Thursday, November 3, 2011

Naked or Nude

Rolla by Henri Gervex

After reading John Berger's essay, "Ways of Seeing", on nudes and nakedness, I can say that Henri Gervex's, Rolla (featured in the Degas Exhibit), is a quintessential nude painting. The naked woman has been clearly painted for the enjoyment of the spectator. Although there is another man in the painting, he is passively in the background, with his body in an open position, as if allowing the spectator to have his fill of the woman. The sexuality of the piece is enhanced by the European tradition of painting the woman hairless. Her pristine, supple, fair skin is very alluring and allows the spectator to "feel that he has the monopoly"(Berger) on the sexual passion.

What is included in the painting is the full bed, with its lavish bedding, and a partial window. This gives the spectator a nice setting for which he himself could place himself with the woman. The environment is as luxurious as the woman and really helps to activate the bodily senses; you can feel the silky sheets and smell the fresh breeze coming through the window.

After reading Berger's essay, I understand now that a nude painting is not just a picture of a naked woman. The naked woman has to be an object of desire for it to qualify as a nude. In Berger's words, the nude is "to appeal to his [spectator's] sexuality". The woman is obviously the object in the painting, as accentuated by the gaze of the man looking at her. She is an object to be beholden. Her eyes are closed almost as an invitation for the spectator to watch and look without shame or embarrassment.

Going through the Degas exhibit there were other paintings of nudes. Each expressed varying degrees of sexuality. And if I was looking at a fully naked woman, but felt no sexual excitement, I then concluded that I was looking at just a naked woman and not a nude. Before reading Berger's essay, I thought that nudes were just an excuse for artists to bring sexual perversion into society and this was a VERY uneducated perspective. But now, with an understanding of what nudes are, I do see them as being art. By using specific techniques, nudes are meant to elicit a sexual response from the viewer; and if it truly is a nude it will successfully do that. This meditated execution makes it art.

No comments:

Post a Comment