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The Nude in painting (and Photography)


Many years ago I read a book called "The Nude: a study in ideal form," written by the art historian, Kenneth Clark. I still have my copy. The study is extraordinary. It touches on the nude study extending from ancient Egyptian and Etruscan art to Picasso and other Moderns. That is a bunch of years (something in the neighborhood of three to four thousand) in which artists have devoted themselves to studying the human body. And I think Clark's thesis points to something: the nude as a study in ideal form. It points to something else too. What does the artist's ideal study say to his or her personality, to his or her times, to his or her ideal?

I am going to start out with the best of the Romantic painters, certainly the most intelligent, most comprehensive, most dynamic. Delacroix.

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Look especially at his painting, "The Death of Sardanapal." The painting's idea, of course, is that every potentate's death deserves the death of his possessions, his women and horses. But see how he gives his women and horses something heroic. We'll start here.

Tere
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Re: The Nude in painting (and Photography)


Three by Modigliani

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Tere

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The dying Gaul, a Celtic warrior. Neither Michelangelo or Donatello ever got a man's ideal body so right.

Tere

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]Nudes in Nature


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Re: The Nude in painting (and Photography)


I was hoping you might play, Dragonman. Ninth image is the one I could draw a poem out of.

Nude as ideal form I figure is inexhaustible.

Tere
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Ana Mendieta
Untitled (Grass on Woman), 1972
Chromogenic print on paper 8 x 10 in. (20.3 x 25.4 cm)

Hirshhorn Collection

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Beautiful photos, D.

Pat

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Matisse's ]Blue Nude has always been perfection for me. It appeals to both the subject but also the purity of graphic design on a flat plane.

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Re: The Nude in painting (and Photography)


John Singer Sargent:

]nude study

Egyptian Girl


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From Andrew Wyeth's Helga Series.

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If you don't know it already, do search out the story of the Helga series. Painter and model worked in absolute secrecy for over ten years to produce one of the greatest ensembles of paintings in American history.

Tere

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How cool is the grassy woman! And, Dragonman, when you talk Sargent you talk my language. They say he could dispense with sketches and cartoons for his paintings. He was the perfect draftsman. Look what he does her with the human body. Look how close he is to his subjects.

Tere
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Here is a bit of a twist on our theme. Art that predates the Greeks by a good thousand years. The last image is iconic. I sometimes imagine I was around in Minoa on the island of Crete circa 1500 B.C.

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And this too. Go to the sculpture link. then click on each page. Cycladic art was also a material inspiration for the Moderns. That of Picasso and company. The nude figurines especially that were intended to be funerary gifts. It wasn't only primitive African art and the art of Oceania.

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Tere



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It turns out the Famous Nudes site from which I got the Wyeth painting is a real resource.

Check this one out, Pat. A pre-Raphaelite painting.

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Tere

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So here is what I really think. I think this whole thing of the nude in painting is much larger, much deeper, than questions of aesthetics, of female form, male form, of geometry, of ideal form, of kinetic energy, etc.

Paleolithic painting generally is not known for its renderings of the female form. Going back 40,000 plus it is mostly known for its animals, scenes of the hunt, hand prints, the sometime male stick figures, and at least one shaman from the cave at Le Trois Freres cave in France.

The oldest Venus types I know of date back 20,000 years. One is the famous Venus of Willendorf, a free standing figurine made of limestone. Another is a bas relief, also in limestone, carved above the entrance to the cave of Laussel in the Dordogne, France. And there are others from the same cusp of time, more or less, whose distribution extends from France to Siberia.

The Venus of Laussel is particularly interesting and for two reasons. First it suggests context by reason of its placement. Carved at the entrance into a cave whose subterranean reaches are filled with paintings having to do with the hunt, with herds, with animal regeneration, her token of entrance cannot be accidental. Context couldn't speak more loudly to intention. Secondly, and this is pretty wild, in her right hand she holds above her head a horn. Experts say it is a bison's horn. The horn is notched. The number of notches comes to thirteen. A bunch of years ago the paleontologist, Alexander Marshack, realized there is a wide distribution, from Africa to Europe, of horns and bones worked with notches. In some cases he was finding 28 notches. In others 13. In still others there were multiples of the two number sets. Marshack opined he had reasoned through to the world's first calendars. It also seemed to him that those calendars were the earliest indications, some going back 40,000, of advanced human language, language able to time factor. Marshack's thesis is pretty much accepted now. As accepted is that the first calendars, the first time factoring, were based on the lunar year of thirteen months and on the lunar month of twenty-eight days. By means of the moon our early ancestors were able to track the yearly cycles and they were able to communicate as much.

Ya'll probably think I am crazy. But I think there is much more involved in the nude in painting than questions of ideal form, geometry, even what is vegetable and animal in human nature. I think it has to do with what is involved in being distinctly human, or being all of the above with a kind of self-awareness to incite some 40,000 year old genius to figure out how to time factor through tracking the moon. The nude in painting is atavistic in instinct. What the nude says about the particular artist, the particular time, is what is telling.

Here is my Venus of Laussel. Scroll down to her image and enlarge. Note also fig 6, what might be the world's earliest, certainly oldest, reclining nude. It comes from La Magdelaine era cave painting of about 14,000 years ago.

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Tere

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The nude is elemental self-representation. It is who we are, with all the social masks stripped away. It reveals our animal nature, but also the transcendent grace that arises out of that animal nature.

I think of nude photos in the studio of dancers that some famous portrait photographers have done. The gracefulness of muscle and sinew in movement, captured in mid-air or poised.

The old cave paintings are our roots. I have always agreed with Gary Snyder that my values are very old, Paleolithic even. That makes them radical. Those values trip away a lot of the decadent ornamentation that "high civilization" uses to paper over the animal nature. (Deodorants are part of this intent, as are perfumes.) But this is denial of the animal truth, rather than embracing it to transcend it. Denial rather than emergence. Nudes remind us of this, which is why they make "high civilization" so uncomfortable while natives in tribal cultures just shrug at toplessness or other forms of nudity. "High civilization" also fetishizes and sexualizes nudity, turning something natural (and necessary in some climates) into something sinful. So the nude painting or photo becomes the owner's gaze, the master's proprietary gaze that turns the subject of the other person into an object. Whenever you meet someone in art who is also a subject, they can be erotic while also being fully human, fully alive. Whenever you meet the person in artwork as an object, especially an object of your own desire, you cross the line from erotic to pornographic. Pornography is dehumanizing because it objectifies. Erotic art retains the subject-subject connection. In erotic art, one can appreciate the beauty of the nude human form in all its beauty, without needing to own it. Yes, of course, sometimes this is a thin line and easy to cross back and forth. Being aware of the line, regardless, is a good thing.

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Good thoughts, Dragonman. I can only add what you imply without saying it explicitly. Pornography dehumanizes because it commodifies the human body. That is what the object making leads to.

As for your thoughts conerning erotica, you bet. Mystic poets have always known the power of the erotic to serve as the bridge between our animal natures and, for lack of better terms, what is transcendent and immanent in our natures. Sappho of Ionia knew it. Mirabai of India knew it. Hafiz of Persia knew it. Goethe of Germany knew it. Etc.

As an aside, you mention how the cave art going back 40,000 plus years are our roots. Of course. Above I mention Marshack's discovery of how the paleolithic learned to calendrate, to time factor, and how the means led to the development of complex language. The book he made out of the study he called, "The Roots of Civilization."

Tere
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Thanks for beginning this thread, Terreson. I enjoyed reading it and viewing some of the pictorial stuff. Great. Zak
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You are welcome, Zakman. I want to come back to this thread. It is very important to me. And there is so much more to canvass.

Tere
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I could put the link here or on Gaia's forum. For fun I am putting it here. Possibly the world's oldest nude.

Tere

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You got to love the Wikithing.

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What hurts my heart is this: the extent to which what once was sacred has become profane.

Tere

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I am bumping up this old thread first started in Dec of '08. In my view the thread itself justifies the move. This is some of what I turn to when the whole bloody nightmare of human history gets to me. So give yourselves snack time. Follow any of the many links. If you have any to add please do.

Tere
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