ADDRESSING NUDITY IN ART

Museum of Art and Archaeology University of Missouri

“The nude” is an important facet of the artistic tradition dating back to ancient times, making the
unclothed figure unavoidable in a comprehensive consideration of art. Artists included in the Museum’s
permanent collection have frequently used the nude figure. A challenging aspect of leading tours is
helping visitors understand and intelligently appreciate nudity in art. It is sometimes a difficult subject
regardless of the age of the tour group! You know your students/children best, so you know the best way
to talk to them prior to a visit to the Museum.
Nudity can be discussed in terms of the reasons artists choose to portray the human body or form without
clothing:

  1. The human form is beautiful, making it an ideal subject for art.
  2. The human body can be expressive. It may be used to express a full range of emotions and
    feelings to which the viewers can relate. Young museum visitors might be encouraged to recreate
    the subject’s pose in hopes of better understanding the expressive qualities of the work, perhaps
    taking their minds off the fact that the subject is unclothed. A possible subject for open-ended
    discussion for older visitors is the difference between “nudity” and “nakedness.”
  3. The human form is part of the commonality which holds the human race together. It is familiar to
    all peoples regardless of background, sex, education, culture, or ethnic identity. Thus, artists often
    use the human form in their art to express universal truths and to address those ideas or concepts
    which bind all human beings together.
  4. Because of our familiarity with the human form, artists can use it to symbolize human values, e.g.,
    a pregnant woman or nursing mother often symbolizes innocence. Also, artists can use distortion
    of the body or simplification of human form to achieve an emotional recognition and intellectual
    response to the artwork from the viewer because of our immediate identification with the human
    form.
  5. The human body contains variations of all geometric shapes such as the cylinder, the sphere, the
    cone, the cube, etc., making it an ideal subject for exercises in rendering and demonstrating artistic
    ability and creativity. The body is viewed as a design form of shapes, highlights, and shadows.
  6. The human body is anatomically consistent, which makes it a good subject to represent
    realistically. Throughout history artists have gone to great lengths, including dissection, to
    examine human anatomy in order to achieve artistic accuracy.