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  • Writer's pictureKonrad Gwozdz

The naked truth


For me, the naked and the nude (By lexicographers construed As synonyms that should express The same deficiency of dress Or shelter) stand as wide apart As love from lies, or truth from art.

Robert Graves

According to Jonathan Jones (2012), "All nudes always have been naked". And that is the naked truth. But where is the boundary between nakedness and nudity? Does really exist?

It all started with Kenneth Clark, an art historian, who announced to the world that there is a difference.

Clark argued that "the word 'nudity' was forced into our vocabulary by critics of the early eighteenth century to persuade the artless islanders [of the UK] that, in countries where painting and sculpture were practiced and valued as they should be, the naked human body was the central subject of art". Being naked means being without clothes. This word is associated with an embarrassment which most of us could possibly feel we exposing our covered body (Art and Popular Culture).

In 1972, John Berger argues that "a naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. In the sexual context, this objectification means perceiving a person as a sexual object, emphasizing their sexual attributes and physical attractiveness, while diminishing their importance as a person living and experiencing feelings and emotions (Art and Popular Culture).

According to these assumptions, when we want to describe, by language of art, "good naked", we should use the word nude. When we want to describe "bad naked" just naked should be enough.

The nude is thoughtful, sublime, tasteful and idealized; naked is just someone with no clothes on (Jones, 2012).

But is it as simple as that?

Fig 1

The above photo is the Vanity Fair cover, taken in 2006 by Annie Leibovitz shows Scarlett Johansson, Keira Knightley and Tom Ford.

Jonathan Jones (2006) compares stars' gorgeous unreality from the photography to famous works of art, such as Sandro Botticelli's Venus, Lorenzo Ghiberti's Eva and to models in 18th-century paintings by Boucher and Fragonard. "These stars' bodies are Art," Jones writes directly in his article and, if we are to agree with Jones - "the women in this picture are not naked - they are nude". They do not impress with sexuality, they are not objectified, on the contrary - they are shown in an extremely subtle, thoughtful and artistic way with full respect for their dignity. Even, if you can find an element of eroticism, it does not go beyond the scope of flirting.

And now let's take a close look at the pose of Mrs. Johansson and then compare her pose from Mademoiselle O'Murphy's lascivious position to which, moreover, Jones (2006) himself mentions in his article.

Fig 2

In my opinion, we can find some similarity, can't we? However, in contrast to Ms Johansson from Lebovitz's photograph, pose Miss O'Murphy in the painting "is commonly perceived as one of the most sexually provocative pictures in the canon" (Lubbock, 2008).

So why is there such a difference in perception? The issue of the feeling of shame is an individual matter for each of us and we ourselves determine where the boundaries are. Nude and naked are words that carry certain information, but its interpretation depends only on the recipient. From his intelligence, culture or even religion.



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