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 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.