The Birth

Really I’m Not a Prude … Well Maybe

I do appreciate so many forms of art and I admire so many forms of art but pure nudity in art, well I’m not sure how much of it I can view.  Should I peek, should I not peek, how much does it expose, do I look at those ‘parts’ or look away!

The Birth of Venus, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1879

Recently a French Teacher’s account was shutdown on facebook for displaying a controversial painting by Gustave Courbet, ‘L’Origine du Monde‘ 1866.  Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet was a French painter who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting.  Facebook is notorious for censoring any nude photos, even if it is a painting or other form of art.  This case has been in the French courts since 2011.

Now I’m not in favor of any type of censorship, even if it depicts nudes but the artwork has to be noteworthy and meaningful with depth and beauty.  Courbet’s painting is a renowned piece of historical work but it has been very controversial ever since it was first displayed.  I, for one, am not sure if this piece is something that should be considered art or pornography.  Nudity just for the sake of nudity or for shock value has no appeal for me.

I see a lot of figurative work by other artists that only displays nudes, just standing or sitting and nothing else.  I have to question, why?  I’m a figurative artist as well but I think a painting must tell a story.  I follow some of these artists, and I don’t understand what they see in painting nudes with a stark background and nothing else except the naked figure staring back from the canvas.  If any of you are artists, please inform me as to why you paint nudes without telling me a story and don’t just say something about the human form being beautiful.

Looking at paintings by Ingres, like Grande Odalisque or Une Odalisque, The Turkish Bath, The Bather (The Valpinçon Bather), or Oedipus Explaining the Enigma of the Sphinx they all depict nudes but they also tell a story.  Une Odalisque displays a female slave which is part of a harem; more then just a mere female nude with no background as in today’s contemporary paintings. The Turkish Bath and The Bather also show a harem scene where Ingres displays a room full of Turkish women who have just returned from the pool. Oedipus is a mythological neoclassical painting.  All these are respectable paintings and I don’t think anyone would have a hard time viewing these masterpieces.

The Birth
The Birth, Oil on Linen, 2013, by Vic Ritchey

So clearly, I don’t paint nudes for the sake of painting nudes. The closest thing I’ve painted thus far that some have found offense with is “The Birth” or “A Birth”.  Clearly there is nothing in this painting that even comes close to nudity.  Mary’s breast is barely visible but I’ve received comments and emails where a few people were offended.  I thought the birth of a child was supposed to be a beautiful event and usually the father with some family members are present in the hospital during a birth.  So what is offensive about my painting, I have no idea.  If it is Mary’s breast they find offensive, then I suggest they not view her breastfeeding Christ in historical paintings by Rembrandt, daVinci or van Cleve, some of which hang in The Vatican.

I may be a prude when it comes to nudity in paintings just for the sake of nudity; when all that is shown is a nude figure and nothing else.  But when a nude figure is shown within the context of a story, then I think it is a beautiful thing.