It is a Tuesday afternoon at Oakland University and you are on your way to your Studio Art 302 Life Drawing Class on the first floor of Wilson Hall. Your professor is eager to finally bring a model in to pose nude for the class and you are intrigued by the opportunity.
You set your supplies in place: graphite pencil, rubber eraser and Bristol board.
The other students are bashfully looking down at their own art set-ups, trying to compose their nerves.
The realization that this, along with some of the other students, is the first time that you will have ever seen another nude figure in person is a bit concerning.
“The awkwardness lasts for the first 10 seconds,” Sally Schluter-Tardella, a special instructor of Art at OU, said.
Working with nude form in her art since high school, Schluter-Tardella is familiar with both the history of the nude form, as well as the current status of nude in contemporary art.
“The nude very rarely has a sexual component, (and that has been so) since the nineteenth century,” Schluter-Tardella said.
The study of the nude in art has been in practice since the early ages of Greek and Renaissance art, according to Schluter-Tardella. The reason for the incorporation of the human form unclothed was to allow artists to truly understand proportion they could apply to other arts including architecture.
“The ancient Greeks depicted the nude as part of a wholeness. Male nudes were of sound mind and sound body, Schluter-Tardella said. “During the medieval times, (however), bodies were clothed and there was a sense that there was something that should be hidden. The Renaissance was a time of celebration (which led to the nude being visited again).”
Vagner Whitehead, associate professor of art, has been using the nude in his art since his early years of higher education at The Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga.
“The body, undressed, appeared in my work at many different times and forms during my undergraduate degree. In graduate school, the naked body took on a more prominent role, and since then it has appeared here and there,” Whitehead said.
Although many viewers choose to relate nudity in art to the human form in pornography, the two are completely different, according to Whitehead.
“Pornography, as a practice and industry, while immoral to many, is a legal practice, privately funded, quite ubiquitous and extremely profitable. Art, on the other hand, is very far from it,” Whitehead said.
Grace Frost, a special lecturer, agrees with Whitehead that people will always have negative feelings toward nudity in art.
“I don’t think nudity is considered particularly scandalous, but I would say there are certainly people who have a problem with it,” Frost said. “Many depictions of nudity are not meant to be sexual. You really have to look at the context of the image. Is the artist trying to convey a deeper meaning?”
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