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Pornography vs. The Nude in Art: The Catholic-Christian Perspective

Posted by Tony Listi on December 9, 2011

Many colleges and universities offer art classes which necessarily involve the viewing of the nude male or female human body. There are two extreme and wrong-headed responses or approaches to this kind of situation:

  1. It is always and absolutely wrong to look at the naked human body merely for artistic reproduction or training. It is also always and absolutely wrong to publicly display such artistic reproductions of the nude body. Anybody who engages in such things is engaging in the deadly sin of lust.
  2. Looking at the naked human body, whether in person or through art, is no big deal and shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. Anybody who wants limits upon or has any concerns about the morality of looking at the naked human body are prudes who hate the human body or don’t sufficiently value its beauty and dignity.

The correct, prudent, and temperant approach is the Catholic Christian approach outlined by Blessed Pope John Paul II (JP2) in his Theology of the Body. Artistic representation of nude forms is a very complex issue because it combines very objective truths with very subjective experiences.

Let’s look at JP2’s own words:

We cannot consider the body an objective reality outside the personal subjectivity of man, of human beings, male and female….

By its very nature, this looking is aesthetic. It cannot be completely isolated, in man’s subjective conscience, from that looking of which Christ speaks in the Sermon on the Mount: warning against lust….

In each of these dimensions—and in a different way in each one—the human body loses that deeply subjective meaning of the gift. It becomes an object destined for the knowledge of many. This happens in such a way that those who look at the body, assimilate or even, in a way, take possession of what evidently exists, of what in fact should exist essentially at the level of a gift, made by the person to the person, not just in the image but in the living man. Actually, that “taking possession” already happens at another level—that is, at the level of the object of the transfiguration or artistic reproduction. However it is impossible not to perceive that from the point of view of the ethos of the body, deeply understood, a problem arises here. This is a very delicate problem, which has its levels of intensity according to various motives and circumstances both as regards artistic activity and as regards knowledge of the work of art or of its reproduction. The fact that this problem is raised does not mean that the human body, in its nakedness, cannot become a subject of works of art—but only that this problem is not purely aesthetic, nor morally indifferent….

JP2 clearly acknowledges that the nude human body as a subject of a work of art does create a moral problem or dilemma. Thus the approach #2 mentioned above is NOT acceptable; such a situation must be taken seriously. However, JP2 also clearly states that the problems and dilemmas involved do not mean there is an absolute moral prohibition against artistically reproducing the naked body. Yet again, just because the human body can validly be the subject of art does not mean that there are no moral considerations to take into account in whether a specific instance of such supposed art is morally acceptable.

In that [fallen] state there arose between man and woman, together with shame, the specific necessity of privacy with regard to their own bodies. In the heart of man, subject to lust, this necessity serves, even indirectly, to ensure the gift and the possibility of mutual donation. This necessity also forms man’s way of acting as “an object of culture,” in the widest meaning of the term. If culture shows an explicit tendency to cover the nakedness of the human body, it certainly does so not only for climatic reasons, but also in relation to the process of growth of man’s personal sensitivity. The anonymous nakedness of the man-object contrasts with the progress of the truly human culture of morals. It is probably possible to confirm this also in the life of so-called primitive populations. The process of refining personal human sensitivity is certainly a factor and fruit of culture….

That original shame, known already from the first chapters of the Bible, is a permanent element of culture and morals. It belongs to the genesis of the ethos of the human body.

The person of developed sensitivity overcomes the limit of that shame with difficulty and interior resistance. This is seen clearly even in situations which justify the necessity of undressing the body, such as in the case of medical examinations or operations. Mention should also be made especially of other circumstances, such as those of concentration camps or places of extermination, where the violation of bodily shame is a method used deliberately to destroy personal sensitivity and the sense of human dignity.

The same rule is confirmed everywhere—though in different ways. Following personal sensitivity, man does not wish to become an object for others through his own anonymous nakedness. Nor does he wish the other to become an object for him in a similar way. Evidently he does not wish this to the extent to which he lets himself be guided by the sense of the dignity of the human body. Various motives can induce, incite and even press man to act in a way contrary to the requirements of the dignity of the human body, a dignity connected with personal sensitivity.

Above, JP2 explains why clothing and veiling the body in privacy are necessary to preserve the dignity of the body and its nuptial meaning, its meaning as a gift of love to another person. Such clothing and veiling is necessary to protect the dignity of the body from objectification by those who would look upon the body abusively in lust. Implicitly, JP2 states that there should be a natural difficulty and interior resistance to undressing or viewing naked someone other than one’s spouse or a very young son or daughter. There is something wrong with an adult who shows no difficulty or interior resistance to viewing the nudity of a complete stranger, even when it is necessary in extraordinary circumstances (e.g. medical practice).

It cannot be forgotten that the fundamental interior situation of historical man is the state of threefold lust (cf. 1 Jn 2:16). This state—and, in particular, the lust of the flesh—makes itself felt in various ways, both in the interior impulses of the human heart and in the whole climate of interhuman relations and social morals.

We cannot forget this, not even when it is a question of the broad sphere of artistic culture, particularly that of visual and spectacular character, as also when it is a question of mass culture. This is so significant for our times and connected with the use of the media of audiovisual communication.

Again, JP2 reaffirms and reiterates that mere appeals to art and artistic sensibility can never warrant the banishment of ethical concern and analysis, for concupiscience is a fundamental interior fact about human nature.

A question arises: when and in what case is this sphere of man’s activity—from the point of view of the ethos of the body—regarded as pornovision, just as in literature some writings were and are often regarded as pornography (this second term is an older one).

Both take place when the limit of shame is overstepped, that is, of personal sensitivity with regard to what is connected with the human body with its nakedness. They take place when in the work of art or by means of the media of audiovisual reproduction the right to the privacy of the body in its masculinity or femininity is violated—and in the last analysis—when those deep governing rules of the gift and of mutual donation, which are inscribed in this femininity and masculinity through the whole structure of the human being, are violated. This deep inscription—or rather incision—decides the nuptial meaning of the human body, that is, of the fundamental call it receives to form the “communion of persons” and take part in it….

However, if the sense of shame and personal sensitivity is offended in these cases, that happens because of their transfer to the dimension of social communication, therefore owing to the fact that what, in man’s rightful feeling, belongs and must belong strictly to the interpersonal relationship—which is linked, as has already been pointed out, with the communion of persons itself, and in its sphere corresponds to the interior truth of man, and so also to the complete truth about man—becomes, so to speak, public property….

Here above, JP2 tries to explain when visual representation or reproduction of the human body should be regarded as immoral pornovision (he distinguishes this from pornography, which is obscene writing only and not images). He explains that pornovision occurs when the right to privacy of the body and, more crucially, when the truths and realities of the meaning and dignity of the body as a mutual and loving gift of self are violated.

The human body in its nakedness—as we stated in the preceding analyses (in which we referred to Genesis 2:25)—understood as a manifestation of the person and as his gift, that is, a sign of trust and donation to the other person, who is conscious of the gift, and who is chosen and resolved to respond to it in an equally personal way, becomes the source of a particular interpersonal communication….

Precisely because of the great value of the body in this system of interpersonal communion, to make the body in its nakedness—which expresses precisely “the element” of the gift—the object-subject of the work of art or of the audiovisual reproduction, is a problem which is not only aesthetic, but also ethical. That “element of the gift” is, so to speak, suspended in the dimension of an unknown reception and an unforeseen response. Thereby it is in a way threatened in the order of intention, in the sense that it may become an anonymous object of appropriation, an object of abuse. Precisely for this reason the integral truth about man constitutes in this case the foundation of the norm according to which the good or evil of determined actions, of behavior, of morals and situations, is modeled. The truth about man, about what is particularly personal and interior in him—precisely because of his body and his sex (femininity-masculinity)—creates here precise limits which it is unlawful to exceed.

JP2 explains the deeply profound, inherent meaning of human nakedness: the revelation of the person and his or her natural calling to be a gift to one other trusted person of the opposite sex (though some have a de facto or supernatural calling to celibacy). It is precisely because the human body has such great value and dignity that one must recognize the inherent ethical concerns and limits involved in artistic reproduction of the naked human body.

These limits must be recognized and observed by the artist who makes the human body the object, model or subject of the work of art or of the audiovisual reproduction. Neither he nor others who are responsible in this field have the right to demand, propose or bring it about that other people, invited, exhorted or admitted to see, to contemplate the image, should violate those limits together with them, or because of them. It is a question of the image, in which that which in itself constitutes the content and the deeply personal value, that which belongs to the order of the gift and of the mutual donation of person to person, is, as a subject, uprooted from its own authentic substratum. It becomes, through social communication, an object and what is more, in a way, an anonymous object.

As can be seen from what is said above, the whole problem of pornovision and pornography is not the effect of a puritanical mentality or of a narrow moralism, just as it is not the product of a thought imbued with Manichaeism. It is a question of an extremely important, fundamental sphere of values. Before it, man cannot remain indifferent because of the dignity of humanity, the personal character and the eloquence of the human body. By means of works of art and the activity of the audiovisual media, all those contents and values can be modeled and studied. But they can also be distorted and destroyed in the heart of man. As can be seen, we find ourselves continually within the orbit of the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount. Also the problems which we are dealing with here must be examined in the light of those words, which consider a look that springs from lust as “adultery committed in the heart”….

Having explained the dignity of the body and why ethical concerns are inherently involved, JP2 continues by specifically telling us what these ethical limits demand of those involved in artistic representation of nudity. The artist may not demand, propose, or create a situation in which other people are invited, encouraged, or allowed to violate the ethical limits discussed above that violate human dignity. JP2 openly and explicitly acknowledges that the human body can indeed be fruitfully and morally modeled and studied, if due reverence for the body is present. But he is also very explicit in his declaration that art can be perverted into a means to distort and destroy, in the mind of the viewer of the “art,” the meaning and dignity of the human body.

Here we return once more to the problem already mentioned: whether and to what extent can the human body, in the whole visible truth of its masculinity and femininity, be a subject of works of art and thereby a subject of that specific social communication for which these works are intended? This question referred even more to modern mass culture, connected with the audiovisual media. Can the human body be such a model-subject, since we know that with this is connected that objectivity “without choice” which we first called anonymity, and which seems to bring with it a serious potential threat to the whole sphere of meanings, peculiar to the body of man and woman because of the personal character of the human subject and the character of communion of interpersonal relations?…

Our preceding reflections did not intend to question the right to this subject. They aim merely at proving that its treatment is connected with a special responsibility which is not only artistic, but also ethical in nature. The artist who undertakes that theme in any sphere of art or through audiovisual media, must be aware of the full truth of the object, of the whole scale of values connected with it. He must not only take them into account in abstracto, but also live them correctly himself. This corresponds also to that principle of purity of heart, which in determined cases must be transferred from the existential sphere of attitudes and ways of behavior to the intentional sphere of creation or artistic reproduction….

Here again, JP2 reaffirms and reiterates that his previous ethical analyses and exhortations are not meant to suggest that the human body should never be the subject of a work of art. He merely wishes to affirm that there are moral responsibilities involved on the part of the artist and not merely abstract responsibilities but responsibilities that must be performed and lived out.

In the course of the various eras, beginning from antiquity—and above all in the great period of Greek classical art—there are works of art whose subject is the human body in its nakedness. The contemplation of this makes it possible to concentrate, in a way, on the whole truth of man, on the dignity and the beauty—also the “suprasensual” beauty—of his masculinity and femininity. These works bear within them, almost hidden, an element of sublimation. This leads the viewer, through the body, to the whole personal mystery of man. In contact with these works, where we do not feel drawn by their content to “looking lustfully,” which the Sermon on the Mount speaks about, we learn in a way that nuptial meaning of the body which corresponds to, and is the measure of, “purity of heart.”

Here above, JP2 explains what a morally valid work of art that depicts human nakedness does. It leads the viewer to contemplate the whole truth of man, the dignity and beauty of masculinity and femininity, and not merely in a sensual sense. Such art has an element of the sublime that transcends the senses. It reveals the whole personal mystery of man. It doesn’t push the viewer to look with lust.

But there are also works of art, and perhaps even more often reproductions, which arouse objection in the sphere of man’s personal sensitivity—not because of their object, since the human body in itself always has its inalienable dignity—but because of the quality or way of its reproduction, portrayal or artistic representation. The various coefficients of the work or the reproduction can be decisive with regard to that way and that quality, as well as multiple circumstances, often more of a technical nature than an artistic one.

It is well known that through all these elements the fundamental intentionality of the work of art or of the product of the respective media becomes, in a way, accessible to the viewer, as to the listener or the reader. If our personal sensitivity reacts with objection and disapproval, it is because in that fundamental intentionality, together with the concretizing of man and his body, we discover as indispensable for the work of art or its reproduction, his simultaneous reduction to the level of an object. He becomes an object of “enjoyment,” intended for the satisfaction of concupiscence itself. This is contrary to the dignity of man also in the intentional order of art and reproduction….

JP2 explicitly says here that there are some works of “art” that naturally and rightfully arouse objection and disapproval in the sensible man or woman. Such works are abhorrent not because of the form of the human body itself but because of a certain quality of the reproduction of the image (perhaps too explicit as in photography or video) or because of the way the nude body is portrayed in the image (e.g. masturbating or positioned provocatively so as to provoke lust).

Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae emphasizes the “need to create an atmosphere favorable to education in chastity” (n. 22). With this he intends to affirm that the way of living the human body in the whole truth of its masculinity and femininity must correspond to the dignity of this body and to its significance in building the communion of persons. It can be said that this is one of the fundamental dimensions of human culture, understood as an affirmation which ennobles everything that is human…. So what we have called the ethos of the image cannot be considered apart from the correlative element, which we would have to call the ethos of seeing….

The creation of the atmosphere favorable to education in chastity contains these two elements. It concerns a reciprocal circuit which takes place between the image and the seeing, between the ethos of the image and the ethos of seeing. The creation of the image, in the broad and differentiated sense of the term, imposes on the author, artist or reproducer, obligations not only of an aesthetic, but also of an ethical nature. In the same way, “looking,” understood according to the same broad analogy, imposes obligations on the one who is the recipient of the work.

True and responsible artistic activity aims at overcoming the anonymity of the human body as an object “without choice.” As has already been said, it seeks through creative effort such an artistic expression of the truth about man in his feminine and masculine corporeity, which is, so to speak, assigned as a task to the viewer and, in the wider range, to every recipient of the work. It depends on him, in his turn, to decide whether to make his own effort to approach this truth, or to remain merely a superficial consumer of impressions, that is, one who exploits the meeting with the anonymous body-subject only at the level of sensuality which, by itself, reacts to its object precisely without choice….

These words are valid for the man of all times, for the historical man, and for each one of us.

JP2 ends his examination of this important topic of artistic representation of the human nakedness by reaffirming previous calls for a culture, including an artistic culture, that is favorable to education in chastity and by reemphasizing the obligations upon both artists and viewers of art to respect ethical limits of art in relation to nudity. Assuming that the artist has done due diligence in fulfilling his responsibilities, it is then incumbent upon the viewer accept the broader transcendent vision of the artist rather than crudely and immorally reduce the work of art to an object of self-indulgent sensuality.

***

A few other opinions I’d like to offer:

It is important to realize that in many cases the art medium itself, the very paint and canvass or paper and charcoal or stone, are all themselves partial veils over the human body whom they model and thus partially preserve the rightful privacy of the human body. Of course, the more accurate and graphic the reproduction becomes the less true this is. Because photography and video by their very nature lack too much veiling or lack all veiling whatsoever, I do not believe they can normally be used morally as artistic media for the reproduction of images of the naked human body. Only a couple of exceptions to this artistic norm come to mind: childhood photos that parents take of their children in the bathtub or in other innocent situations or the film Schindler’s List‘s graphic and grotesque portrayal of the Nazis’ heinous crimes against humanity at a death camp. But in the case of childhood photos, they are not publicly displayed and accessible.

Art classes that entail viewing a nude male or female body should not be mandatory to obtain a degree in art. A student should not be forced to expose themselves to temptation and lust in order to earn a degree in art. Moreover, instructors of such classes should not denigrate those students who choose to abstain from this risky genre of art. The instructors should also take pains at the beginning of the course to set and maintain the appropriate tone of reverence for the human body and the dignity of the person modeling. If only every student taking such a course understood well and embraced the Theology of the Body!

Also, I do wonder why the models always have to be completely nude in order to develop artistic talent or portray beauty. Is there no educational value in drawing underwear and/or a bra being worn by the model? Are flesh colored speedos and bikinis too much to ask? Is there something about the most private, intimate, and sexual parts of the body that are especially good for artistic training? I seriously doubt that, especially in the case of the male body. Though I guess they may be some very beautiful parts of the body, at least in the case of the female body. It still seems more prudent, if not more appropriate, for artists to use only persons of their same sex, their spouses, or perhaps immediate blood relatives as completely nude models.

While delving into the moral obligations of the artist in relation to others, Pope John Paul II doesn’t really seem to discuss explicitly or focus upon the moral obligations that artists have to themselves and to God in preserving their own chastity and purity of heart and mind while using a nude model to create art. (No mention seems to be made of the obligations upon the models either, which would be another interesting discussion.) I would caution every artist today who engages in or wishes to engage in such art to think carefully and seriously about whether they really have the discipline and character of mind to avoid lust. The artist must be truly honest with himself or herself. Holiness is more important than any worldly talent or skill we could possibly develop, artistic or otherwise. Even the value of the artistic depiction of beauty cannot become an absolute; it too must have ethical limits. The artist must not rationalize away concupiscience under the pretense of beauty. Perhaps female artists would naturally have more discipline and strength of mind to avoid lust, but I’m not so sure they have much of a greater immunity in such situations. And in today’s culture there may be almost just as many depraved young women as men. Moreover, even if an artist does have such discipline and character at present to beat back concupiscience or an immunity to it, he or she should not assume that such discipline, character, and immunity cannot possibly fade or fail. “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Arrogance and pride precede the fall. Humility is always a must. Indeed, even the most innocent of pleasures require temperance and can sometimes lead us astray.

I think there is also a self-centered danger of some artists pridefully thinking that they must see naked beauty and share it with the world through art; otherwise, they cannot become great and everyone else will suffer too grieviously for lack of their artistic representations of it. It might be good to keep in mind that at the resurrection of the body all things will be revealed and all will truly, deeply, and chastely enjoy the physical beauty of everyone else in love forever (and enjoy something greater than physical beauty, however glorified).

As a matter of prudence, not principle, I would like to argue for erring on the side of caution and conservatism, especially in hard cases (of which there are many) where the correct moral conclusion is not certain or easy to discern. Our modern culture is sick; it doesn’t understand and/or accept the dignity of the human person and of human sexuality. Violation of the dignity of sexuality is the norm and commonplace. The artist must take this reality into account and act accordingly in deciding whether and how to display art depicting the nude form. Prudence would suggest erring on the side of caution and restricted access. Michaelangelo didn’t live and work in a sexually depraved cultural milieu. But even in the best human culture, some caution will be needed until Jesus comes again and fully redeems the body.

18 Responses to “Pornography vs. The Nude in Art: The Catholic-Christian Perspective”

  1. Joseph I. B. Gonzales said

    John Paul II deals with a difficult ethical question with a rather strong philosophical and theological argument.

    Tony Listi’s exposition of John Paul II’s writings is clear and concise.

    As a rule, nude art that even “religious” persons commend cannot be produced without working from life models. Case in point: Michelangelo, who, I understand, did not work from female life models, was arguably poor at accurately representing the physical attributes of the female nude in painting and sculpture. His female nudes generally look strongly male, e.g. Dawn on the tomb of Lorenzo de’Medici.

    Personally, I believe in learning from life models, nude models–in this respect, I disagree with the views expressed by the author of the webpage–but the practice should be effectively regulated by a professional code of ethics in order to keep it to its true purpose.

    Drawing life models is largely like drawing anything else. You pay attention to the objective measurable qualities of distance and light in order to render the object with versimilitude.

    • Tony Listi said

      Which of my views do you disagree with?

      Also, why do the live models have to be completely nude?? I’d really like someone to address my proposals:

      “Also, I do wonder why the models always have to be completely nude in order to develop artistic talent or portray beauty. Is there no educational value in drawing underwear and/or a bra being worn by the model? Are flesh colored speedos and bikinis too much to ask? Is there something about the most private, intimate, and sexual parts of the body that are especially good for artistic training? I seriously doubt that, especially in the case of the male body. Though I guess they may be some very beautiful parts of the body, at least in the case of the female body. It still seems more prudent, if not more appropriate, for artists to use only persons of their same sex, their spouses, or perhaps immediate blood relatives as completely nude models.”

      • Joseph I. B. Gonzales said

        Dear Tony:

        There is value in learning to draw clothing as there is value in learning to draw trees, still life, the human face, etc.

        You suggest that models should not be completely nude. Here is where I disagree:

        “I believe in learning from life models, nude models…but the practice should be effectively regulated by a professional code of ethics in order to keep it to its true purpose.”

        The purpose of learning how to draw the human body is, among others, to render versimilitude.The artist develops an accurate understanding of the human body that translates into works of art. Consider, for example, that Rodin’s nudes were based on life models.

        Can this understanding be developed working from partially clothed models? Maybe. Maybe not.

        Simply, I think that for at least some artists or artists-to-be, their work is effectively accomplished by working directly from the life model.

      • Tony Listi said

        Precision is very important in a difficult topic like this. You are offering a very vague proposal: “a professional code of ethics in order to keep it to its true purpose.” What on earth does that mean? What should the code contain and say?

        You slightly mischaracterized my suggestion as completely doing away with nude models; that’s not what I suggested. I offered very specific proposals: “artists to use only persons of their same sex, their spouses, or perhaps immediate blood relatives as completely nude models” and that in all other cases that flesh colored speedos and bikinis be used, which ensure the absolute minimum amount of modesty while allowing for a nearly complete viewing of the human form.

        Though I’ve spoken of it indirectly and in veiled language for the sake of modesty, I think I have to get a little more graphic because you are evading my points: tell me specifically, why it is necessary to view and depict human penises, butts, vaginas, and breasts for artistic training? This is the pointed question I want answered. Why is it so necessary to render such private, intimate, sexual parts with versimilitude?? Are you really going to tell me that art will suffer because it has little to no access to such parts?
        Moreover, which is of more importance: chastity and purity or artistic expression for its own sake? Art has limits, and those limits should be defined clearly but prudently for the time and place and should be respected.

        I don’t care what Rodin did. You cannot appeal to what artists, religious or not, have done in the past to establish a moral principle.

        Adam and Eve were created naked without shame; that’s a theological truth of great depth and importance. It would be a travesty to represent Adam and Eve before the fall as trying to hide their nakedness and thus obscure this great truth. So truly Michaelangelo could rightly say as he does in the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy: “I will paint men as God made them: in the glory of their nakedness!” A Catholic chapel is also certainly the best context and place for such realistic and graphic art for the sake of God’s truth. Though there is nothing wrong with depictions of Adam and Eve with fig leaves or other stylistic additions of modesty, as long as it’s clear that Adam and Eve are not intending to hide their nakedness before the Fall.
        But the rest of human history is after the Fall, including our present time, and not all truths are of such great importance. And so this fact must be accounted for in art.

        Indeed, Our Lord Jesus Christ was stripped of all clothing as the gospels say; He was completely naked on the cross. Yet despite this somewhat important truth, universally his private area is covered out of modesty on crucifixes and in other art. The truth of His nakedness has theological significance but is not as important as the other theological truths represented by His suffering and death. The body is sacred, and the sexual parts even more so; thus, they should be veiled as all sacred things are. This is true even more so of the Body of Christ.

  2. Joseph I. B. Gonzales said

    I can’t participate properly in this discussion. The person expressing a different point of view is also the moderator so that there is no assurance that my views will be properly represented. This is my last post on this subject.

    • Tony Listi said

      Do you know how much spam this site gets? Then please don’t blame me for moderating comments. Sure, you have no assurance, other than seeing that I will always publish your comments if they address the topic at hand (or some related topic) and are not grossly obscene.

      I published your response in full and then I responded to it. You submitted no other responses. Be patient. I may not publish your comments immediately after you submit them.

  3. Tony Listi said

    For those interested in a sample modeling code of ethics: http://www.modelreg.co.uk/st_GuidelinesTop.php

  4. Eugene said

    I’m a filmmaker. the question of nudity has been a recent talking point for me.

    “By means of works of art and the activity of the audiovisual media, all those contents and values can be modeled and studied. But they can also be distorted and destroyed in the heart of man.”

    My standard response to puritanical jibes abolishing all nudity is to cite the polarity between porn and nude art. Whilst porn merely exploits the body, a nude ought to express the truth of the soul and the dispositions of the human heart. It seems clear enough. The point of nude art is that we see beyond the naked form and into the meaning it conveys. I am annoyed for instance when I heard a Catholic suggesting that the epic series on the life of St Teresa of Avila (a landmark achievement in television and something a great many filmmakers could learn from) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088246/ is somehow marred because of a scene in which St Teresa is flagellating and the viewer can see her back. This, in my friends mind, was immodest and inappropriate.
    My head exploded, isn’t that the height of puritanism? If, in a scene like that, all you can be preoccupied with is the presence of an actresses back, then that is simply wrong and you’re problem alone. It’s simply not the Catholic Position. It would be an absolute perversity to say that a 12 minute scourging scene in the passion of the Christ sexualises Jesus (as another example).
    I can think of numerous films where the human body has been used in films without any sexualisation or exploitation. Mr Listi, you have cited one (Schindlers List) and a very confronting one. The fact that JPII includes in his dissertation “audiovisual reproduction” would indicate to me that film and photographic media are not automatically cancelled out as media for nude art. You are right in my mind to say that the ‘veil’ or filter advantaged by fine art or sculpture is thinner.

    “I do not believe they can normally be used morally as artistic media for the reproduction of images of the naked human body.”

    whatever ‘normally’ means.

    Nude art seems to occupy its own genre, one goes to a nude art exhibition knowing what one is to expect. For the filmmaker it creates a whole set of questions. I would proffer that the same level of care needs to be executed here, though it is more complex as it raises questions of audience, the demands of story telling, subtext and lack of, and how confronting the film as a whole is. Is a naked body something the viewer will suffer, or be confronted by? And will it be exploitative, if it is included? The question of “sex” in films is a whole other battle, but the naked human body even without any reference to sexual activity produces the same height of debate. It seems simple enough for me that the rules one would apply to the Naked Body in other Art forms would apply here. like wise as an actor. It’s a complex and frustrating issue. if I put a naked body in a film, the only thing many of my Catholic peers would remember is that I put a naked body in a film, they would forget everything else about it. (that seems to me to be the flip side of the coin with respect to lust, and every bit a disordered view point.) I have seen films where the random inclusion of a naked subject has added nothing more to the film and left me confused as to its necessity. One would seek to avoid that.

    Mr Listi, with regards to life drawing or any capturing of the naked body for artistic purposes (not including at all pornography or other exploitative forms) there is nothing sexy about it. It is clinical, just as in the case of a doctors surgery. Everyone knows what there job is, the priority is getting the job done and the artform made and it is normally under strict and respectful guidlines. Filming would be done on a closed set with the minimal amount of crew and contracted in some way according to industry guidelines. I dare say that environment is the last place you’d want to be sexually persuaded given that there ends up being such a heightened commitment to getting the job done when you have a naked body in the room. Nothing else will do for the good of all.

    I seek to be mindful in these matters of what I view and what i would be prepared to put in my own work. I am well aware of the concupiscence of the heart and that even with certain resilience, from apathy toward sensitive matters of purity, pride and morbid curiosity can easily precede serious sin. Also the responsibility I would have toward others and the weight upon my shoulders concerning my own Judgement in the sight of God.
    But don’t we also have a responsibility to show the correct way that the naked body can be shown and viewed? Our ancestors in the faith even before the Rennaissance were comfortable with the human body in all of it’s horror and it’s glory (just view the art work of Bosch or the writings of Chaucer) because they were also interested in the human condition in all of its horror and it’s glory.
    We are suffering in our present era, both extremes now. A hyper-sexualised culture constantly degrading the glory of the human form and an awkward Christian response that thinks prudishness will solve the issue. With all respect to those who know their limits and are solicitous for their souls (being honest about this is not the same as being prudish), an integrated and balanced response is yet to be invested in or exemplified.

    I’m with you JPII

    • Eugene, though it’s hard to discern truth and stay free from error in this delicate minefield, my thoughts have matched yours 100%. I’m actually amazed to see how many points you’ve made that I’ve considered and accepted (and will continue to accept unless reason can show me otherwise). Have you written out your thoughts in further detail, or even produced film specifically designed to embody these precepts? There is a huge need of catechesis in this subject in the future as the culture of death surrounds us more and more, tempting our youth, perverting truth. I wish I could bounce some ideas off you as you have clearly reached some mature reflections on this issue.

  5. Tony Listi said

    Thank you, Eugene, for your very thoughtful response.

    Ironically, I just recently watched some of that St. Theresa of Avila series, including the self-flagellation scene. And of course, I’ve seen The Passion of the Christ. I agree whole-heartedly that there’s absolutely nothing wrong or immodest about those scenes, though they wouldn’t be appropriate for very young audiences. Parents should still provide proper context and explanation for those scenes, though, when their kids are old enough to view and understand.

    “You are right in my mind to say that the ‘veil’ or filter advantaged by fine art or sculpture is thinner…. It seems simple enough for me that the rules one would apply to the Naked Body in other Art forms would apply here.”
    I just don’t think the fine art of film, photography, and graphic design should have the exact same rules as drawing, painting, etc. because film, photography, and graphic design are more graphic, lacking veiling by the medium itself. By their very nature, they are more realistic, life-like and thus elicit responses similar to as if the nude person were in their very presence and not within a medium. This is not a trivial difference and must be taken into account.

    “with regards to life drawing or any capturing of the naked body for artistic purposes (not including at all pornography or other exploitative forms) there is nothing sexy about it. It is clinical, just as in the case of a doctors surgery.”
    On a college campus, I beg to differ. 18-22 year old students may indeed take these classes for lustful reasons. Many people at that age are so immature and perverted in their views. So much caution and direction is needed for such classes, in my opinion, for all those involved.

    • N. said

      Tony, hi there. What do you mean by saying “clinical” in your final paragraph? You’ve got an excellent point made about college students, too in that same paragraph, Tony. So where indeed might someone get direction and caution for nude art-type classes? I see your opnion as very real too Tony.
      Please write me Tony-thank you!!!!!

      • Tony Listi said

        Ask Eugene what he means by “clinical.” I assume he means “scientific,” “dispassionate,” and/or “technical” rather than “erotic,” “provocative,” and “arousing.”

        I don’t know where specifically one could get good direction and caution for such classes.

      • Eugene said

        I think Mr Listi has qualified what I meant.

  6. N. said

    Now, I percieve that this Website’s intellectual so I reply with a wise statement which exceeds intellect and is of God’s all-surpassing wisdom. Now, please be sure that I have seen God’s biblical truths come alive to me-this is truth. This respects all of your intellectual data here because I do personally honor it- know of it and understand it to the point that I know why its said. That being stated, God via His Holy Spirit lets me know in my mind that there is one way that nude art can be good and moral-if it totally glorifies or lines up with God’s ways found in the Holy Bible. Thus, it will gladly see woman or man for who and what we are-creations from a loving God-Genesis in the Bible confrims this: God said that his creations were “good.” So, since God is eternal and has no start, the first instance of something being called “good” was this and I’m aware of it through spiritual communication. Now, this means that God’s found me and saved me from my sins and He shows me what’s wrong and right. Therefore, I see to be really true that an image that portrays sexuality is meant for reasons to excite and not admire as art’s generally meant for. You can like what you want to, no pun intended. I am giving you my story and what God’s shown me. God tells Christians or anyone who loves Him that sexual things should remain private because that was His master design and why that is: [sex] is meant for only for married people so to display something sex(ual) or to be motivated sexually speaking to produce art that looks non-sexual to hide the intentions is wrong. God knows that implies a problem and that’s a topic that I will not discuss here because that involves whoever the topic applies to. I got my revealing of truth by God because I was willing to open myself to God and I waited as long as it took until God was ready to show me the morality of nude art. I urge you to be cautioned because some Christians can be too weak to handle working with such art. So, they’d need to check their heart with God first. Genesis shows the beauty of human creation for God. As for other people, I welcome any of your thoughts shared.

  7. Stefan Nagiel said

    Simplicity is at most times not everdent within the Scriptures….and language in Christ’s term on earth differed greatly to now….this when looking at all Scriptures must be looked at in the Human term….for Humans in there Sin have passed on their version on how to understand all the various languages of that time….therefore the words of today just do not fit….add to this the Spiritual sense of such Scriptures and Man that has fallen is not the one to answer….and we should leave this to God….for my viewing of Adam and Eve’s nakedness means they were away from God….for Lucifer had opened their eyes….so if you search such Scriptures you will see many such phrases that do not do God justice….Noah was naked….(Drunk)…away from God….please research and it will begin to make sense that man at present cannot do justice to Scriptures that are written in a Spiritual language….for that is all God knows and we have wandered so far from him that nothing makes sense…

  8. Bick O. said

    Hi! Is it too late to request to have this post edited? I would really like all the quotations from Theology of the Body to be properly labeled as to which lecture it can be found. The link goes to a page where there are links to all 129 lectures that comprise Theology of the Body. It will take me a while to go over these lecture just to look for a certain quotation. Now I will have to resort to copying all the lectures into a single text document so that I can search for the quotations at ease. I’m also sure that properly labeling each quotation will help those who will see this post in the future. However, if you have a solution to my problem then I would be very happy to know about it. Regards.

    • Tony Listi said

      I believe I pulled all the quotes from an appendix entitled “The Ethos of the Body in Art and Media.”

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