Why does art make nudity OK?

Glen Ocean West
Latest posts by Glen Ocean West (see all)

Disclaimer: The opinions of this article do not necessarily represent those held by Nude Movement Incorporated, its board members, sponsors, partners, donors, or those held by friends, family members, colleagues, employers, clients, lawyers, service providers, or any other entities associated with such parties. This blog is intended for open thought and diverse discussion of difficult issues with a goal towards positive social change. The opinions of this author may change over time, and different authors may exhibit opposing views. We invite you to have an open mind.

57a87b702a00002d004f8e5aPhoto: © Angelo Musco Studio, used by permission. To sign up for future shoots click here.

I was at an art gallery the other month, playing Mozart background music on my viola while gifted artists milled around appreciating each other’s paintings of the nude human body.

I was taken aback at how sensual some of these paintings were. I guess it had been a long time since I’d viewed nude art.

They were sensual enough for some of them to cause me to feel something…’down there’.

What a riot.


Yet, if I decided to suddenly dismount from my viola, take off my clothes, and join the lovely ladies on the wall in their nudity but as a real-life addition – that would have caused the riot – as well as probably not getting paid for my background music that evening.

Funnily enough my encounter with this art society led to my first ever life modelling two months later. It was wonderful and I’m now a regular for this group, doing another model for them next week. It’s paid work. How’s that for a new string to my bow?

But these pictures on the wall got me thinking. Something bothered me.

Here were these people, staring at explicit images of naked humans, for minutes on end, not only OK with them but commenting to each other about their appreciation of them, yet Orlando Bloom enjoying a bit of nude recreation with a friend while on vacation is the day’s biggest scandal!

We live in a nude-hysterical society. Facebook itself is having trouble trying to figure out how to allow it on their network after multiple censorship gaffes and outcries.

But let’s step back for a second. When nudity is billed as art, it’s suddenly given a free pass – a badge of legitimacy – a relief, from all the hysteria.

Is art a dream world to allow our most personal fantasies and desires to roam free where ‘real life’ normally forbids them?

Is art therapy?

If you take a look you realize this is about way more than just nudity. Many of the weird, the wonderful, the deep, the taboo, the unspeakable – all manner of ideas, messages, and human honesties – all find solace, in this wonderful thing called art.

But what are we as a species if we have to shunt our deepest expression into mediums and objects instead of real life?

Why have this distance from what we love the most about ourselves? Why can’t we TOUCH our dreams?

I’ve now realized why nudity in art is comfortable for people – the emotional reason for it being ‘OK’.

In art we don’t have the responsibility of dealing with a living human being on the other end of the nudity. It’s a bit like porn vs. sex – it’s a one-way interface with only one person giving, and another receiving.

There’s no living, conscious being to have to ‘respect’ – we can just view the person as an object, objectifying that subject and doing whatever the hell we want to do with them in our mind.

And that’s actually great – we need to enjoy the human body and its full gamut of expression, beauty, and story. But it explains why people have a problem with ‘real life’.

There’s a real-time, two-way social reality when it’s ‘real’. The subject can talk back at you for gawking at them or appreciating them for as long, or honestly, as you are. Maybe they – a conscious being sharing your meatspace – feel uncomfortable. And that brings in the possibility of judgement.

It makes me wonder if the talking portraits in Harry Potter ever tell the students to stop looking at them.

It’s crazy to think we’re all ‘violating’ the dignity of nude human beings in artworks because they’re not alive – and that we’re ‘objectifying’ them. We peer, and leer and stare at them, and it would never be ‘right’ to do that outside of art.

That makes art an outlet. It’s an invitation to look and appreciate – a safe, controlled and non-threatening platform. And because of this it’s sacred. In the case of nudity it’s a way to communicate – by simply showing – the neutrality of the sexiness of the naked human body.

Aspects like that are why people crave it. They desperately want it, and they come to it to worship. No wonder people call creativity spiritual. It’s a space free from judgement, a realm of boundless self expression – a place, where normal rules don’t restrict us. It’s a temple of freedom of expression, and freedom of speech.

But should the freedom stop there? Why can’t we be boundless in real life? Boundless outside of the structure of art?

What – honestly – is the reason? Is it fear? Is it other people’s fear? Is it shame? Is it other people’s shame?

I think we’re ready to start working this out and getting mature about our body as a society. This generation is waking up.

It’s not easy overcoming shames drilled in since birth – but if I can do it, so can you!

Don’t let anyone else’s shaming or judgement tell you how you should live with your own body. Decide how YOU want to live in this world. And that might mean wearing clothes!

I have a good friend who tells me, ‘With nude art it’s not about the nudity.‘ And she’s right.

But who said being nude should EVER be about the nudity?

All you need is a reason important to you, to do it. For some people it’s health. For many, it’s mental healing. For others it’s as simple as tan line hate. A great reason is that skinny dipping just feels fucking great.

I thought of a quote the other week and I shared it on our Twitter:

That’s my reason for being nude.

15 thoughts on “Why does art make nudity OK?

  1. Guy G Purcella Reply

    I think another reason is that with Art, people KNOW why the person they are seeing is nude, and they know it’s non threatening. But with any other nudity, our society is sheeple conditioned to see it as sexual, due to that being the primary way it’s depicted in the media. So their automatic first response to public nudity is, ‘What is that person up to, it’s got to be something to do with sex’. They automatically assume the nude person in public is a pervert, exhibitionist getting their jollies, a sexual predator, etc.

    1. EarlD Reply

      I think that is an extremely good point.

    2. EarlD Reply

      Sorry meant to say Guy I think you make an extremely good point. There is a social contract established at an art exhibit that doesn’t exist in the general society. When I go to see art on exhibit whether there is nudity or not I go to art and artistic expression not necessarily real life or human beings. I think that is true even of performance art Now if the artist’s intent to convey something about humanity and it iexpressed well and my interpretation connecting with that I may well see somethingnof humanity in the art. Spencer Tunickwork is a great example of artistic expression using nudity to bring people to see human beings and not just nude objects. His recent piece at Standing Rock speaks powerfully to that.

  2. John Tompkins Reply

    Of course we could ask “what is that person doing clothed – what are they hiding?
    There is more violence depicted by clothed people, even in fiction, than by nude people. Even rapists do not go about naked.

  3. EarlD Reply

    It would have been great to include the perspective of an artist maybe one of those you posed for to share the view from the artist’s seat

    1. Glen Donnelly Reply

      Great, I’ll ask around to the same artists I’m posing for again on Tuesday and see if any of them would like to write ‘An artist’s perspective on nudity’ etc as a follow-up!

      1. Wade Reply

        Did you ever do a follow up with the artists, Glen?

        1. Glen Donnelly Reply

          Kind of – we had one artist close to guest blogging but then pulled out. Native posts are coming up anyway about all manner of issues. Stay tuned!

  4. hontouniheart Reply

    Did any of the visitors to the exhibit offer perspectives?

  5. sewinudist Reply

    I like your “live” person versus art point. I see a similarity with people who send naked selfies, but can’t stand to be naked in a locker room.

  6. All-Nudist Reply

    Reblogged this on All Nudist.

  7. edddyd Reply

    It does not make it ok. I have been rejected from art shows because of my nude art work, There are artists who are even uptight about nudity. In Europe it is more accepted and open. Not here, in the US, a puritan and prudish society. Violence is ok to splash across the news or a headline in a newspaper but a nude body? The villagers are in hand with torches and batteringrams as they did to Frankenstein. As a society We still have not come along way baby.

  8. Brent Reply

    What about porn? People watch it all the time. Does every single cop or judge abstain from it no way! yet they would find it offensive to see you naked in your own backyard.

  9. D.H. Jonathan Reply

    I have been modeling for art classes for 33 years. I got into it just because I could be nude. There was a freedom on that platform that I didn’t find in the rest of society. That modeling job recently led to a gig as a nude performer in a art show. Nudity in performance art has become somewhat accepted because, I think, of that freedom aspect. The response to some of that performance art varies, but it is generally acceptance. I wish that acceptance could filter to the rest of society.

  10. Gromm Reply

    What’s *really* interesting is that other artists and other art galleries have done exactly what you had suggested, as an actual piece of art.


    Oh, I mean if you had been playing your viola naked. Just like your article, it is art because it forces people to think about these very issues, and ask these very questions.

    More interestingly, you would have instantly gone from being “just the background music” to an art display on your own.

    At the same time, just like any art, “that’s been done before”. Whether or not that’s a problem for yourself, your venue, or the audience is another thing. But you could argue that about the painting of the topless girl on the wall too.

    But hey, have fun with that!

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