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Life drawing, art, nudity and culture

Life drawing, art, nudity and culture

I was born and raised in France and have been living in North America for the last 20 years. At first, I could see many obvious cultural differences, in particular with the relation towards food (quantities are smaller in Europe) or with politeness (Canadians are definitely more polite than French people 🙂 )but as time goes by, I am now starting to pick up on more subtle differences and some of them are totally puzzling to me. Like that weird obsession with nipples and that general discomfort with nudity.

I like figure drawing and co-organize a class here in North Vancouver, so I have many drawings and paintings with naked figures. It never crossed my mind that drawing or not the nipples would make a difference in the way people react to my drawings, but I see from experience that it does. Which is weird because I now catch myself wondering if I should draw or not the nipples on my drawings!

Since when are nipples are so offensive? Men have nipples too and it is quite common to see a man without a shirt on, or maybe it is also more common in Europe, I am not sure.

This issue arises many times in the digital world as well, because it is somewhat a reflection of our culture:

Why the crazy nipplegate came to be such a huge thing?

Why are nipples such a big deal for Facebook censorship ?

Why does a tattoo artist that restores nipples after breast cancer gets banned from Facebook?

Why in a culture where women’s body are overused and objectified to help sell pretty much anything, the sight of a nursing mother can be so upsetting?

As an European, this is puzzling to me.

I also see in North America that there is often a confusion between nudity and sexuality. I was recently reading about a life drawing exhibition upsetting parents at a music festival on the Sunshine coast and was wondering why it was so important that children would not see life drawings.

Just to be clear, I consider myself somewhat traditional and prude. I think there is a time and place where nudity can be appropriate and I don’t approve of having to see too much when it is not my choice, in a public place for example.

But then, I find looking at a nude drawing to be entirely a different experience than looking at a real person. The nudity is somewhat abstracted, there is a distance and I can look at it, seeing the beauty in all shapes and ages of bodies. I can also see the timeless condition of what it means to be human, I can see the beauty of a complex and mysterious machine. I don’t see offense.

I also consider myself to be somewhat feminist and get irritated by nude drawings or paintings made through a lens of male desire. I am annoyed by the representation of women as a sexual object, typically with their lips half-parted, looking longingly or intensely at the viewer. Well I am sure you have a clear picture of the male gaze art I am talking about. This kind of art makes me way more uncomfortable than any nude drawing where I can see nipples or a penis for that matter.

This has gotten so bad that at my last public event, I did not even get my male nude linoprint out of storage because I am getting worried about how people will react.

I like this particular print because it makes me think of the figures on a Greek vase. I see it as classical looking but maybe not?

I am at the point where it crossed my mind that I could make up clothes to cover my life drawings in my linoprints ! but then I come back to my senses and see that it would be compromising too much.

What do you think? Have you ever worked with figure drawing as an artist? Are you comfortable with the idea that nudity is natural and not necessarily sexual?

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