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Nudity and Nakedness in Paintings

In his article, Danto suggests two opinions about nudity and nakedness. The first one is concerned with embarrassment – refinement opposition, and the second one focuses on the vulnerability and disgrace of nakedness as opposed to nudity’s serenity and beauty. Danto explains his first viewpoint on the divergence between the nude and the naked by means of calling nudity beautiful and nakedness – shameful (Danto 30). He remarks that while nudity has nothing to disguise, nakedness has to conceal everything. Therefore, Danto emphasizes that the naked will deserve a position in the visual arts only when it becomes as admired as the nude (Danto 32). The second assumption expressed by the author is that nakedness has more implications that nudity does (Danto 34). Nakedness is a symbol of weakness, vulnerability, and powerlessness. A naked body looks for protection not from cold but from people who are attired (Danto 34). Nudity, on the contrary, does not need any protection. It is self-sufficient and dignified, and it is not at all humiliating. Thus, nudity is never frightened or anxious.

When Danto talks about Lucien Freud’s art in relation to the nude/naked, he notes that Freud paints as “a kind of judge” (Danto 34). He does not aim at picturing the skin in its ultimate closeness to the real hues. On the contrary, he sees the skin as a “surface text written upon by our lives,” and does his best to reflect the history of his models on his paintings (Danto 34). Freud considers the skin as “the soul laid bare” which reveals everything about its owner (Danto 34). Danto emphasizes that for Freud, the painting was a very intimate process, and his models were the people with whom he was connected in some way. A stranger coming in the painter’s studio would be considered “an intruder, violating an atmosphere of trust or of submission” (Danto 35). Danto draws a parallel between Lucien Freud’s studio bed and his famous grandfather’s Sigmund Freud’s couch for sessions (Danto 37). They are both, according to Danto, aimed at disclosing the “repressed truths” of people, each in his own way (Danto 37).

One of Freud’s models, Leigh Bowery, makes a particular impression on Danto. Bowery’s nakedness is hostile by its own, without necessitating the painter to add any (Danto 35). Bowery’s obesity is depicted without any idealization. More than that – he poses “exhibitionistically,” in a way that makes it impossible to judge him or call the paintings shameful (Danto 36). Unlike the usual naked portraits, Bowery lacks fear and embarrassment (Danto 36).

Freud’s model has changed Danto’s ideas about nude/naked dynamics. If at the beginning of his article, Danto considers nudity disgraceful and humiliating, by the end, his opinion is quite different. Bowery “gives dignity” to nakedness in Freud’s paintings which other artists lack (Danto 36). The model’s confidence, even aggressiveness, suggests another angle to scrutinize nakedness. Freud strikes Danto as “a heavy psychological load to impose” (Danto 36). Danto remarks that Freud’s paintings of naked people are his greatest contribution to contemporary art even though they may show “cruelty, arrogance, and obsession” (Danto 38). The author describes Leigh Bowery as the most prominent embodiment of these features in Freud’s paintings.

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