Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Baffling Conundrum of Human Existence: Part III

Originally, this was just going to be a two-part set. Then, my husband and I ran some errands and our conversation, as it tends to, swung around to sex. Sex and art. My husband is awesome, and we have the best conversations.

One of the things that I've noticed about American culture as a whole- which is not true of all cultures- is the tendency to equate physical with sexual. Recently, there was some kind of controversy about a group of young girls doing a "suggestive" dance. Now, again, I'm not a parent. I'm also not a man. Thus, I have no idea how either group would typically respond to such a display. As a female viewer who spent a lot of my formative years using my body for creative expression, I saw nothing wrong or immoral. People were offended because these ten year olds, or however old they were, were wearing typical dance costumes and using their hips. News flash: ten year olds have hips too, and they're pretty integral to being a successful dancer. My general feeling was that the people who found something inappropriate were looking for something inappropriate.

I tend to think that people's reactions to "inappropriate conduct" say more about the person than it does about the perceived immorality. Case in point: Several years ago, when Gordon B Hinkley was still the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he received a letter from a male member of the Church. The letter expressed this member's affront to gymnastic uniforms that some other members of the Church wore to their gymnastic events. He asked President Hinkley to please do something about the rampant immodesty, as it was offensive and morally degrading.

The response President Hinkley gave to that man is one of the reasons that I love him so dearly. He wrote back that he saw nothing wrong with their leotards, and that gymnastics was a beautiful sport that should be appreciated for what it is.

President Hinkley knew that there was nothing immoral or immodest about gymnasts in leotards. In fact, leotards are really pretty necessary to doing the things a gymnast has to do. This man saw something inappropriate because he wanted to. He took something completely innocent and twisted it. Then he got offended by his own interpretation.

My point is that there is a huge tendency, especially within the Church, to see something physical and perceive it as something sexual. I one-hundred percent disagree. I believe that the human body is beautiful and should be celebrated. If there is one thing from Church doctrine that I believe, it's that we as humans were created in the image of God. Not only does that mean that we have bodies like God's, it means God has a body like ours. Now, I'm sure there are some fairly major differences, but I believe in form and function, our bodies and God's body are largely very similar.

As such, I do not believe that the human body is something to be reviled or feared. We are taught as children that we do not spend any time with certain parts of our body unless we are washing them. We stay away from other people's private places, because it is "bad" and "wrong" not to. As we get older and we learn about sex, we learn that it is scary and dirty and it makes terrible things happen. Depictions of the naked human form in photograph or film are disgusting and pornographic.

The disconnect for me really manifests itself in the way society views art.

If nudity is inherently sexual and immoral, a huge portion of classical art is nothing more than porn. Rodin's Thinker? Porn. Botticelli's Birth of Venus? Porn. Leonardo DaVinci's The Vitruvian Man? Porn, porn, porn. Michelangelo was basically all porn, all the time. I mean, have you SEEN the Sistine Chapel? God's naked, Adam's naked, David and Goliath are naked, a very masculine looking Eve is naked. Thus, porn central.

Basically no one who has had any kind of education is going to defend that sort of opinion. Everyone accepts that nudity is fine, as long as it's in a painting that's four hundred years old. Any other sort of nudity that isn't within the privacy of one's own home behind many screens and locked doors is disgusting and immoral and wrong. Even tasteful, artfully shot nude photographs don't quite manage to make the cut. And now, I'm not talking Playboy here (although, if we're being honest, I find some of their older, circa 1950ish, shoots very interesting). I'm more talking Jeanloup Sieffe's Reclining Nude. It's basically a photograph of somebody's back. Very good use of lighting, so says my husband.

To me, there is very little more beautiful than the human body. I would much rather look at a tasteful nude than a vase of flowers. I'm not promoting tits and tassels here. I just wish that some people could be less uptight about the potential beauty the human body has to offer.


  1. I do like that Reclining Nude photo. Very elegant and tasteful. If I thought it would fit with our decor, I would not mind having a print of it in our home.

  2. I completely agree. Nude art should most definitely not be considered pornographic solely because it contains nudity. The absurdity of this just shows how ridiculous our society is.