• Make a collection of images of nakedness and the nude, annotating them to indicate which they represent, how and why


“To be naked is to be oneself. 

To be nude is to be seen naked and yet not recognised for oneself. …..()…..

The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress” 

John Berger, Ways of Seeing

“The English language, with its elaborate generosity, distinguishes between the naked and the nude. To be naked is to be deprived of our clothes, and the word implies some of the embarrassment most of us feel in that condition. The word “nude,” on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone.”

Kenneth Clarke, The Nude

Perhaps Clarke’s quote seems outdated in light of the shifts that have occurred in some sections of society western since it was written, or perhaps he is speaking from a certain place that makes what he says true for him. The word nude can signify an excruciatingly uncomfortable state (I find it so), perhaps as Berger describes, pertaining to ownership and power over the person being looked at. Chip away at various layers of meaning and the word might signify societal acceptance of enforced passivity, denial surrounding the silencing of an Other, something hard to grab hold of pertaining to shame, and a culturally sponsored acceptance of voyeurism; whereas naked simply refers to a lack of being covered up. Perhaps embarrassing. Or painful. Or else a lack of artifice, of honesty and of being unadorned.

  1. Naked: Nick Ut’s 1972 image of a girl running down the road during a napalm attack in Vietnam. The image is news rather than art – but it is still made with the intention of showing a naked form to an audience. As a news picture, it reportedly helped to adjust perception of the Vietnam war in a similar way to how a picture of the little boy on the beach in Greece, Alyun Kurdi, went viral last year.  I am not sure the impact was as short-lived in the 70s as it was in 2015 though. The spectacle turns like something out of a Blyton book, and worlds that it introduces society to get moved on very quickly. People who are left behind when everyone else gets off one world, ready to be absorbed for a moment by the next one can start to sound crazy, yelling into an abyss about things that don’t seem to matter anymore. Because of the way in which images lose their impact, along with doubts about their benefits, there is a question over their morality. Recently when Facebook removed Nick Ut’s image repeatedly there was uproar, however, the visual culture blogger and film training group, DuckRabbit, tweeted, “Anyone consider Facebook might be right?” (DuckRabbit, 9 September 2016) The ensuing conversation in the comments below the initial question is worth looking at. This is a picture of a naked girl and cannot be considered a nude.
  2. Nude:Tim Andrews, by Julie Mullin Andrew’s has been engaged in a photo project for several years. He is not the photographer but rather the subject, and ostensibly he seems motivated by his desire to explore the illness he was diagnosed with as well as the process of ageing. He is undressed in many of the images. Some are nudes and some are of his naked self. The image by Mullin is a nude. However, it is not an idealistic image and rather than offering the viewer a shape to lust over as some historical nudes of women appear to do, we are shown a vulnerable man. But in one sense it could be any middle-aged man as his face is hidden. The fact it is part of Andrew’s project circumvents the potential for anonymity due the way he stands , nevertheless, the shapes made by Andrew’s body, the positioning, the lighting and the decision to present the work in mono all point to this being an aesthetic exploration of Andrew’s fleshy human form. He is however, integral to the making of the image, if only because he engages the photographer in the first place. This combined with the fact he is white, middle class and male, as well as the quantity of naked/nude images in the overall project provoke questions to do with art, ownership, gender, form as well as ageing and disease. Imogen Freeland’s image shows a naked man rather than a nude.  I may discuss this project further in A4 as a comparison to Isabelle Mege’s  long-term project.
  3. Naked and nude  Deborah de Robertis  (Translation of voice over in video: “I am the origin (the source). I am all women. You didn’t see me. I want you to recognise me, virgin like us, creator of sperm” (see below) – de Robertis sits open legged in front of Gustave Courbet’s painting, Origin of Man in the Musee d’Orsay, she holds her vagina open for the spectators to see, an installation performance for which she is arrested;
  4. And a painting of a vagina, nude and naked  Gustav Courbet’s Origin of Man – 
    De Robertis’ video, as demonstrated in the comments section on YouTube provokes a variety of strong responses. Regardless of where a spectator is positioned in their opinions, the music, the sustained amount of time she stays in place, the audience’s reaction as well as the staff’s, her position and hands, and the repetitive voice-over combine to make the video extremely powerful and for some of us, moving, despite its poor image quality, or perhaps that adds to the effect. Is de Robertis presenting herself as a nude or naked? She is only partially naked but she is naked in the most private part of her anatomy. And more powerfully she is naked in that she demands to be seen; her rage, her questioning, her intelligence, her willingness to take risks are intensely revealing. Her gesture suggests she is showing the audience what the point of an historical nude often is in reality by removing several layers of signification. She takes away the languid pose, the alluring or submissive look and positioning in her eyes and face, she dispenses with the exploration and representation of visual form – alabaster, soft female shapes – choosing instead to wear a dress. But she invites the audience to take a look at the part of her body that evokes shame in our culture, as demonstrated by the ubiquitous fig leaf on paintings depicting Adam and Eve in Eden. As pointed out by Berger, “The couple wear fig leaves or make a modest gesture with their hands.  But now their shame is not so much in relation to one another as to the spectator.” (Berger, 1972; 49) And yet, most of us will have suppressed the inquisitive desire to see what people have hidden in their underwear, and expressed by young children when they play a game of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”.  Men have historically circumvented that suppression by owning women and putting her body on show.
    The painting by Courbet is extremely difficult to write about as it defies certain assumptions and invites someone like me to slip up and start banging on about an objectified female form. However, the painting is complex and can be viewed as a response to the fig leaves and shame that western art is littered with. In its way it is also an honest and naked expression by Gustave, as it would have been highly risky in his age, and is even now (I have already mentioned in a previous blog, Leena McCalls’ painting being removed in 2014 for showing pubic hair. Of course there is something to be said for the fact that the McCall painting is by a woman whereas the Courbet painting is not. The Courbet painting is also arguably a stronger work of art.) Although Courbet may be asking us to address our sense of shame and the repressed urge to look at genitals, he does it only with the female form and not with the male, as so often happens throughout western art history. However, perhaps that’s the point. He like de Robertis says to the spectator, this is what you’re actually looking for when you come to see a nude in an art gallery, and he too strips away the ‘refining’ and ‘civilising’ signifiers which cloak the reality. The Musee d’Orsay site ends its description with, “The Origin of the World, now openly displayed (do they realise the pun?), has taken its proper place in the history of modern painting. But it still raises the troubling question of voyeurism.” (Musee d’Orsay) Perhaps what makes voyeurism troubling is the fact it is born of shame and repression? (Another pun, not intended though)  The position of the model and the spectator tip this painting over into nude rather than naked, even though some might try to argue the other way. The museum site talks about an anatomical description, however also says that the painting is filled with artistic referencing, which is what places it on the side of nude. Both artists take risks, although I can’t see the he was arrested or anything like that, and place themselves in vulnerable positions though. It is interesting that I have chosen this work since Lacan owned the painting and I am fascainted with his ideas.
  5. Nude: The Birth of Venus by Botticelli 1486. I won’t say very much about this as it’s been written about a lot. (I am extremely annoyed I missed the V&A exhibition which explored many works Birth of Venus had influenced. I do have the V&A magazine from that quarter and no doubt can buy an exhibition book.) The painting was one of the starting points for me with some of the Girlhood work, and I began putting together a scrapbook which included relevant references. The typical submissive downward looking gaze that doesn’t challenge and represents an ideal from an opposite position of power over the other is interesting for me. Venus covers herself and the women to her right is holding the blanket to cover more of her, but she doesn’t make it, not surprisingly. Again Berger can be relied on to say clearly why this position existed for so long: “A man’s presence is dependant upon the promise of power which he embodies. ….()….and is always towards a power which he exercises on others” (Berger, 1972; 46) The painting therefore is a didactic instruction to women; this is who you are, and what you are, as well as being a function of and for the male gaze. Although the painting is not typical with its flatness and two dimensionality of Renaissance art (style wise, although one could say that about the central character too)  (Wikipedia), the posture of Venus is.
  6. Naked, but pastiche nude: Polly Borland  – Bunny
    Borland plays with the idea of the famous Bunny girl, women hostesses who wore an iconic uniform of swimwear, heels and fluffy tail and ears to serve men drinks in the 70s, and shows us its strange and ‘not quite right’ reality. She plays with the symbolic order and aims to penetrate the real by doing so. Her images reveal what is hidden beneath the accepted civility of male female relating, of sexuality between whoever, highlights some of its ridiculousness, and deconstructs its inherent violence and perversions too. The images are of naked people sometimes dressed up in odd and surreal clothing, or represented only by extremely simple symbols, reduced to little more than objects or primitive signs. If any images look like nudes rather than naked pictures, they are so but with an immense sense of power within, rather than the passive nude from western history.













Image of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (wikipedia as above)

Twitter post



4 thoughts on “Project 4.5 (ii) : Nakedness and Nudity

  1. the ‘Bunny’ project looks interesting, with that whole narrative around it. If ‘The Birth of Venus’ was a starting point for you, is it worth making that the subject of the actual assignment?


  2. I need to take one ‘text’ in the semiotic sense of the word, or work of an artist and write a formal 2000 word essay, using one or more of the topics we’ve covered in the section; title Visualising the Other. I have this feeling they are hoping for us to have moved into modern territory by now and I have concentrated on artists that relate to the topic covered previously. So, I’m not sure BoV is what they’re expecting although there are some terrific modern works that reference it directly. If I could find something digital that referenced that, it might be ideal. Isabelle Mege might be quite a conservative choice when you compare her project to the Bunny projects (and I am tempted by that). But I think Mege’s thing is really interesting, it could be interpreted in so many ways. I need to make a decision quickly whatever I do!


  3. Isabelle Mege doesn’t seem like a conservative choice to me. She seems so complex. Who is the artist here? what drove her to seek to be photographed? What is it that drives people to want to be ‘seen’ naked?


    1. Oh good, I worried she wasn’t quite way-out enough. I think her work is fascinating but writing about her will be challenging as there is very little out there and I want to avoid pseudo Freudian analysis if I can. Glad you don’t think she’s too conservative.


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