on femininity. It swiftly becomes obvious to me how reacting to a work of art is a very personal experience indeed, into which we each import our own individual sets of beliefs, cultural influences, conditionings, emotional associations, etc. Is it, therefore, the role of the artist to anticipate how others will react to their work and share their work accordingly? I don’t believe anyone can predict with 100% accuracy how another person will react to their art. How do we know if our artistic creations will become objects of admiration or scorn? We can never really know until we share them. I will always give great value to uninhibitedly sharing art.

In sharing art and receiving feedback, I believe an artist can potentially learn as much about his or her own works of art, as they can about their audience. If a person is offended by the way a woman is depicted in art, that might give us more insight into the offended viewer than into the work of art itself. It opens up a dialogue that could hold potential meaning. Maybe it assists the viewer in coming in touch with why they hold particular perspectives. Does an artist still create art in the knowledge that it may offend the perspectives of others? As the nude female form continues to grace works of art today with as much zeal as it did in the past, we can surmise that history tells us that they do. Artists create whatever art they are inspired to! So what responsibility does an artist have to their audience?

To me, an artist’s responsibility lies in being loyal to their own artistic visions and inspirations regardless of what reactions they may elicit from others. When it comes to making an artistic contribution to the ever growing celebration of feminine beauty and sensuality in art, it appears that the only prerequisite is the artist’s sincere eagerness to do so. I have been reflecting on this, as I embark on my first artistic collaboration with my very thoughtful friend and colleague, photographer Michael Messina, with whom I have been pondering the age-old inspiration of presenting the female form in art. May the feminine always be honored in art without restrictions or shame.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting read Katarina.

    This is a topic I've been thinking a lot about lately myself.
    I'm trying to figure out how I feel about nudity and the natural form in general, where my uncomforts lie and why they are there.

    I am quite comfortable with my own body and am quite comfortable being nude around my friends. It's quite liberating to be nude and not have any sexual context.
    I think the worry a lot of people have, and where the anxiety toward nudity comes from is in people's thoughts of how another may think.

    People get caught up in jealous emotions and get in to control and power struggles over another's sexuality. I think this doesn't just happen between partners, but between some who seem to have an almost primal and archaic vision of their sexual nature, regardless of another's right to freedom.

    Plus, the way sex is depicted in society, through all the marketing, through all the media, ahs distorted our views quite a bit, I think. Distorted people's view of what beauty is, when it comes to the human form.

    Keep writing!