Why We Need Nude Art

Understanding our relationship to the physical world is an integral pillar of understanding our humanity. Our subjective experience of the world occurs through the way our bodies interact with space: our eyes observe the physical, our hands and limbs feel it, and the same is true for every other sense. This relationship we have with our environment is developed through our perception and interpretation of space. It’s clear that this experience stretches across all of human history, and the best method by which this experience can be captured is artistic expression.

From the Upper Palaeolithic period (between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago), the Venus of Willendorf is estimated to be from between 28,000 and 25,000 BCE. This piece is one of the oldest nude sculptures from the European continent. It is thought to represent fertility, and depicts what many would still consider the essential representation of sexuality and the female form. Similarly, art from as early as 885CE in the Khajuraho temples of Madyha Pradesh (Central India) is famous for its depictions of nude erotica, and features daily routines carried out in the nude.

Venus of Willendorf [Source]

Despite being the most personal and accessible perspective, individual experience alone is not enough to consolidate our understanding of the world. Although verbal language is utilised to communicate physical and psychological experiences, the language available to us addressing these concerns is limited by both the range of vocabulary and cultural/geographical barriers.

The body or nude, in contrast, is a kind of universal language. The body is so closely linked to the personal that it can evoke the strongest sense of empathy for others. The body guides our relationship to the world, to others and to ourselves. These three core relations can explain why the nude has always been so important throughout art epochs.

Relationships with Others

Our relationships to other individuals is founded on our capacity for communication. We have attempted to achieve this through language, and despite the development of language within our cultural and geographical communities, it’s frequently limited by our differing beliefs and ideas. However, language expressed through the body often transcends the aforementioned barriers, and provides us with a method of communication not limited to dialect. Physical contact, expressions and their depictions in art often elicit associated emotions in the viewer. This allows us to consolidate our perceptions and feelings and create a more complete picture of our world.

Nude Woman Holding a Black Cat, Fritz Capellari (1915). [Source: Robert O. Muller Collection]

Our Relationship to Ourselves

As we learn to navigate our relationships with others, we begin to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves. It’s our bodily experiences throughout life that shape our psychological and physiological selves. Our nurture and experience never cease to develop our individuality. The body is the vessel in which we experience life, and creating a strong understanding of our nude body is fundamental to our personhood. Sharing the experience of the nude body and our drastically variable relationships to it through artistic expression are key to comprehending and developing a greater understanding of ourselves. Interpreting an art piece as either relatable or incomparable to our experience of the body creates a more refined understanding of the personal nude form.

Nude Self-Portrait with Palette, Richard Gerstl (1908) [Source]

Relationship to the Physical World

Our physical presence allows us to experience aspects of the world around us via sensory perception. The way we interpret the world is entirely dependent on the nature of our physical form. Our subjective interpretation is often referred to as qualia, a descriptor utilised to note the subjectivity of sensory perception. The experience of qualia further explains the depiction of the nude in art- If an artist can capture their personal experience, our subjective interpretation of the work allows us to venture into the world of a uniquely individual experience from our own perspective. Being aware of a range of experiences expands our relationship to the physical world as we piece together a broader worldview.

The fact that we all experience the world through our nude form makes for a subject worth exploring, as we have a lot to gain in our understanding of ourselves and others.